Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A needless risk

CanWest reports that the NDP is doing all it can to slow down or stop a bill which would both give voters' personal information to political parties, and make it more difficult for Canadians to vote:
The NDP vows to filibuster legislation that would require voter photo ID for the first time in Canadian federal electoral history and the handing over vital personal information about voters to political parties and election candidates.

Ottawa New Democrat MP Paul Dewar on Tuesday described the legislation as "a big brother bill" that risks widespread identity theft if voter lists with the birth dates of electors gets in the wrong hands. Dewar and NDP House leader Libby Davies are mounting a last-ditch campaign against the bill as it heads to a final Commons vote...

The legislation would require Elections Canada to assign a lifetime identifying number for each of the more than 22 million electors and put their birth dates on the permanent list of electors, which would be updated annually and made available to the political parties and candidates in each voting district.

The bill specifically allows the parties to use the information for fundraising and soliciting electoral support.

Even though voters could be required to verify their unique identifiers and birth dates at polling stations, they would also be required to produce either government-issued photo ID or two other pieces of ID showing their names and addresses.

Liberal whip Karen Redman dismissed concern about identity theft, saying Quebec, which allows the distribution of birth dates to political parties and candidates, has not experienced major problems. But federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart lists names and dates of birth among vital pieces of personal information that should be kept from free circulation to guard against identify theft.
Given that date of birth is used fairly frequently (at least from my experience) as a check in verifying a person's identity, it would seem obvious that giving out such information to political parties could leave voters far more vulnerable to identity theft than they would be otherwise. But apparently the other parties are perfectly happy to impose that risk on Canadian citizens generally if the tradeoff is more information for them to use in targeting their messages.

Unfortunately, there may not be much the NDP can do to keep the bill from passing given that the other parties in Parliament are all eager to push it through. But hopefully the NDP's stand will at least highlight who's fighting for the interests of Canadian voters rather than seeking to put political parties first.

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