Good morning, everyone.
This is the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, meeting 123. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(h)(vii), this is the study of the breach of personal information involving Cambridge Analytica and Facebook.
Today we have with us from the Conservative Party of Canada, Trevor Bailey, the privacy officer and director of membership; from the Liberal Party of Canada, Michael Fenrick, constitutional and legal adviser, national board of directors; and from the New Democratic Party, Jesse Calvert, director of operations.
We'll start off with Mr. Bailey for 10 minutes.
I've been the privacy officer for the Conservative Party for approximately one year in addition to my role as director of membership for the party.
As this committee would know, as a federal political party registered under the Canada Elections Act, the Conservative Party, including its electoral district associations, candidates, nomination contestants and leadership contestants, are subject to extensive regulation under that act, including in particular the public disclosure requirements for contributions over $200. As a result of these requirements, we collect personal information from donors and members when they contribute to our party or purchase a membership. You may also choose to provide us with personal information on a voluntary basis such as when registering for an event or signing a petition. We are required by law to keep records of donors for tax purposes.
The information the Conservative Party gathers, either directly from Canadians or as a result of legislative requirements, is used for communication purposes. As a political party, we believe it is very important to communicate with Canadians on a regular basis. We are a national organization, but we have a riding-based membership system, so personal information may be disclosed to local riding associations, candidates, nomination contestants or leadership candidates for the purposes of communicating with those persons.
To wrap up, the Conservative Party employs a variety of security systems to safeguard personal information from unauthorized access, disclosure or misuse, and from loss or unauthorized alteration. The Conservative Party does not and will not sell personal information.
As I said in the opening, the commitment to protecting Canadians' privacy is important to us, and ensuring it's kept safe and secure is something we take great care in doing.
If there are any questions on this policy, I'd be happy to take them.
Honourable members of the committee and Mr. Chair, it is a privilege to be able to speak with you today. I want to thank you for the opportunity for the Liberal Party of Canada to be heard on these important issues.
My name is Michael Fenrick, and as I was introduced before, I serve as the legal and constitutional adviser to the national board of directors. That's a volunteer position. I'm also a riding chair for the riding in my home community of Parkdale—High Park, so I also have the experience of working for the party and volunteering for the party at a local level.
Both from serving on our party's board and from working closely with grassroots volunteers, I know the party takes the protection of personal information extremely seriously. I also know how the responsible use of data can significantly increase participation and engagement in our political process.
Today, I hope to speak to you about both of those priorities, and I look forward to answering your questions.
First, I want to outline our most fundamental commitment on these matters. The Liberal Party of Canada works very hard both during and between elections to engage as many Canadians as possible in our democratic process. Protecting their personal information is a priority for the party in all of its interactions and operations.
Why does all of this matter? Because secure and accurate data is very important to how modern political parties operate and engage with Canadians. Like all Canadian political parties, the Liberal Party uses data to engage with voters. Understanding the interests and the priorities of Canadians helps us to speak to the issues that matter most to them and in turn mobilizes democratic participation in our country.
The importance of this objective truly can't be overstated. Political parties are not commercial businesses. We are not-for-profit voluntary associations defined in the Canada Elections Act as organizations whose fundamental purpose is to participate in public affairs by endorsing candidates for election. Our interests are very different from those of private sector entities to which federal privacy legislation applies. We promote candidates to Canadians. We're informed in part by information about eligible voters and in accordance with accepted privacy practices and safeguards, and we safeguard the information that Canadians entrust us with.
Using data to help engage voters isn't a bad thing; it's quite the opposite. It helps to ensure that political parties are in tune with what matters to the electorate and that more of us are involved in elections. For as long as there have been free and democratic elections, successful candidates have worked to build detailed lists of their supporters, to understand their priorities and return to them with an ask to help out at the polls.
Knowing what interests have motivated voters and who supports our party helps us deliver relevant information and policy positions to Canadians. For example, we know that more and more people, and especially young people, are seeking out news and information online. For parties to be relevant, we need to have a strong online presence and interact with Canadians through the mediums and on the platforms they are using. That's why in recent years innovative engagement on social media, online advertising and email communications has become increasingly important to our operations.
Where do we get the information we have about voters? Like the other registered political parties, we receive an electronic copy of the list of electors from Elections Canada each year. Under the Canada Elections Act, registered parties are authorized to use the lists to communicate with electors, including for the purposes of soliciting contributions and recruiting party members, in our case registered Liberals.
