Liberals enlist spy service as NDP asks privacy watchdog to look into Facebook's data leak

The Liberal government is enlisting CSIS and the Communications Security Establishment to look into how secure online personal information is being secured as three federal NDP MPs ask Canada's privacy watchdog to investigate Facebook amid concerns the social media giant is not properly securing the private data of Canadians.

Trudeau tells House of Commons he will bring up issue at G7 summit in Quebec's Charlevoix region

Three NDP MPs have written to Canada's Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien asking him to investigate Facebook's efforts to keep the private information of Canadian users safe. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

The Liberal government is enlisting CSIS and the Communications Security Establishment to look into how online personal information is being managed — just as three federal NDP MPs are asking Canada's privacy watchdog to investigate Facebook over concerns the social media giant is not properly securing the private data of Canadians.

On Monday, NDP MPs Charlie Angus, Matthew Dubé and Brian Masse wrote to Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien in the wake of media reports alleging massive privacy breaches at Facebook.

"Over the weekend, the troubling news emerged that Cambridge Analytica, a firm owned by hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer and linked to the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, was able to access tens of millions of Facebook users' private data without their consent for use in psychographic modelling for political purposes," the letter said.

"The reaction of Facebook's executives to this enormous breach of its users' privacy has been incredibly cavalier."

The letter goes on to ask Therrien to ensure that the information of Canadian Facebook users has not been compromised and that the social media outlet will adequately protect users going forward.

"As Members of Parliament, we will also be calling for a parliamentary investigation into this breach, as well as broader review of the practices of large tech and media platforms with regard to user privacy, data storage and market competition."

Enlisting CSIS and the CSE

Acting Democratic Institutions Minister Scott Brison, echoing comments he made Monday, confirmed Tuesday the government is enlisting Canada's foreign signals intelligence agency in the job of checking up on social media's privacy safeguards.

"We also, as a government, asked [the Communications Security Establishment] to actually engage on this. They did a thorough report on this in 2017 and they are vigilant on an ongoing basis both working with social media platforms, but also with other governments," he said.

CSE also works to protect Canadian computer networks and information from outside attack and assists with police and security operations.

"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 told The Canadian Press he would also meet with 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.

Privacy commissioner reaching out to Facebook

Daniel Therrien, Canada's privacy commissioner, said in a statement on Monday that the reports raise "serious privacy concerns."

Therrien said that his office will be contacting Facebook to seek information about whether the personal information of Canadians was affected.

He also called on the Canadian government to strengthen regulations surrounding the collection, use and disclosure of personal information by political parties.

This weekend The New York Times and the British newspaper The Observer reported that U.S. President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign hired Cambridge Analytica, and that the company harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users.

In a lengthy blog post, Facebook said that, while none of the information leakage was a result of a data breach, it did appear to involve the passing of personal information from Cambridge Analytica to a third party when that data was supposed to have been destroyed.

"We are suspending Strategic Communication Laboratories, including their political data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, from Facebook," the social media company's vice-president and deputy general counsel Paul Grewal said after learning of the allegations.

"Several days ago, we received reports that, contrary to the certifications we were given, not all data was deleted. We are moving aggressively to determine the accuracy of these claims. If true, this is another unacceptable violation of trust and the commitments they made," said Grewal.

Acting Minister of Democratic Institutions Scott Brison discusses the alleged Facebook data breach involving Cambridge Analytica and what the government is doing to secure the data and privacy of Canadians. 8:48

Beyond having the privacy commissioner look into Facebook and asking a parliamentary committee to examine the facts, Angus said he wants Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take up the issue internationally. 

"We're also asking the prime minister, Mr. Trudeau, when he meets with the G7 to take this up with his international counterparts," Angus said Tuesday. 

Asked in House of Commons question period Tuesday by the NDP's Guy Caron if he would commit to bringing the subject up with his G7 counterparts, Trudeau said he would. 

"I can reassure the member opposite that not only will we do that, we have already done that several times. We have had these kinds of conversations at the G7 summit," Trudeau told the House in French.

"I've had these kinds of conversations with my counterparts, whether it be Theresa May or others, about the responsibility of web giants to respect privacy, to respect our democratic institutions, and we are working on this."

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With files from The Canadian Press

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