Political parties in B.C. are not doing enough to explain how much personal information they collect from voters and why, says a new report examining how the BC NDP, Liberal and Green parties manage the personal data of British Columbians.
The investigation, released Wednesday by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia, found political parties in B.C. are collecting too much information from potential voters without complying with the Personal Information Protection Act. The act requires political parties to obtain consent from individuals before collecting, using or disclosing personal data.
The legislation is unique to B.C. and this investigation is the first of its kind anywhere in the country.
“What we found in this report is that political parties need to do a much better job in the way they collect and use personal information of voters in British Columbia,” Commissioner Michael McEvoy said.
"They need to be getting the consent of voters before they collect and use much of the information about them. We found many instances when the law requires the parties to get consent and they weren’t getting it,” he said.
Door-to-door and telephone canvassing are some methods political parties use to glean more personal information from voters, such as gender, ethnicity, language and religion. Current laws do not allow political parties to collect such information by observation without the express consent of the individual.
The BC Green Party said in a statement it has been working to improve the “security, privacy and integrity of the personal information entrusted to the BC Green Party by voters and supporters.”
"We are grateful for the Privacy Commissioner’s report and how it identifies additional ways to improve the protection and privacy of personal information,” said Stefan Jonsson, director of communications and strategy for the party.
The report comes at a time when the use of voters’ personal data is under high scrutiny.
In the report, Mr. McEvoy references consulting firm Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of Facebook data in the United States, saying the issue “sent shockwaves around the world” last year and “we do not wish such events to wash ashore in British Columbia.”
That scandal also involved Victoria-based tech company AggregateIQ, founded in 2013, which was accused of targeting British citizens with social-media advertising for Leave campaigns during the Brexit referendum.
The company was also described by Canadian whistle-blower Christopher Wylie as the “Canadian office” of SCL, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica.
Mr. McEvoy told The Globe that AggregateIQ is under investigation by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for B.C. related to matters concerning Brexit, with results of the investigation to be published in the coming weeks.
To ensure voters’ personal information is protected in the future, the report has 17 recommendations, including providing explanations of the purposes for gathering personal information and ensuring parties collect personal data from social media only with the consent of the individual.
The new report also said parties should have more stringent methods when they profile voters and only disclose e-mail addresses to social-media outlets with voters’ consent.
“My hope is that the parties will change their practices to bring them in conformity with the law and ensure that voters in B.C. can have very robust discussions with their political parties, which is very important for democracy,” Mr. McEvoy said.
Mr. McEvoy will follow up with the Liberal Party, Green Party and NDP in six months to determine whether a more detailed audit of party systems, databases or practices is required.