Canada to regulate social media firms as measure against election meddling

Justin Trudeau
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during the Daughters of the Vote event in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

The world’s major social media companies are not doing enough to help Canada combat potential foreign meddling in this October’s elections and the government might have to regulate them, the cabinet minister in charge of ensuring a fair vote said on Monday.

Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould spoke shortly after Canada’s electronic signals spy agency said it was very likely that foreign actors will try to meddle in the election.

Gould expects Facebook Inc, Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google to help safeguard the vote by promoting transparency, authenticity, and integrity on their platforms, and said she has been disappointed by the slowness of talks with the companies.

Asked whether Ottawa could regulate the companies, Gould said Canada would need to look at other mechanisms if it did not see enough progress, and noted that Britain proposed a social media regulator on Monday.

“We are having active conversations with our partners and allies around the world as to what this would look like in the Canadian context … if there was a moment and opportunity we would seriously look into how we can move forward,” she said.

Earlier Monday, the Communications Signals Establishment (CSE), responsible for foreign signals intelligence and protecting Canadian government electronic information and communication networks, released a report into likely foreign interference in the elections but did not mention any specific threat from Russia.

U.S. intelligence officials and the governments of some European Union countries have accused Russia of interfering in their elections in recent years, allegations denied by Moscow.

“It is very likely that Canadian voters will encounter foreign cyber interference ahead of, and during, the 2019 general election,” said the CSE, which noted democratic governments around the world were experiencing more cyber attacks.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said last week she was very concerned about possible Russian interference in the voting and that there “have probably already been efforts by malign foreign actors to disrupt our democracy”.

CSE said it was unlikely a foreign cyber campaign would be as major as the one Russian actors launched during the 2016 U.S. elections, in part because public awareness of the potential threats was now much greater.

A U.S. intelligence report in January 2017 said Russian President Vladimir Putin directed a sophisticated influence campaign including cyber attacks to denigrate Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and support Donald Trump.

The chances of an adversary actually overturning the results of a Canadian election are almost nonexistent, given that voters use paper ballots.

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