Robust privacy protections are critical to building the trust necessary for the digital economy to grow and prosper - but the gap in Canada's privacy legislation that exempts Canadian federal political parties from its requirements could similarly erode trust in the political process. In April's AccessPrivacy call, Osler partner Adam Kardash, Privacy and Data Management, spoke with Dr. Colin Bennett, professor of Political Science at the University of Victoria, about the increasing regulatory attention on this legislative gap.

Beyond the basic voters' list provided by Elections Canada, federal political parties have built increasingly sophisticated and extensive databases of voter information. Political parties around the world have proven the value of access to new technology and extensive personal data analytics in winning elections.

Since 2018, the Canada Elections Act has required political parties to have a privacy policy indicating the type of information they collect, how they use and protect it, and under what circumstances they can disclose it. However, there is no independent regulatory oversight, and the provisions fall short of standards in the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act and other legislation governing private sector organizations' use of data in the course of commercial activities. By contrast, most democratic states include political parties within their general data protection statutory frameworks.

The discussion followed a decision issued by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia (OIPC BC) in March, which concluded that BC's Personal Information Protection Act applied to the federal political parties and thus that the regulatory authority could investigate a potential breach of the statute. Arguing that they are not bound by those privacy standards, the federal Liberal Party, Conservative Party and NDP have appealed the decision. Where this case goes from here will be especially interesting to follow in the context of ongoing privacy legislative reform efforts across Canada.

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