Foreign blackmailers and foreign terrorist groups are using Canadians’ social media feeds to profile individuals and spread misinformation, Canadian intelligence officials warned MPs on Monday.
Shelley Henderson, deputy director-general of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS), warned that hostile foreign powers are not waiting for elections to intervene in Canada.
“Foreign interference doesn’t just happen during elections,” Henderson told members of the House Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. “Foreign interference happens all the time, every day.”
Ms. Henderson said she is also very concerned about the threat of foreign terrorist organizations seeking to recruit young Canadians to their cause.
“That’s what I’m very, very concerned about,” she said. “Because I think there are a lot of young people who are very vulnerable at the moment and a lot of very hostile actors who are going to take advantage of those kids.”
The commission is investigating the extent to which personal information Canadians share on social media platforms could end up in the hands of foreign governments. The hearing comes months after the federal government banned TikTok from all government-issued cell phones on the recommendation of Canada’s chief information officer.
The ban followed warnings that the Chinese government could access TikTok users’ data.
Last month, TikTok officials told the commission that the company complies with Canadian law, arguing that China and the Chinese government cannot see Canadian users’ data.
On Monday, when officials from Canada’s spy agency and the Communications Security Establishment’s Canadian Center for Cyber Security appeared before the committee, the focus was on the potential threats posed by all social media platforms.
Henderson said foreign attackers could use a variety of tools to scrape social media accounts. The more Canadians share about their lives online, the more attackers can target and influence them.
“Threat actors, including the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China, use deceptive algorithms to amplify echo chambers and manipulate content for unsuspecting audiences,” Henderson told lawmakers. “They are misusing the media to spread false information.”
In addition to China and Russia, Iran and North Korea are also high on the list of countries of concern, he said.
Officials may observe attempts to interfere, but it can take a very long time to determine the actual cause of the interference, Henderson said.
Sami Khoury, director of the Canadian Center for Cyber Security, said the center is concerned that foreign threat actors are using artificial intelligence to improve their ability to interfere in Canada.
“We know that artificial intelligence is often used to amplify misinformation. This is part of the algorithmic nature of some tools to amplify misinformation,” Corey said. said. “We are also concerned about information leakage due to artificial intelligence during online interactions.”
Coley and Henderson said Canadians should pay more attention to the information they put online, where it’s stored and how it’s used.
NDP MP Matthew Green raised the threat posed by social media platforms that are not based in a hostile country. He noted that foreign attackers could easily buy data about Canadians that is collected and sold by companies like Facebook and X (formerly Twitter).
Sharon Polsky, president of the Privacy and Access Council of Canada, warns that information about Canadians who use social media platforms is regularly sold and traded, calling for stricter measures to protect personal privacy online. He warned that legislation was needed.
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