Federal privacy watchdog joins U.K. and B.C. counterparts in probe of possible Brexit tampering

Canada's federal privacy commissioner is joining privacy watchdogs from B.C. and the U.K. in an investigation to determine whether Canadian privacy laws were violated in order to sway the Brexit vote.

Investigation will look at whether federal and B.C. privacy laws were broken

Privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien told CBC News Network's Power & Politics that he is going to join the UK and B.C. privacy watchdogs in investigating a Victoria based firm that is alleged to have helped Leave campaigners sidestep UK campaign spending rules. (The Canadian Press)

Canada's federal privacy commissioner is joining privacy watchdogs in B.C. and the U.K. in an investigation to determine whether Canadian privacy laws were violated in order to sway the Brexit vote.

The Victoria-based political data firm AggregateIQ, the company at the centre of this investigation, was hired by the Leave side during the U.K.'s referendum on whether to remain in the European Union.

Since the Leave side won, the company has been accused of being part of a scheme to sidestep U.K. campaign spending rules to sway the vote.

"There was already an investigation as between my counterpart in the U.K. and my provincial colleagues in British Columbia to look at … the alleged role of that company in influencing the result of Brexit," Daniel Therrien told Vassy Kapelos, host of CBC News Network's Power & Politics.

'I'm not sure they've convinced legislation is necessary,' says privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien. 7:08

"That investigation … has been ongoing for a number of months and today we have joined up in this investigation."

Facebook is also being investigated in a separate joint probe by the B.C. and federal Canadian privacy watchdogs.

Both probes will look at whether Facebook or AggregateIQ violated Canada's Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) or B.C.'s Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA).

Christopher Wylie, the Canadian whistleblower at the heart of the Facebook privacy scandal, worked for a company called Cambridge Analytica that collected data on millions of Americans.

Wylie said Cambridge Analytica exploited private social media activity to help allow the Trump campaign to better target voters by profiling their behaviour and personalities ahead of the U.S. election.

Targeting Trump voters

Wylie told a British parliamentary committee last month that he "absolutely" believed AggregateIQ — which uses social media to market political campaigns to targeted groups of voters — had drawn on databases at Cambridge Analytica for its work on the Brexit referendum.

"They [Cambridge] would fill out psychological surveys and then that app would then go and pull all of their Facebook data," Wylie told CBC in an interview last month. "From that, we were able to make inferences or predictions about people who we haven't yet spoken to.

"It allowed us to profile upwards of 50 million Americans over a span of a couple of months and understand not only their personality traits but how they think ... and what exactly we need to do in order to pick at certain mental or emotional vulnerabilities so that those people would behave in a particular way that was conducive to [Trump campaign chief executive] Steve Bannon's objective."

With files from Adrienne Arsenault

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