CrySP Speaker Series on Privacy

This speaker series is made possible by an anonymous charitable donation in memory of cypherpunks and privacy advocates Len Sassaman, Hugh Daniel, Hal Finney, and Caspar Bowden.

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Profiling the Political Influence Industry in Canada in the age of AI: Privacy Protection and Democratic Accountability

Colin Bennett, University of Victoria

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May 6, 2024 2:00pm, in DC 1302 and Zoom


Since the global controversy surrounding Cambridge Analytica, and the ensuing investigations, academics and advocates have paid considerable attention to the companies that work for political parties and their candidates – what they do, what personal information they process, as well as their overall effect on the democratic process. Tactical Tech, a German NGO, is an example. It has been profiling this “Political Influence Industry” globally and providing important resources for regulators and other civil society activists.

What does the “influence industry” look like in Canada? How many companies are employed by federal, provincial and municipal political parties, and what are their roles? In this presentation, Colin Bennett will report the results of a project conducted jointly with Open Media. Based on data collected through filings with Elections Canada, he will outline the scope of the industry, report on its many roles, and discuss the legal and policy implications for democratic practice. This research exposes significant weaknesses and gaps in Canada’s privacy protection regime with respect to political actors. It also raises larger questions of democratic accountability, given the increasing integration of AI tools with more established digital campaigning practices.


Colin Bennett is Emeritus Professor of Political Science and Fellow at the Center for Global Studies at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. For over thirty years, his research has focused on the comparative analysis of privacy protection policy at domestic and international levels. In addition to numerous scholarly and newspaper articles, he has published seven books on these subjects, including The Governance of Privacy (MIT Press, 2006), as well several policy reports for national and international agencies. His current work focusses on the importance of privacy for democratic rights, and on the capture and use of voters’ personal data by political parties in Western democracies.