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Editorial: Privacy, to a point

No privacy legislation currently exists to protect private information gathered on Canadian voters. —
No privacy legislation currently exists to protect private information gathered on Canadian voters. — 123RF Stock Photo

It’s a clear case of “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Right now, if you’re an employee of a business or a charity, you have to be remarkably careful about how you treat private information about customers or donors. Federal law has strict requirements about how identifying information can be used, how it should be stored, and even how long it can be kept.

If you work with that kind of information, you can expect pretty regular training on what’s required to keep it secure — and the use and abuse of private information is no laughing matter.

There are rules that can’t be broken. Unless, of course, you work for a political party.

Then, things are different.

That’s because, when they were drafting privacy laws, politicians pragmatically decided to exempt themselves; the use, storage and analysis of the private information gathered on Canadian voters, including information on individual political leanings, was just too valuable for campaigners to surrender.

Right now, federal privacy laws are being revamped, but once again, the message is “private information should be private, unless politicians want to use it for their own purposes.”

That’s unacceptable.

How can a government argue that people have a right to privacy, and at the same time, insulate themselves from having to take the same care with personal information that everyone else does?

It’s unacceptable enough that Canada’s federal and provincial privacy commissioners released a joint statement in September, essentially saying the time has come for the rules to apply to everyone.

“Information about our political views is highly sensitive and it’s clearly unacceptable that federal and provincial political parties are not subject to privacy laws,” federal privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien told the Canadian Press on Sept. 17.

The perfect time to do it is now, as Bill C-76 wends its way through the House of Commons. That bill makes changes to the Canada Elections Act, and says it will “provide for certain requirements with regard to the protection of personal information for registered parties, eligible parties and political parties that are applying to become registered parties, including the obligation for the party to adopt a policy for the protection of personal information and to publish it on its Internet site.”

But that’s about it — imagine, after all of the mess involved with the collection and use of voter targeting information that came out in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the best our politicians can do is to require parties to have a policy and put it on a website?

That’s frankly laughable.

How can a government argue that people have a right to privacy, and at the same time, insulate themselves from having to take the same care with personal information that everyone else does?

The message is pretty clear: the storage and use of personal information is valuable.

But the rights of political parties to do what no one else can is more important than your privacy rights.

And that’s just wrong.

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