Canada, Rebuking Tech Giants, Braces for Possible Election Interference
OTTAWA — Canada is expecting foreign interference in its national election in October, and is considering stronger regulation of social media companies to ensure they block meddling in the voting, the minister responsible for election integrity said on Monday.
The minister spoke after the release of an updated report by Canada’s electronic eavesdropping and security agency on online interference by other countries in the Canadian election.
“We judge it very likely that Canadian voters will encounter some form of foreign cyber interference related to the 2019 federal election,” the report said. “However, at this time, it is improbable that this foreign cyber interference will be of the scale of Russian activity against the 2016 United States presidential election.”
“Canada is a target of choice for those who seek to undermine our democracy,” said the minister, Karina Gould, at a news conference in Ottawa.
The report does not indicate what countries are likely to attack Canada, and both Harjit Sajjan, the defense minister, and Shelly Bruce, who heads the electronic security agency, declined to elaborate.
Ms. Gould also criticized Google, Twitter and Facebook for not providing the Canadian government with the same degree of information they have offered Europe about their efforts to mitigate possible election interference.
“We have not really seen that much progress with them,” she said, adding that the major social media platforms have declined to give the government regular updates about what they are observing and what they are doing to prevent any misbehavior.
“There’s a lot left to be desired in terms of how seriously they’re taking these issues,” she said.
Kevin Chan, the head of public policy for Facebook Canada, said the company plans to introduce new rules for paid political advertising in Canada and is making efforts to block foreign meddling in elections.
“We take the protection of election integrity on our platform extremely seriously at Facebook, and we want to be a force for good in Canadian democracy,” he in a statement.
Colin McKay, head of government policy at Google Canada, said the company had met several times with several branches of the Canadian government to discuss “transparency, cybersecurity and information.”
The company is also working with Canada’s Canadian Center for Cyber Security, a government agency, on preventing malicious attacks. Twitter declined to comment.
“We have every intention of continuing our close work with government to protect Canada’s democratic institutions and election activities,” Mr. McKay said in a statement.
The company did not address Ms. Gould’s call for formal regulation.
Ms. Gould said Canada was reviewing its laws to see how they can be used to force action by online companies, and also considering new legislation.
It is also reviewing steps by other countries, including Britain’s proposal on Monday to set up a social media regulator, and recent changes to Australia’s laws that, among other things, could lead to the jailing of executives from social media companies if they allow the live broadcast of graphic violence on their platforms.
“We are having active conversations with our partners and allies around the world as to what this would look like in the Canadian context,” Ms. Gould said.
She added, “The platforms have been able to avoid being held to account for what takes place on their platforms for too long.”
Separately on Monday, Facebook banned several Canadians and groups that promote white supremacy.
In a statement, the company said it was shutting down accounts held by Faith Goldy, a far-right former mayoral candidate in Toronto, and several groups including the Soldiers of Odin and the Canadian Nationalist Front.
Earlier this year, the government set up a committee with representatives from the civil service, the security service and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to look for signs of interference in this year’s vote.
The report found that any interference is likely to be limited to the spread of misinformation during the campaign. It concluded that any interference in voting results was highly unlikely because Canada still uses paper ballots in national votes.