Jim Balsillie, of the Council of Canadian Innovators, arrives to appear as a witness at a Commons privacy and ethics committee in Ottawa on Thursday, May 10, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Jim Balsillie, of the Council of Canadian Innovators, arrives to appear as a witness at a Commons privacy and ethics committee in Ottawa on Thursday, May 10, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Watchdog probes complaint about Canadian political parties’ data use

Centre for Digital Rights claims Liberals, Conservatives and NDP misused data and targeted ads

Canada’s competition watchdog is looking into a complaint about the data-harvesting practices of the main federal political parties.

In its complaint to the commissioner of competition, the Centre for Digital Rights flagged what it calls the large-scale misuse of big data and targeted digital advertising of the Liberal, Conservative and New Democratic parties.

The centre, established by businessman and philanthropist Jim Balsillie, released a letter Wednesday from the Competition Bureau saying it had begun an investigation of the complaint.

Information about prospective voters is helpful to political parties for everything from door-to-door canvassing to shaping platforms. In the age of algorithms and vast databases, there are new concerns about how parties use such information to track and target people.

The centre says the parties’ use of personal information undermines the trust of Canadian voters “in the marketplace of goods, services and ideas” and contravenes the prohibition on deceptive marketing in the Competition Act.

It argues that while a political party conducts “a different shade of business” from a company that sells regular products or services, it is not excluded from competition law, said Bill Hearn, a lawyer for the digital-rights centre.

The centre has also filed complaints with the federal privacy commissioner, the B.C. information and privacy commissioner, the federal telecommunications regulator and Canada’s elections commissioner. It awaits responses from those agencies.

The centre is pushing for revision of the federal privacy law covering the private sector to apply expressly to political parties, constituency associations, candidates and candidate nomination contestants.

READ MORE: Groups ready campaign to help young voters identify ‘fake news’ in election

Even now, the centre argues, the federal parties use and disclose the personal information they collect from Canadians for purposes a reasonable person would consider contrary to their respective privacy policies, a violation of the requirements under the privacy law that people give “meaningful consent” for what happens to their data.

The digital-rights centre will “go to the courts” if privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien decides he lacks authority to investigate the complaint, Hearn said in an interview. Therrien is not the ultimate arbiter of the jurisdictional question, he said — the courts are.

An internal analysis by the privacy commissioner found last year that the major political parties failed to ensure people gave valid consent to the collection and use of their personal information.

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Local poet and VIU professor Sonnet L’Abbé wrote and performed a song as part of the city’s Reimagine Nanaimo campaign. (Photo courtesy City of Nanaimo/Port Theatre)
Poet pens song as part of city’s Reimagine Nanaimo campaign

Sonnet L’Abbé encourages a friend to move to the city in ‘Nazaneen: A Song for Nanaimo’

Const. Joshua Waltman brings knowledge gained from working with people experiencing homelessness in Surrey to his new role as the RCMP’s mental health liaison officer in Nanaimo where he will work with people from across society who find themselves struggling with mental health crisis. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo RCMP’s mental health liaison says his role will take persistence and resilience

Const. Joshua Waltman talks about limiting anxiety and gaining trust of people in mental crises

Janice Perrino, Nanaimo and District Hospital Foundation CEO, holds information brochures for the Light the Trees campaign, part of an effort to raise $5 million for the new intensive care unit at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Million-dollar donation has Light the Trees campaign off to a bright start in Nanaimo

Windsor Plywood Foundation supports Nanaimo and District Hospital Foundation

Regional District of Nanaimo will be receiving $1.17 million from the B.C. government in COVID-19 safe restart grant money. (News Bulletin file)
Regional District of Nanaimo directors getting started on budgeting decisions

Proposed tax requisitions for 2021 range from 7.3-per cent increase to 2.2-per cent decrease

Mary Cox and Jack Plant dance in their pyjamas and slippers at the morning pyjama dance during the Rhythm Reelers’ 25 Annual Rally in the Valley Square Dance Festival in Chilliwack on June 4, 2011. Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 is Square Dancing Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Nov. 29 to Dec. 5

Square Dancing Day, Disability Day and International Ninja Day are all coming up this week

Qualicum Beach resident Harold MacDougall won $75,000 off a Casino Royale II Scratch & Win ticket, purchased the ticket at Qualicum Foods on Memorial Avenue. (BCLC photo)
Qualicum Beach man $75K richer thanks to scratch-and-win ticket windfall

Winner plans on trips to Cape Breton and Scotland

Vees goalkeeper Yaniv Perets stands watch while Tyler Ho takes the puck around the back of the net on Nov. 7. The BCHL press release did not name the player who tested positive.(Brennan Phillips - Western News)
Penticton Vees quarantining after player tests positive for COVID-19

The team, staff and billets are isolating while they are tested

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

A photo from 2017, of Nuchatlaht First Nation members outside court after filing a land title case in B.C. ( Submitted photo/Nuchatlaht First Nation).
Vancouver Island First Nation calls on B.C. to honour UNDRIP in historic title case

Nuchatlaht First Nation says Crown counsel continues to stall the case using the ‘distasteful’ argument that the Nation ‘abandoned’ their land

West Vancouver Island’s Ehattesaht First Nation continues lock down after 9 active cases were reported today after a visitor tested positive last week. (Ehattesaht First Nation/Facebook)
Ehattesaht First Nation’s COVID-19 nightmare: nine active cases, a storm and a power outage

The Vancouver Island First Nation in a lockdown since the first case was reported last week

Nanaimo MLA Sheila Malcolmson takes her oaths of office virtually on Thursday. (B.C. Government YouTube screen shot)
Nanaimo MLA Sheila Malcolmson named B.C.’s mental health and addictions minister

Malcolmson succeeds Judy Darcy, who did not seek re-election

Police in Nanaimo never know what they’ll encounter when called upon to check on the well-being of people. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo RCMP find ‘heart-breaking’ circumstances during wellness checks

Police offer sampling of outcomes from well-being checks over recent weeks

Most Read