The Trudeau (Canadian) government has tasked its spy agency with the job of ensuring that Canadian citizens have their rights to privacy protected. The news comes as revelations have come to light that Facebook data has been exploited for political gain.
Canada’s acting minister for democratic institutions, Scott Brison, has stated that he will be willing to consider the strengthening of federal privacy laws to ensure that the information shared online by Canada’s citizens gets protected even more than at present.
His comments came in response to accusations from Christopher Wylie, a Canadian data expert, who claims that Cambridge Analytica has been obtaining private information from Facebook users to boost Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
The world’s politicians are scrambling to respond to the challenges that these accusations pose, with their citizens having data from Facebook and other social media companies harvested and manipulated for the personal gain of scrupulous politicians and business people.
It has been widely reported that the Trump presidential campaign hired Cambridge Analytica, allegedly to analyze private information of over 50 million individuals that had been acquired improperly.
According to Wylie, Cambridge Analytica used this information to profile voters and produce fake news at a level that exceeded levels previously seen. The company denies breaching the law.
With federal and provincial elections approaching, Canadian politicians are concerned about the news that Facebook data has been used to improperly influence the outcomes of election campaigns in the US, and the UK’s Brexit referendum.
Brison stated that his department had asked the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) to conduct an analysis of the revelations and to consider options to improve the protection of Canadian democratic institutions.
“Social media platforms have a responsibility to protect the privacy and personal data of citizens, and to protect the integrity of our electoral system where they operate.”
Brison plans to meet with CSE and also the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), to assess the threat personal information and the election system and will consider strengthening Canada’s already robust privacy laws if necessary.
A Brison spokeswoman also stated that the Canadian government has reached out to Facebook to understand whether any of its citizens were included in the data used by Cambridge Analytica and to request an explanation as to how the company plans to prevent this happening again in the future.
Charlie Angus, a New Democrat MP, has said that if it is possible for companies like Facebook to alter the results of elections, then they must be held accountable.
He believes that Facebook must protect the information of its users from unethical persons and organizations that wish to use it for nefarious purposes. He went on to say that “Facebook seems to have a very cavalier attitude towards the protection of private information.”
Angus believes that a global, national framework is needed to deal with companies that hold vast quantities of personal information. Stating that: “what’s come out of the allegations against Cambridge Analytica was the ability to subvert Facebook to use the stories, the chats that people have, to create the perfect propaganda machine.”
Because of this, he wants Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to lead discussions at the G7 which will be held in Canada in June.
Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien announced that his office had offered assistance to a UK Information Commissioner’s Office investigation into the affair, stating that his ultimate goal is to protect the privacy rights of Canadian Facebook users.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been summoned by a British parliamentary committee to be questioned on matters relating to fake news, as the government tries to understand whether his company’s data has been used to influence the outcome of democratic elections improperly.
Facebook claims that the data was provided voluntarily by the users involved, and therefore the information was not acquired through a data breach, instead stating that it was accessed by a University of Cambridge professor, after requesting consent from users who completed a test online. Facebook said that is has recruited a digital forensics team to audit Cambridge Analytica thoroughly and to conclude if this Facebook data has been destroyed, or if it still exists, as the accusations suggest.
Cambridge Analytica denies any wrongdoing, that it did not obtain Facebook data improperly, and reaffirms that no Facebook data was used as part of Trump’s presidential election campaign. It is backed up by the Trump campaign itself, which stated it relied on information from the Republican National Committee.