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Canada  

Spies' eyes on Facebook

The Trudeau government is turning to its spy agency and high-tech cybersleuths to ensure that the privacy rights of Canadians are being protected as revelations swirl about Facebook data being exploited for political gain.

And Scott Brison, the acting minister for democratic institutions, says he would also be open to strengthening federal privacy laws even further to better protect those who share their information online.

Brison was responding to revelations about Canadian data expert Christopher Wylie, who is accusing data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica of improperly obtaining private data from Facebook users in order to help advance Donald Trump's campaign efforts ahead of the U.S. election.

Policy-makers around the world are grappling with the implications following media reports that data collected by Facebook and other social-media companies is being harvested and used to influence elections.

Recent reports by The New York Times and The Observer of London say Trump's 2016 campaign hired Cambridge Analytica, which crunched private information it inappropriately collected from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users.

Wylie has said in media interviews that the company used the information to profile voters and has alleged the company took fake news to the next level. The company denies any wrongdoing.

Facebook's alleged data seepage has created worries in Canada, where the country's largest provinces are set to go to the polls this year and a federal election sits on the horizon for 2019.

"We've reached out as a department of democratic institutions to (the Communications Security Establishment) to ask them to do an analysis of these recent events and to consider other ways that we can further strengthen the protection of our democratic institutions," Brison said in Ottawa.

"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 said he planned to meet with CSE and also the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the national domestic spy service, to consider the global environment and assess threats to the electoral system and the protection of personal information.

And while he said Canada already has strong privacy laws, Brison said he'd be open to making further changes if necessary.

The government has also contacted Facebook to find out if any Canadians were among those affected by the data breach and to call on the company to explain how it will ensure this kind of event doesn't happen again, said a spokeswoman for Brison.

New Democrat MP Charlie Angus said Monday that if information giants like Facebook have the potential to distort the outcome of elections, they need to be held to account.

Angus said he believes Facebook has a legal international responsibility to protect users' information from bad actors looking to use it for nefarious purposes.

"Facebook seems to have a very cavalier attitude towards the protection of private information," Angus said.

"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."

Angus said the time has come for the creation of a global national framework to deal with social-media companies that hold vast stores of personal information —and wants Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to raise the issue when Canada hosts the G7 summit in June.



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