Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics Publishes a Report on the Breach of Personal Information Involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica

Today, Bob Zimmer, MP and Chair of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, presented in the House of Commons a report entitled Democracy Under Threat: Risks and Solutions in the Era of Disinformation and Data Monopoly.

In the report, the Committee makes 26 recommendations to the federal government that pertain to the protection of personal information in a context of disinformation and data monopoly. These recommendations include the 8 preliminary recommendations contained in the Committee’s interim report presented to Parliament last June. One key recommendation is to subject political parties to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).

The other recommendations of the Committee ask the Government of Canada to:

o subject political third parties to PIPEDA;
o provide additional resources to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to ensure efficient exercise of its additional powers;
o ensure that no foreign funding has an impact on elections in Canada;
o ensure transparency in online political advertisements;
o impose certain obligations on social media platforms regarding the labelling of content produced algorithmically, the labelling of paid advertisement online, the removal of inauthentic and fraudulent accounts, and the removal of manifestly illegal contents such as hate speech;
o provide to an existing or a new regulatory body the mandate to proactively audit algorithms;
o include principles of data portability and system interoperability in PIPEDA;
o study the potential economic harms caused by data-opolies and determine whether the Competition Act should be modernized;
o study how cyber threats affect democratic institutions and the electoral system;
o conduct research regarding the impacts of online disinformation and misinformation as well as the cognitive impacts of digital products which create user dependence; and
o invest in digital literacy initiatives.

“Throughout the course of this study I have grown increasingly concerned about the misuse of Canadians’ personal data, disinformation or ‘fake news’, and foreign influence that threaten our democracy. I urge the Government of Canada to act quickly and adopt the recommendations laid out in this report to better protect Canadians from these threats. It is our responsibility to make sure digital platforms such as Facebook and Google not only get a grip on their responsibility to properly safeguard their platforms but to act to prevent the bullies from continuing to manipulate our new ‘public square” said Bob Zimmer, Chair of the Committee.

“At the same time as social media and tech giants have generated billions of dollars in profits, they have failed to take sufficient steps to protect our democracy and our personal privacy. The time for self-regulation is over.” said Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Vice-Chair of the Committee.

The Committee held 18 public meetings as part of this study and heard from 47 witnesses, some of them having testified more than once. The report and witness testimony heard by the Committee is available on the Committee’s website.

The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics has 11 members. It is chaired by Bob Zimmer (Prince George–Peace River–Northern Rockies), with vice-chairs Nathaniel Erskine-Smith (Beaches–East York) and Charlie Angus (Timmins–James Bay). The other members are Frank Baylis (Pierrefonds–Dollard), Mona Fortier (Ottawa–Vanier), Jacques Gourde (Lévis–Lotbinière), the Honourable Peter Kent (Thornhill), Joyce Murray (Vancouver Quadra, Parliamentary Secretary – non-voting member), Michel Picard (Montarville), Raj Saini (Kitchener Centre), and Anita Vandenbeld (Ottawa West–Nepean).

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