Photo: Jacques Nadeau Le Devoir
Faced with the threat of more cyber attacks during elections in Canada, Canadians can reassure themselves by saying that the elections in the country are conducted according to the old method.
Canada is not immune to the harm to reduce the number of voters who move to vote or to manipulate how they vote. But once the ballots are filled, even the attack the more sophisticated could not influence the results.
It is that Canada relies on, even with the traditional ballot paper, which are filled in by hand by the voter and counted by hand in some 25,000 polling stations in Canada, under the watchful eye of scrutineers from each political party.
Marc Mayrand, former chief electoral officer of Canada, stresses that it is a “highly decentralized state” based on the paper, which is handy for double-checking after the fact.
Mr. Mayrand, who retired a year ago, acknowledges that there could be problems in the transmission of results, which could also be tampered with on the web. But it is always possible to go and check the paper, regardless of what happens on the canvas, he adds.
We can’t say the same thing of other countries that have been the target of cyber-attacks during their elections, including the United States.
As we have learned from the incident of the automated calls, the technology is very inexpensive and easy to use to manipulate the electoral process and the voters, in this case.
Marc Mayrand, former chief electoral officer of Canada
Several canadian cities have shown, however, more excited to implement more technology in the voting process, which makes them more vulnerable to cyber attacks, according to Marc Mayrand.
The minister of democratic Institutions, Karina Gould, said that the security experts recommended to retain the traditional way of voting in the canadian elections ” because of the reliability of the ballot paper “.
However, it is of little consolation when one considers that voters could be influenced before a vote — and they might not even make it to the polls.
So far, the only real mischief in Canada has been committed when the automated calls were released in 2011 during the federal election. Thousands of voters in nearly 250 districts in the country said they had received an automated message to inform them, falsely, that the location of their polling stations had changed.
An employee was a conservative, who has always proclaimed his innocence, was eventually condemned for having used this scheme in an ontario riding.
“I’m not going to hide it. The incident of the automated calls we opened our eyes. As we have learned from the incident of the automated calls, the technology is very inexpensive and easy to use to manipulate the electoral process and the voters, in this case, ” said Mr. Mayrand.
This event has encouraged Mr. Mayrand to establish an office of integrity within Elections Canada, whose mission is to identify the trends of cyber attacks, here and elsewhere, assess the risks and establish procedures to monitor and prevent these illegal activities.
The u.s. case
The federal agency has no doubt gone to great lengths in the aftermath of the presidential election of 2016 in the United States. The Russian officials are alleged to have hacked into the emails of the democratic Party and of the organization of the candidate, Hillary Clinton, as well as the electronic systems of voting in some 39 States.
It accuses the Kremlin of having put in place the robots on the social media for spreading false news, amplify some of the messages and exacerbate divisions and tensions.
Russia, which denies the allegations, is accused of having orchestrated similar attacks in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, and Mexico.
Mr. Mayrand doubt that Canada is a target so attractive to those who want to interfere in the elections abroad. He is concerned that more people who might want to disrupt the elections only to affect the confidence that citizens have towards their democratic institutions or political employees who might want to manipulate the results to benefit one party.
On this point, robots on the web have already been present during the last campaigns.
A study conducted by the professors of communications, Fenwick McKelvey and Elizabeth Dubois, which was published in November in the journal ” policy Options “, revealed that robots had been used for the 2015 elections to boost the popularity of news sites alternative. Robots have also been used in 2012 to boost support for the Coalition avenir Québec.
The robots amplifiers can ” inflate the positioning on social media, as well as to mislead the journalists, the public and the politicians who may feel that a message has more support than he really has “, the researchers write.
With the decline of traditional media as their first source of information, the minister Gould, who is responsible for ensuring that the electoral system is protected from attacks, has another concern: that voters draw from information from only those who share their point of view.
“When you play the world, you interact in person with people who have lived different experiences, who have different backgrounds and who have different opinions from us. These individuals are able to challenge our beliefs and influence us to think differently “, she said.
“But online, the algorithms can create a filter in which we are only exposed to ideas that reinforce our own beliefs. “
Punish the perpetrators ?
The social media are for the moment still well shy to punish those who use their platform to manipulate the voters. But according to Marc Mayrand, it is time to hold them accountable.
“They can’t just operate on a highway, and ignore all the dangers on this highway. This is a complex issue, it is difficult. But we are beginning to realize, I believe, that the erosion of the traditional media, and the openness to all kinds of information, not filtered, without hindrance, should be considered “, he argued.
“If you provide a vehicle to commit a crime, I don’t think you should be free of any charge. “
Last year, Germany introduced a law that would require the giants of social media to quickly remove the criminal content and false news, inciting hatred, without which they would face fines of several million dollars.
Ms. Gould has not said whether Canada will adopt the same approach. “We need to make the balance between the right of individuals to freedom of expression with the right of the individual not to be misled and to make decisions by themselves,” she said.
The political parties no longer controlled?
Mr. Mayrand also believes that it is time that the political parties are subject to the same legal standards that all private businesses regarding the collection, use and protection of personal data.
On this point, the minister Gould seems to want to leave it to the parties to regulate themselves, although it has organized meetings between the communications security establishment (CSE) and training policies, to give them advice on how to avoid cyber attack.
“No party wants to be responsible for a theft of data. It is in their best interest to protect the data they have and use it responsibly, ” she said.
In a paper published in the month of June on the risks of cyber-attacks during the canadian elections, the CSE has said that the political parties, the politicians themselves and the media were the most vulnerable.
The agency had concluded that there had been cyber attacks to be modest and not sophisticated in the 2015 elections. They would not have had any real impact, but the CST has warned that other attacks that are more elaborate may arise at the next election in 2019.