Political parties police themselves on using voters’ personal data: watchdog

OTTAWA — The federal privacy watchdog is calling on the government to address significant gaps in the law that leave political parties to police themselves when it comes to how they collect and use data on voters.

Speaking to a parliamentary committee today, federal privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien says political parties are only bound by internal, voluntary privacy policies and he’s concerned that no independent body ensures they follow their own rules.

Therrien has been calling for changes to strengthen privacy laws to cover how political parties use data and he says that, with a recent international scandal involving Facebook, there’s never been a better time for action.

His testimony comes as policy-makers and regulators around the world examine how to better protect users’ online data following a scandal that allegedly saw the personal information of millions of Facebook users improperly accessed for political purposes.

Facebook estimates the personal data of 622,161 users in Canada — and nearly 87 million worldwide — was inappropriately harvested by firms that allegedly used the information to help deliver electoral wins in the U.K. Brexit referendum and the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

Therrien’s office recently joined forces with British Columbia’s privacy commissioner to investigate Facebook and Canadian company AggregateIQ Data Services Ltd. — two firms at the centre of the global uproar over the unauthorized use of social-media data.

He says the investigation, which allows includes collaboration with the U.K. privacy commissioner, is “somewhat complex,” but he hopes to conclude it within a year.

The Canadian Press

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