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Probe into request for leadership candidates' social-media passwords continues

British Columbia's privacy commissioner says she isn't backing off her investigation of a request by the B.C. NDP for party leadership candidates to provide social-media passwords even though a high-profile dispute on the issue has been resolved.

Elizabeth Denham said Tuesday that she is pleased that MLA Nicholas Simons has reached a compromise with the party, which is poring over candidate sites to look for embarrassing information.

However, she said she worries about similar requests, which may be at odds with provincial privacy legislation.

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"Yes, they have resolved this with one individual, but what's going to happen next time, and with other political parties and like or similar organizations? I wouldn't want this to be setting a precedent," she said from Washington, D.C., where she is attending a conference of the International Association of Privacy Professionals.

"This is a teachable moment for other organizations."

She said this was a good opportunity to provide guidance to organizations that are subject to the Personal Information Protection Act, or B.C.'s privacy act applying to commercial, private-sector organizations and non-profit organizations, including political parties.

Ms. Denham has said there is nothing new in companies assessing social-media sites for information on job applicants, but that the demand for social-media passwords was unusual.

Word of the case has spread way beyond B.C. with delegates at the meeting coming up to ask her about the case, Ms. Denham said.

BC New Democrats asked leadership candidates to provide their social-media passwords so the party could assess the relevant sites for material that might be politically embarrassing.

The party argued the request and process, part of an approval process for candidates, was necessary before investing resources in someone who might become the NDP candidate for the premier's office.

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Ms. Denham said she is concerned about other individuals who may not have the clout Mr. Simons did to exercise their rights, but noted that he did not request the investigation. She launched it herself.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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