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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Political parties must start playing by the privacy rules

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It’s simple.

If you’re a legislator, you shouldn’t be able to pass laws or leave exemptions in laws to directly benefit you or your political party.

It’s a problem that lingers on: there are municipalities where politicians have pensions that are 100 per cent funded by the taxpayers in their cities or towns.

There have even been provincial legislatures where the honourable members had portions of their salaries exempted from income tax — what a concept. Paid by the taxpayer, but self-exempted from being one.

And don’t get me started on pension plans. As reasonable pension plans vanish in this country for many employees, our elected representatives have nothing but the best.

And that brings me to privacy legislation and federal political parties.

As the power of information storage and misuse has grown with the internet, governments have taken steps to ensure that our private information isn’t misused or improperly shared.

It’s an imperfect system, and we hear more about mistakes that are made than about the scores of companies that not only abide by privacy legislation, but have also spent considerable sums of money — and equally expensive time — to protect and store the information they collect.

Not so for federal politicians and their political parties.

They specifically exempted themselves from the rules.

Think about it: the fact that politicians brought in legislation shows that they recognize there’s value in protecting the abuse of private information. The fact that politicians left themselves out of privacy laws shows that they were willing to take part in exactly that sort of abuse to fundraise and target voters.

Thursday, public opinion polling pointed out that 88 per cent of those polled think that politicians and political parties should have to abide by the same rules as everyone else. If you send an email to a federal politician, your personal contact information and opinions shouldn’t end up in a party database for the party’s use. (Interestingly, only nine per cent of the people in the poll even knew that the political parties were exempt from privacy rules.)

You don’t need a poll to establish just how distasteful it is to have politicians set special rules for themselves.

Simply require political parties to play by the same rules they’ve imposed on everyone else.

By July 1st, federal political parties will have to have privacy policies in place. Election reforms passed last December required some form of policy, but left out any details as to what those policies should look like.

As Elections Canada pointed out in April, “While political parties must include certain content in their privacy policies, the legislative amendments do not require these policies to comply with internationally recognized privacy standards. Nor is respect for these policies supervised by an independent oversight body such as the Privacy Commissioner’s office.”

Elections Canada has said it wants the new privacy policies to include information on whether parties gather personal information through mobile applications, internet cookies lodged in computers, and through social media monitoring, and whether that information is being used to build personal profiles of voters. Oh, and “Will voter profiles and party databases be shared with provincial parties, or sold to any groups or individuals?”

Perhaps you weren’t aware your politicians were leaving that option open for themselves right now.

Well, they did. Everything’s open.

And they’re not going to be required to stop. It’s just being “suggested” that parties live up to best practices that they — once again — get to design for themselves.

Here’s an idea: there are existing privacy standards for everyone else who collects and stores private information. Simply require political parties to play by the same rules they’ve imposed on everyone else.

There, politicians. I fixed it for you.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.


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