For all parties, using personal information contained in the list of electors in an unauthorized manner is a criminal offence under the act. It is punishable by a fine and up to two years of imprisonment. We take our obligations in this regard very seriously.
In addition, we work hard to identify, engage and mobilize potential supporters with phone calls, outreach events, door knocking, digital advertising, emails, petitions and more. Often we keep track of information about the issues that matter most to our supporters and to Canadians, and the information they express about whether they intend to vote for us. This information is recorded if it is volunteered by the individual voter and is used to inform the party's outreach efforts and political strategies at election time.
On occasion, limited types of data are purchased by the party to help us reach out and connect with more supporters and Canadians. For example, in the past we have purchased widely available phone book-type information or Canada Post address validation lists.
While we use social media to boost voter turnout, identify supporters through issues-based petitions and ask for fundraising support, the Liberal Party of Canada does not have access to specific Facebook accounts beyond those of our own social media channels.
Our party's primary voter-contact database is a system called Liberalist. Certain individuals, including MPs, riding association executives, candidates and campaign managers may request access to Liberalist. They can view the voter information for electors in their ridings.
Account holders are assigned certain levels of access based on our internal rules and policy, and must provide their name, email address, phone numbers, riding name and address. All account holders on Liberalist must agree to be bound by a Liberalist user agreement, which sets out the terms and conditions for using the system. A copy of that, I understand, is with the clerk.
Users must only use the data for the purpose of communication on behalf of the party with voters, donors and registered Liberals. They agree that they will not keep a copy of any of the data and will not share it with anyone else.
Hello and good morning, members of the committee. My name is Jesse Calvert and I'm the director of operations for Canada's New Democratic Party. I want to thank you for the invitation to appear before you to discuss our work with data and our privacy policies.
The federal NDP and most of its provincial sections across the country all use software called Populus to interface with our respective databases of elector data, similar in principle to both the Conservative Party's constituent information management system and the Liberal Party's Liberalist. Of course, the NDP has a unique structure, wherein the federal party and the provincial sections share a formal affiliation with a common membership.
While both the federal party and the provincial sections use Populus as a way to interface with their databases, the databases themselves are not shared. Information about electors is retained by the section collecting the data and each section uses the voters list from their respective elections agency, which is the permanent voters list produced by Elections Canada in our case, as the backbone of their own database.
With regard to membership lists, this information is handled by a single point of contact at the federal party and counterparts in the provincial sections. Each instance of Populus is separate from each other.
Populus is a web application developed by a third party contractor. This same company also developed foreAction, which is used by NDP caucus members and staff to track constituent case work. These programs are totally separate. They do not speak to each other and party staff, like myself, have no access to the case work database.
In terms of the data that we collect, like other parties, we use the Elections Canada permanent voters list, our own membership and donation lists, contact information from petitions, public data, such as from the census, and data collected as a result of direct outreach operations. We only use this data in accordance with our needs as a registered political party, and we do not give it to third parties, as a matter of policy.
We do not use any kind of psychographic modelling. Any modelling or analytics we do is based on publicly available statistical information and not personal private information. Nothing we use for these kinds of analytical purposes is more specific than, say, polling data or census information.
Here are some examples of how the party protects Canadians' privacy.
We are in the process of moving our data into the cloud using the same provider that the Communications Security Establishment uses for unclassified data. One gap between our practice and PIPEDA that is currently in place is that we are unable to provide Canadians with their data upon request and give them the ability to correct it. This is mostly due to a lack of a security protocol to verify the identity of individuals requesting their data. We are giving this problem a lot of thought to determine how to address it properly.
In solving one problem, we do not wish to create another one. It's for that reason that we support a legislative change that would give Canadians the right to request their data and to extend the PIPEDA coverage to political parties, as is already the case in British Columbia through their legislation, PIPA. We need a consistent set of clear rules on privacy and personal data that all parties can abide by.
Thank you again for the invitation. I look forward to your questions.
Certainly. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
There are really two elements to protecting the data. There is protecting against unauthorized access. We're talking about data breaches and attacks on our systems. That's obviously a continuing effort for us. We have a great team on that. That's not my expertise, but I do know that we have a very good data team in place. We test our systems constantly. We host in a very secure manner. We try to secure against any and all attacks. That's one side—the unauthorized access.
The other side, of course, is authorized access but inappropriate use. That would be where someone who has access in a limited capacity to the database would access information and use it in a way they were not authorized to do. We have significant policies and processes in place to minimize the impact or the opportunity for someone to do such a thing.
