Tag Archive: Cambridge Analytica

My latest, on the so-called “digital charter”

The Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development blinked. Then he blinked again. 

He has just been asked if his government’s “Digital Charter” would apply to his own political party. You know, the governing Liberal Party of Canada. 

He doesn’t answer. The host on CBC’s “Power and Politics” genially tries again. Will the Liberal Party agree to go along with the rules it proposes to impose on everyone else? Will the Grits practice what they preach on data privacy?

Navdeep Bains, the Minister with the aforementioned long title doesn’t answer. Again. 

Bains rallies. He sternly says the penalties for violating Canadians’ privacy will be “substantial.” The CBC inquisitor asks what that means. 

Navdeep Bains doesn’t say. 

And so it goes, as with much that the Justin Trudeau regime does: do as they say, but not as they do. Talk the talk, but don’t walk the talk. 

Justin Trudeau does that sort of thing a lot: you know, oversell, then underdeliver. Insincerity, phoniness, dishonesty. It’s his brand, pretty much. 

And there is no better recent example of that sort of rank hypocrisy than Justin Trudeau’s so-called“Digital Charter.”

Announced a few days back with much fanfare, but not much detail, the “charter” sketches out some basic principles about data protection and online privacy. 

Justin Trudeau, as is his wont, revealed the “Digital Charter” in Paris, where he knew his audience was likely to be less critical than the ones back home. Overseas, Prime Minister Chewbacca Socks can still command the occasional round of applause.

Not so much back here in the colonies, where the “Digital Charter” is like so much that Trudeau does – all sizzle, no steak. All talk, no action. 

That’s not to say Trudeau’s “Charter” – he calls it that, presumably, because it sounds like he’s serious, when he isn’t, really – doesn’t have some laudable goals. It wants to combat the spread of hate and violent extremism online, and who could be against that?

Except, well, Justin Trudeau has had nearly four full years to do something about the explosion in hate online. Every other Western democracy has done something about it. But Justin Trudeau? He waits until we are a mere 100 days or so from the 2019 election kick-off, and then claims he’s The Hate Fighter™️. 

Oh, and his “Charter” isn’t going to become law until (a) after said election takes place, and (b) he is re-elected. The chances of which, all the pollsters tell us, is presently somewhere between slim and none. 

It’s a problem. A big one. In an era where Facebook and other online behemoths regularly steal the private information of citizens, and profit from it, Canadians actually need something like the “digital charter.” At the moment, regular folks don’t have the ability to control – or consent to – the way all the political parties use their data, either. 

In 2019, when the tech giants steal your private information, they get fined pocket change. And the political parties – when they do likewise – they don’t get fined at all. They get away with it. 

The federal Privacy Commissioner, who has saint-like patience, has recently held press conferences about this outrage. He’s even brought along the Elections Commissioner, who has nodded his head and soberly agreed: the Trudeau government needs to be subject to the law, just as every other citizen and corporation is. 

But Justin Trudeau refuses. 

With less than a month to go until the House of Commons rises for the Summer, not to return for many months, Justin Trudeau needs to put his mouth where our money is. He needs to agree, finally, to practice what he preaches to the rest of us. 

Will he? Don’t hold your breath. 

But hold onto your data. 

(Justin Trudeau wants it.)

Column: the Canadian connection

It’s the biggest political scandal in the world.

And it involves a bunch of Canadians.

For quite some time now, it’s been known that Vladimir Putin’s Russia – and assorted other outlaw states, like North Korea – have been engaged in acts of cyber-war against democracies around the globe.  Long before Special Counsel Robert Mueller was hired to probe Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, in fact, it was widely accepted that hackers had targeted Western democracy.

In one extraordinary July 2016 press conference at one of his South Florida resorts, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump even said the following: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing…They probably have them. I’d like to have them released.”

Trump had invited a hostile foreign power to hack into the computers of private U.S. citizens.  After his request to his pal Vlad, it should have surprised no one that Russia did precisely that.  They hacked democracy. Trump would go on to “win” the Electoral College with three million fewer votes than his opponent.  Interesting, that.

In the ensuing months, that is what has constituted the broad outlines of this story.  One, the bad guys were Russians, mainly.  Two, the beneficiaries were Trump and his cabal, mostly.  Three, the victims were the legions of normal people who opposed Trump, and who cling to the notion that democracy is worth saving.  And, four, the criminals and the crime were known, too: predominantly anonymous Russian hackers who manipulated less than 80,000 votes in three American states, thereby engineering a “victory” for Trump.

In recent days, however, the story has changed.  The cast of characters has expanded.  So too the victims, and the nature of the alleged crimes.

A few days ago, Canadian Press revealed that the self-proclaimed “whistleblower” in the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal was a Canadian who had worked for the Liberal Party of Canada, receiving tens of thousands of dollars to do…well, we don’t know, exactly.  The managing director of the Liberal Caucus Research Bureau says Christopher Wylie was simply “assist[ing] the Liberal Research Bureau in acquiring and setting up social media monitoring tools.”

As benign as that may sound, however, let’s not forget that “acquiring and setting up social media monitoring tools” was also what Putin and Co. were doing, too, for their American pal, the Mango Mussolini.

Wylie claims to be a whistleblower, one who is now profoundly offended by what everyone at Cambridge Analytica and Facebook were doing.  But the unvarnished facts remain: Wylie helped create Cambridge Analytica, he worked there, and he sold the Canadian Liberals (and, later, the U.S. Trumpist Republicans) on making use of personal information appropriated from the profiles of millions upon millions of Facebook users.

And – surprise, surprise – he wasn’t alone.  It turns out a few other Canadians were involved, too, at a shadowy British Columbia-based outfit that called itself AggregateIQ.  Last week, Wylie told British Parliamentarians that AggregateIQ was up to no good, too.

