B.C.’s political parties aren’t doing enough to explain how much personal information they collect, and why.

That’s the conclusion of Michael McEvoy, the province’s information and privacy commissioner, who Wednesday published Full Disclosure: Political Parties, Campaign Data, and Voter Consent.

“[The] investigation commenced in the wake of several complaints registered with my office about how political parties treat their personal information,” writes Mr. McEvoy in the report.

“Recent news has also focussed the public’s attention on the misuse of personal information for political campaigning. Cambridge Analytica’s manipulation of Facebook data to psychologically profile US voters is one example that sent shockwaves around the world.”

The report details how the BC NDP, Green Party Political Association of British Columbia and the British Columbia Liberal Party manage the personal information of British Columbians.

The parties were chosen for the study because they requested the entire voters lists from Elections BC in the most-recent provincial election.

“Some of this collection of information arises from observations made and recorded about a person by a canvasser going door to door, while other examples included ‘scraping’ personal information from social media platforms and disclosing donor lists, birthdates and other data to Facebook,” said Mr. McEvoy.

“To be absolutely clear, political parties may be allowed to collect and use this kind of information. However, in most circumstances, the political party would need to get that individual’s consent.”

The Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) generally requires organizations, including political parties, to collect, use, or disclose information about an individual if the individual has given consent.

The investigation found that political parties are generally collecting too much information from potential voters, without getting proper consent.

The report also examined how political parties retain and protect the personal information they collect. Although all three political parties develop and publish privacy policies, investigators found a number of deficiencies with retention and audit practices that prevent full compliance with PIPA.

“In addition to over collection, we also found all of the political parties had inadequate privacy training and indefinite retention of the information,” Mr. McEvoy determined.

“This, combined with the vast amount of sensitive personal information collected, leaves political parties, and by default voters, vulnerable. Political parties must ensure the same effort goes into protecting personal information as is put into collecting it.”

The report has 17 recommendations for all political parties in British Columbia, including that all parties:

  • prominently provide a succinct and simple explanation of the purposes for gathering personal information at the point of collection;
  • ensure they collect only personal information from social media with the consent of the individual;
  • be transparent about how they profile voters; and
  • only disclose email addresses to social media providers with express consent of the individual.

Want to know what B.C.’s political parties know about you? Well, you can ask but you might not get all the answers.

According to the commissioner, “the parties can apply several exceptions in PIPA to allow them to withhold information.”

“The parties stated they would have withheld the predictions made about the voter like their age, sex, supporter score, as well as associated demographics, such as their average education, income, and number of people in their household, Mr. McEvoy writes in the report.

“The political parties argued that disclosing this personal information would reveal confidential commercial information that would harm the competitiveness of the party, as provided for in s. 23(3)(b) of PIPA.”

You can download and read a copy of the Full Disclosure: Political Parties, Campaign Data, and Voter Consent report at oipc.bc.ca.

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