Privacy group going to court over alleged improper use of voters list by Liberals, Tories and NDP
OTTAWA -- Blackberry co-creator Jim Balsillie's digital privacy group is going to court over its disagreement with an April decision from Canada's elections watchdog, which found that there was no reason to suspect the Liberal, Conservative and New Democrat parties used the voters list improperly.
The group, the Centre for Digital Rights (CDR), is alleging that the Canada Elections Commissioner Yves Côté "erred in law" when he found that a complaint the group filed earlier in the year did "not provide any reason to suspect" a contravention of the Canada Elections Act.
They also say Côté "erred in fact and law by failing to conduct an investigation into the complaint."
In the initial complaint, which the CDR filed last September, the group alleges that all three parties violated the Canada Elections Act by "knowingly using personal information that is recorded in the lists of electors provided to them by the Chief Electoral Officer, for purposes contrary to subsection 110(1) of the Act."
That subsection explains that the parties are allowed to use the voters lists to communicate with voters, "including using them for soliciting contributions and recruiting party members."
Balsillie's privacy group is alleging that all three parties stepped outside of the permitted usage of the list — though the application for judicial review does not say how.
CTVNews.ca reached out to the elections commissioner's office for comment on this issue, but was informed that "unless formal compliance or enforcement action is taken, [the] office doesn't typically comment on specific cases."
However, the elections commissioner's office pointed CTVNews.ca to the commissioner's 2018-2019 Annual Report, in which the commissioner touches on the issue of how registered parties use information from voters lists.
"While a number of complaints have been received by the CCE over the years, enforcement action has generally not been warranted because the Act's provisions are broad and minimally restrictive with respect to using the information contained in the lists of electors," the report reads.
"The existing prohibitions allow those with access to the lists of electors to use the information for any purpose related to communicating with electors, and does not regulate at all any other information that parties may also collect about electors. It is this other information, in fact, that may be more sensitive in terms of the elector's privacy rights."
The complaint to the elections commissioner was one of five the group filed last year in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in a bid to push the various parliamentary watchdogs "to hold Canada's federal political parties accountable for violations of Canadians' privacy rights and freedoms," according to the group's website.
"To be clear, it's wrong to assert (as some do) that there are 'no laws' governing the privacy protection policies and practices of Canada's federal political parties. That’s a dangerous misconception, especially in this digital age of data-driven elections," the website read.
A look at the various complaints described on the website — all filed by the CDR — provides a snapshot into the kind of concerns the group is raising about the alleged improper usage of voters’ information.
One of the five complaints, filed with Canada's competition bureau, accuses the NDP, Liberals and Conservatives of using "big data mass surveillance and harvesting techniques, analytics, algorithms" as well as "large scale misuse of big data and targeted digital advertising."
Another complaint, filed with the privacy commissioner, alleges that the parties "use and disclose the personal information they collect from Canadians for purposes that a reasonable person would not consider to be appropriate."
However, the Canada Elections commissioner found the CDR’s complaint to his office did not provide a sufficient reason to suspect either of the three political parties of any wrongdoing with respect to the Canada Elections Act — a decision the CDR is now disputing in court.
If the elections commissioner wishes to oppose the application for judicial review, which was filed on Friday, he’ll have to do so within 10 days of being served with the notice of application.
If he does not oppose the application, the filing warns that "judgement may be given in [his] absence and without further notice to [him]."