AggregateIQ was co-founded by Canadian Liberals Jeff Silvester and Zack Massingham in Victoria in 2013, Wylie told a British Parliamentary committee – and it worked very closely with Cambridge Analytica’s parent company.  The three companies were allied from 2013 to 2016, influencing vote outcomes in Trinidad and Tobago; Nigeria; the United States; and Britain’s Brexit campaign.

Wylie – in whose mouth the proverbial butter would not melt – told the British MPs that AggregateIQ, which he helped to set up, “really doesn’t consider the ethics of its actions,” adding that the Canadian company would go to considerable lengths “to do what their clients want.”  Up to and including, he said, disseminating videos of people being slaughtered with machetes, to intimidate their votes in the 2014 Nigerian presidential election.

Chistopher Wylie was deeply involved with, and helped to create, Cambridge Analytica and AggregateIQ.  For him to now claim to be shocked and appalled by their activities stretches credulity to the breaking point.  But, with multiple investigations now underway on two continents – some involving law enforcement – we will all get a truer picture of Wylie’s role, soon enough.

What remains stubbornly unanswered, however, is whether these three young men – Messrs. Wylie, Silvester and Massingham – broke any laws here in Canada. And whether they did so on behalf of the political entity they all supported.

The Liberal Party of Canada.

Column: as with Trump, what if they won by cheating?

It almost seems kind of quaint, doesn’t it?

Back when the Conservative Party was running things, the commentariat were apoplectic about something called CIMS: the Constituent Information Management System (CIMS).

“Tory database draws ire of privacy experts,” went one CTV News headline.  An “unethical invasion of Canadians’ privacy,” thundered Conservative-turned-Liberal MP Garth Turner.  It was “chilling,” warned University of Ottawa privacy expert Michael Geist.

A decade ago, the Conservative Party started using CIMS for targeted appeals to voters, for donations, and to Get Out the Vote on election day.  CIMS relied upon information gleaned from door-to-door canvassing, phone banks and direct mailings to gather information – and it gave the CPC a decided edge, too.

CIMS provided the Conservatives with what is called “psychographic” data – that is, very specific information about a person’s personality and attitudes, their values and interests, and their lifestyle.  It was much more than a voter’s street address, postal code and voting history: CIMS offered the Tories data about a person’s IAOs – their Interests, Attitudes and Opinions.

The value of all that stuff was certainly apparent to the Liberals and the New Democrats, who started to lose to the Conservatives right around the time that the CIMS machine was humming away in a CPC backroom.  CIMS gave Harper’s team a better way to identify supporters, and communicate with them.  It also gave them a means to micro-target and then mobilize supporters and potential supporters.

As noted, CIMS seems a bit old-fashioned now, like dial-up modems and Blackberries.  It has been overtaken by something that is far more invasive, and far more dangerous.  And it has a moonish, bland face: Christopher Wylie.

He’s a Canadian, as the entire planet knows by now.  Among other things, he has hammered the reputation of one of the biggest companies on Earth (Facebook), he has gutted the markets ($50 billion, from Facebook) with his revelations about illicit/illegal activity, and he has set off a firestorm in political capitals around the world (Washington, Ottawa and London, all focusing on Facebook).

He calls himself a whistleblower, but that seems to be a bit of mendacious spin and proactive self-preservation.  In reality, Wylie was the guy who helped create the companies which stole highly personal information about millions upon millions of voters.

And he did that kind of work for the Liberal Party of Canada, too, for successive Liberal leaders.  Including the current one.  The Prime Minister.

For the record: during the blessedly brief period when I was advising Michael Ignatieff, I did not ever meet young Mr. Wylie.  I am told now that he hung out with what I called the propeller-heads – the ones who manipulated data down in the bowels of the various offices of the Leader of the Opposition.

No one in Liberaldom wants to admit to knowing Wylie these days, of course, because they correctly sense that a genuine scandal is in the offing.  The guy who helped engineer one of the biggest data breaches in human history worked, as it turned out, for them.

Usually, when an individual has become radioactive, politicos adopt a standardized approach.  The revolving-door Trump White House uses it quite a bit.  First, claim the individual in question was “just a volunteer,” nothing more.  If that doesn’t work, insist the aforementioned individual is unimportant, a “coffee boy,” in effect.  And if none of that works – and it rarely does – join the pile-on, and say, with a straight face, that the President/Prime Minister/Potentate “never met with this person, and is cooperating with police.”

Pat Sorbara was the Grits’ 2011 deputy campaign boss – and, in 2014, a very senior campaign advisor to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.  She is one of the few who has been willing to speak about Wylie on the record.  Wylie was “way ahead of his time,” Sorbara marveled in the Globe.  The two of them spitballed various microtargeting techniques.

“[Sorbara] was impressed by his ideas,” reported the Globe and Mail, “but said that after his initial presentation she had to reject his proposals owing to a lack of time and resources.”  So the story changes, yet again: the Ignatieff Liberals didn’t reject Wylie because what he was suggesting was unethical and possibly illegal.

No, they didn’t use him because they couldn’t afford it.

Regrettably for Ignatieff’s successor, that all changed in 2016.  In that year, Christopher Wylie was paid at least $100,000 by Trudeau’s own political hit squad – the Liberal Caucus Services Bureau.  It is impossible to claim that the bespectacled, cherubic computer whiz with the technicolour tresses is a mere coffee boy – as the Trudeau spinners initially did – because they paid him, they now admit, $100,000.

That’s more than what most of their full-time tech folks are paid in a year, Virginia.  And that, therefore, has all the makings of a full-blown scandal.

Stephen Harper, sitting in a Calgary office tower looking at the yellowed press clippings about the scandal that was CIMS, must be having a good old chuckle.