Pri­vacy, to a point

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - EDITORIAL -

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.

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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