Bill S-4: FIPA tells Ottawa politicians to put themselves under federal privacy law

When the Senate passed Bill S-4, known as the Digital Privacy Act, in 2014, it was not without criticism. The bill’s stated objective was to protect online privacy, but critics warned that it may facilitate access to subscriber data held by internet service providers. Despite a Supreme Court ruling requiring police to obtain warrants to obtain telecom subscribers’ data, Bill S-4 allows for the sharing of subscriber information with any organization investigating a potential breach of contract, including copy right violations. This sharing of information does not require the consent of the subscriber.

Photo under CC license by Flickr: David Clow
Photo under CC license by Flickr: David Clow

In March, FIPA traveled to Ottawa to appear before the Committee on Industry, Science and Technology to comment on Bill S-4, which has already been passed by the Senate. We told the Committee that the BC Special Legislative Committee on the Personal Information Protection Act handed down its report earlier this year, and has taken a very different approach to the one proposed by the federal government in S-4.

The BC Committee recommended narrowing parts of the provincial privacy legislation “because of the implications of the Supreme Court of Canada decision and the possibility of a Charter challenge.” The Committee cited testimony from FIPA and BC Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham calling for narrower provisions for the warrantless disclosure of personal information to circumstances where it is absolutely necessary and requiring that organizations publish transparency reports on disclosures made without consent. We told the Industry Committee in Ottawa that this approach should also be followed with Bill S-4.

There is growing concern over what is being done with personal information in political parties’ digital databases. Much of the information is sensitive, and parties have few legal obligations to keep the data secure, only retain it for as long as necessary, or control who has access to it. Yet federal political parties and their use of personal information are not covered under PIPEDA or any other legislation.

In B.C., our political parties fall under the Personal Information and Privacy Act (PIPA), and our Commissioner has the power to receive complaints, conduct hearings, investigate and ultimately issue orders. The Commissioner has already investigated cases concerning both the NDP’s and the Liberals’ use of personal information.

FIPA told the Committee in Ottawa that political parties should be brought under the private sector privacy law. It remains to be seen if the Committee will do this, although the amendment required to do so would not be complicate. Furthermore, because the bill was sent to Committee before Second Reading, a broader range of amendments is possible.


The Bill is currently still with the Industry Committee