There are two elements to it. As far as protecting our data, we have a great IT team for that. Our data security is a continuing matter. I was just talking this morning about some of the firewall protections that we're updating. The other side, which is where people have the key but want to use it in an inappropriate manner, is primarily where our policies come into play. Certainly, the procedure is that we limit the breadth of access to data that any one user can have at one time.
For our part, many of the same things that Mr. Bailey has spoken to apply equally with respect to the Liberal Party and its treatment of personal information. From the perspective of somebody outside the system gaining access, we regularly run training. We've developed a cybersecurity policy, and we regularly run training at all levels of the organization, in terms of trying to ensure that people are educated about how to avoid things like phishing scams, spoof email addresses and matters along those lines.
In addition to that, the Liberal Party's national director and the team at the head office here in Ottawa have met with the CSE in order to discuss best practices on how to secure Canadians' information. That includes using cloud-based email servers, which is what is recommended by the CSE. That has been implemented.
On the access by users who have been granted access, who are volunteers, there are a number of ways in which we protect that information. Probably the most important, though, is that it's a segmented database. You're only given access to the information on Liberalist that you need. That can be as little as a single poll or, in the case of somebody who is running a canvass, in fact, it could just be the canvass information for a particular block or two of a neighbourhood. Riding association presidents may have access to the entire riding. Very few people within the Liberal Party have access to the entire list of electors. Our database is segmented in order to ensure that only the access that you've been granted and that you need is given to you.
I could start off on that one.
You're absolutely right. They are separate. They are different. We currently operate under a different legislative situation, with PIPEDA coverage for private companies and not covering us as political parties.
I don't have an opinion as to whether it would be required or not.
Thank you very much, Chair. My apologies for my tardy arrival.
Thanks to all of you for coming today. It is much appreciated, and there is a very important discussion that we can have here today.
In June, after four months of study of what began as the Cambridge Analytica-Facebook-AggregateIQ scandal, the committee, among a number of recommendations to government in our interim report, recommended that political activities come under the authority of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Mr. Calvert, you've already spoken to that.
As Mr. Saini pointed out indirectly, an awful lot of the testimony that we heard with regard to the Brexit referendum and interference, or attempted interference in the American political elections at different levels had to do with third party intervention. I'm wondering if each of you could comment—and Mr. Calvert a little more explicitly—as to whether or not each of your parties believes that extending the authority of the Privacy Commissioner to protect Canadians' privacy in the political sphere, as they are protected in the commercial sphere, would raise any objections with your respective parties.
We'll have Mr. Bailey first.
From the Liberal Party of Canada's perspective, obviously it's a critical issue that we need to address in terms of third parties. I've already outlined some of the ways in which we are trying to both address those issues and constantly improve on them within the Liberal Party.
On the issue, more broadly, of PIPEDA's application to political parties, I think we would hope that one of the serious considerations that this committee would take under advisement is the fundamental difference—I would say, founded in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms—between political participation or engagement and commercial activity. Our courts have recognized that in a number of places, including in protection of freedom of speech, etc.
If we are going to develop rules, we need to develop rules that work for all people who participate in the political process in this country. I say that from the perspective of a party that had approximately 80,000 volunteers, I think, in the last election. We need rules that work for the volunteer who's an 18-year-old, just got interested in politics, belongs to a campus club and is signing up his friends, all the way to more sophisticated people who have worked on a variety of campaigns.
From our perspective, whatever rules are developed need to recognize that fundamental reality, that political parties are voluntary associations of volunteers, fundamentally, and that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteers to every paid staff member. It would be a real disincentive to participation in the political process if people could face the kinds of penalties that exist for corporations, for instance, for non-compliance under PIPEDA. It would actually have a chilling effect, I believe, on our political process to do so.
I'll start off once again. Thank you.
We have a very similar process to that laid out by my colleague Mr. Fenrick. We receive our data from four main sources. We're very up front about all of these.
The primary one we don't purchase. It's provided to us as part of the electors list from Elections Canada. That is 90% of our data. It is the information about who is an eligible voter. That makes up the lion's share of what we have in our system.
We do purchase data from two sources. One is InfoCanada. It's basically the white pages. We buy the phone book, so we get some phone numbers to match up with those constituents who we get from the list of electors. The second one we purchase from is Canada Post's change of address list, so that our lists are as up-to-date as possible, because that is issued more frequently than the list of electors. We try to reconcile those two. That is it. We don't purchase from any other source.
