The Liberal Caucus Research Bureau paid $100,000 in 2016 to the man at the heart of an international scandal over the mining of private information of 50 million Facebook users. But what exactly did Christopher Wylie do for them?
Explosive reports rippled out around the world over the weekend, after Canadian data scientist Christopher Wylie came forward to reveal a voter profiling firm he helped establish called Cambridge Analytica had accessed the personal information of millions of Facebook users without their consent.
The firm then reportedly exploited that data to support the campaign of U.S. President Donald Trump.
Canadian Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien has launched an investigation into Facebook into whether it failed to protect the private information of its users in Canada.
WATCH: Opposition hammer Liberals over Christopher Wylie, Facebook scandal
A class-action lawsuit was also filed Wednesday in the United States against both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.
But in Canada, news Wednesday morning that the Liberals had tried a pilot project by Cambridge Analytica shortly after being elected has raised questions about exactly what kinds of information the company could have harvested, or come into contact with, about Canadians without their knowledge or consent.
Minutes before the start of question period on Wednesday, the Liberal Caucus Research Bureau issued a statement acknowledging the contracted work and explaining what it says Wylie did and did not do.
WATCH BELOW: Whistleblower apologizes for role in Cambridge Analytica, says company could impact elections
“In early 2016, Mr. Wylie’s company Eunoia Technologies ran a pilot project for the Liberal Caucus Research Bureau,” said Melissa Cotton, managing director of the Liberal Research Bureau.
The statement said Wylie’s pilot project had been contracted to do four things:
- Design and organize several national samples of Canadians to explore responses to Government policy priorities and other issues of national importance.
- Recruit constituents to identify a range of local or regional issues not covered in the general national polling exercises.
- Assist the Liberal Research Bureau in setting up the infrastructure to monitor the performance of the Liberal Members of Parliament in communicating with their constituents.
- Assist the Liberal Research Bureau in acquiring and setting up social media monitoring tools.
However, while Cotton said “preliminary work” was done by the firm, the project did not go any further.
“After seeing what was offered, Liberal Caucus Research Bureau decided not to move forward,” Cotton said.
“At no point did Eunoia Technologies have access to any data from Liberal Caucus Research Bureau.”
Wylie moved to Ottawa from Victoria, B.C., in 2008 and came to work in the offices of both former Liberal Party leaders Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff.
While there, he tried to get the party to use more data-driven marketing techniques with ideas he pitched, such as merging the party’s voter database with data scrapped from social networks to micro-target voters. The party felt the idea crossed a line, and rejected it.
WATCH BELOW: Canadian whistleblower Wylie worked on Parliament Hill
Now though, questions about how political parties use data on citizens remain, and show no sign of going away.
Conservative MPs accused the government of being cavalier with Canadians’ private information and demanded more information on exactly what Wylie did.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not comment directly on the details of the work done by Wylie but told reporters Wednesday afternoon in Toronto that the government takes the privacy of Canadians seriously.
He also said the evolving digital tools available to citizens and politicians alike need to be used responsibly.
”I think we all need to make sure we are using modern tools in a responsible way,” he said.
“We’ve seen elections around the world that there are new tools that might not always get used in the most positive way and that’s something we’ve asked our Democratic Institutions minister to lean in on.”
WATCH : The opposition questioned the Liberals and their connection to Christopher Wylie, who is associated with the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook data breach scandal.
Acting Democratic Institutions Minister Scott Brison, who is in the position while Karina Gould takes parental leave for several weeks, said in question period that all political parties use some form of data analysis of voters.
He also said he had spoken with Privacy Commissioner Therrien about the investigation underway into whether Facebook failed to protect user privacy by allowing Cambridge Analytics to mine for data.
“I actually spoke with the PC this morning and expressed to him our support for the work that he does on an ongoing basis, including the investigation into the Facebook issue,” Brison said.
“We should let the privacy commissioner do his work.”
That investigation has one year to carry out its work. Meanwhile, MPs are already trying to get Wylie before a parliamentary committee to better explain exactly what he did and what kind of data he had access to during the project.