Elizabeth May’s Green Party wants stronger digital privacy protections

Sep 17 2019, 12:43 pm

Intrusions into Canadians’ digital privacy have become a crisis and it’s time to stop companies from mining people’s information for profit, the Green Party Leader said today as she highlighted her platform on privacy.

Elizabeth May was in the tech-hub community of Waterloo to talk about the Greens’ pledges on protecting privacy, and she said an election is an important time to look at the issue.

“In the middle of an election campaign I really want to emphasize that democracy itself can be at risk when data is collected, manipulated, packaged, pre-programmed to hit receptors in our brain that are ready to hear that we have something to be afraid of instead of something to understand,” she said.

May wants to require political parties to follow the Privacy Act. (They’re currently exempt, though they have some obligations under laws governing elections.) The party says that the Greens have developed a privacy policy promising not to sell personal information, conduct “micro-targeting,” or misuse data, but it wants the law to require those standards for all parties.

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The Greens have promised to prohibit warrantless intrusions on Canadians’ communications, ban cyber-surveillance programs that use bulk data collection, and significantly increase the powers of the federal privacy commissioner to protect identity and personal data.

The party would require companies to respect the “right to be forgotten,” the principle that people should be able to control whether information from their pasts remains online after some time has passed.

May said the Greens endorse recommendations from Centre for Digital Rights founder Jim Balsillie, who made his fortune from the wireless-device company Research In Motion (now BlackBerry), including legislating stronger privacy protections and providing effective whistleblower protections for those who expose abuses of data.

The Greens want to regulate Facebook, Twitter, and other social-media platforms to ensure that only people with verifiable identities can use the platforms to publish.

“This is at a crisis stage,” May said. “[Companies] are mining for profit our private information and it’s time we put it to a stop.”

The party is also calling for a parliamentary inquiry into modernizing Canada’s privacy laws.

May denied that a new suite of privacy requirements would hamper business, in particular small business.

“We’re in favour of small business and we’d like small business to get bigger and have profits and hire more people, but there is a large crisis happening here because this is something that is largely unregulated,” she said. “This is a whole new playing field and in that playing field citizens’ rights to privacy are being trampled.”

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has announced that he would create a certification system to let consumers know whether certain digital products meet federal security standards. His government would also force companies that want to collect electronic data to use clear language in user agreements and to obtain prior informed consent from Canadians.

The NDP has said it would boost the power of the privacy commissioner to make and enforce orders.

In May, the Liberal government announced it would be launching a digital charter to fight hate speech and the spreading of misinformation online.