The fourth source of data, I think we should make clear, is that which is provided voluntarily, primarily by our supporters, but sometimes by our non-supporters, when they make a contribution, show up at an event, purchase a membership, or if they were to contact us and indicate their support one way or another, or answer a phone call, survey or something of that nature. The only place we purchase data, to be very clear, is InfoCanada, which is the white pages, and—
Thank you, gentlemen, for coming. On behalf of the New Democratic Party, with my colleagues here, I ask that you don't target us individually for dragging your parties' representatives into the light of day. We're just doing our job here.
Mr. Fenrick, in 2012-13, leading up to the 2015 election, it was common wisdom, heard on the radio and media, that the Conservatives were really good at micro-targeting. New Democrats weren't so bad at it, but we were really trying to pick up our game. Liberals didn't really micro-target. They did one-inch wide advertising across the country. It was seen that this would be a problem for the Liberals in 2015. Then the election came, and you guys stomped us. Your micro-targeting was really good.
How did that transformation happen? Who oversaw the creation of a very impressive Liberal data machine for 2015?
I want to follow up on what Mr. Angus was asking about: micro-targeting. Right now we might collect people's religious leanings, people's ethnicities, what languages they speak and things of that nature. Do you see a limit to how far we should allow political parties to go?
If we pick up, for example, that a person is part of a hate group or a person has some sorts of views that are not acceptable in general society, you might be able to use that view. We see this in politics, so it's not hypothetical. We see this and it's used to push them a certain way. That's part of what we found out in this study and in other places.
How should we have parameters of what we should and should not allow you to do and collect? Is there anything that we should not allow you to collect?
I'd like to thank the witnesses for being here this morning.
I have no doubt as to the sincerity of your remarks today. From my 30 or so years in politics, I can tell you that, even though we are now living in the computer age, we've learned absolutely nothing. Forty years ago, I was working with people who were 50 and 60 years old at the time and who had been in the field for 40 years. When election time came around, there were lists of electors with people's phone numbers, and they were the right phone numbers. Back then, it was easy. Everyone had phone books and they were very thick. When we received the list of electors with people's names and addresses, we could look them up in the phone book. In many cases, a single household would have four, five or six voters, all with the same telephone number. That's no longer the case today.
Unfortunately, the number of land lines has dropped significantly every single year since I entered federal politics, and this will be my fifth election. Today, only 30% to 40% of people have land lines. All the rest of voters have cell phones. We don't have access to cell phone numbers, making it increasingly difficult to reach all voters. One riding can have 90,000 voters. We can knock on 10,000 doors, but let's not kid ourselves, we also have to spend time reaching out to people by phone.
Nowadays, we hear a lot about profiling. We assume people vote a certain way because they have certain views, but we can't just call them on the phone. We assume they think a certain way and we use social networks like Facebook to reach those people because we can't talk to them otherwise.
Do you think we should be allowed access to the cell phone numbers of people on the list of electors? It's fairly easy to get the phone numbers of people with land lines, but we can't get cell phone numbers, and the issue is only going to get worse. Is that something we should ask for, as lawmakers?
My question is for all three of you.
This morning, I realized that I had been a party volunteer for 25 years. It's worth noting that 25 years ago, we weren't talking about these rules, policies or codes of conduct. We are talking about them today, though. Protecting Canadians' information and making sure protocols are in place is important. I'd like to ask a few questions about what's happening on the ground. I think political parties have put codes of conduct in place, but I'd like to know what's actually happening on the ground.
How can parties make sure volunteers know about these policies, for instance, within the Federal Liberal Riding Association of Ottawa-Vanier? Can you tell us how you make sure that the people working on the ground understand the importance of protecting Canadians' personal information?
Mr. Bailey, you can go first. Please keep your answer brief.
Once again, I'll jump in first.
We start anywhere from, as the first step, simply cutting off access and then investigating it, to issuing cease and desists both to the individuals who have drawn the information and anyone who we believe has access to it. In terms of legal involvement, our legal team will get involved quickly if we feel that it has been used.
It's requested, and in fact demanded, that they destroy any copies of data if it came from our source and was used inappropriately. Then, of course, with any type of authorities that we need to go to further, if there are other rules or laws that have been broken, particularly Elections Canada laws, which are pretty broad on this topic, we co-operate with any and all investigations. Our data is our most valuable asset.