29/09/2020

Complaint by Jim Balsillie’s Centre for Digital Rights alleges political parties misleading public over use of private data

The Competition Bureau has launched an inquiry into the data collection practices of the federal Liberal, Conservative and New Democrat parties, in response to a complaint from the Centre for Digital Rights (CDR) an organization founded by businessman and tech advocate Jim Balsillie.
According to a letter provided to the media by the CDR, on Oct. 25, Deputy Commissioner of Competition Josephine Palumbo said that the Bureau is investigating an allegation that essentially amounts to the major political parties making deceptive statements to the public. 
The Competition Bureau case is one of the five legal complaints that the CDR has made to various regulatory enforcement agencies in Canada, calling for action when it comes to political parties use of citizens private data. Similar complaints were sent to the federal Privacy Commissioner, the B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner, the Commissioner of Elections Canada and the Chief Enforcement and Compliance Officer of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
The CDR was set up by Balsillie in 2018 in the wake of the Cambridge Analytical scandal, where data from social media platform Facebook was used to create psychological profiles of voters in an attempt to target ads during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and the U.K. Brexit referendum. 
The CDR wants Canadian political parties to be governed by the same kinds of laws as other organizations in Canada, and the group is lobbying for changes to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) to make it explicitly clear that political parties must obey the law.
Bill Hearn, a lawyer representing CDR, argues that, in the meantime, politicians should already be obeying those laws.
Conventional wisdom in Canada is that political parties arent covered by laws like PIPEDA or the Competition Act, because it isnt spelled out in the text of the legislation, but Hearn argues that because they arent specifically exempted, theyre actually covered.
Many people, smart people, take the view that political parties are somehow in this loophole, this gap, that somehow our laws have not kept pace with the digital world, Hearn said.
Were actually saying the opposite. Its a mistake, and a dangerous mistake and misconception to say there are no laws.
In the Competition Bureau case, the CDR has assembled a group of six complainants to formally request an investigation, alleging that the privacy policies of the political parties are actively misleading because they give the impression that they are following the law. 
Nowhere in the privacy policies do they talk about the fact that they take the list of electors from Elections Canada, combine it with other information they may scrape from social media platforms, and create almost a digital voodoo doll of voters, Hearn said.
They have a lot of information, a profile on you, and they score you for or against them, and they use that at least to communicate with you, and perhaps do other things.
If political parties were covered by PIPEDA, they would be required to reveal all of the personal information they hold on an individual citizen, if somebody submitted a request. PIPEDA also requires organizations to disclose if theyve suffered any sort of privacy breach.