Canada’s spy service has warned that adversaries will employ espionage and foreign interference tactics to target the country’s growing artificial intelligence sector. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) said in a recently released analytical brief that countries such as China and Russia could pursue Canada’s AI through various means, including state-sponsored investment and the use of covert operatives. The document, marked “CSIS Eyes Only,” was completed in July 2021 and released to The Canadian Press in response to an access-to-information request filed in October of that year.
The intelligence community is signaling that Canada’s technological innovation and economic advancement are vulnerable to foreign forces out to co-opt or steal valuable research. CSIS noted that emerging artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities and machine-learning tools are seen as key to developing solutions to various global issues, such as reducing plastic in the oceans, finding a vaccine to treat the next pandemic, curbing emissions that cause climate change, and finding safe navigation methods for self-driving cars.
The analysis also highlighted that AI is a priority for Canada, being central to Ottawa’s domestic innovation and prosperity goals. It pointed out that many other nations, including hostile state actors, have their own AI strategies and goals, and some would resort to espionage and foreign-influenced activity to advance their national interests at Canada’s expense.
CSIS identified two main types of threats related to AI: espionage and foreign interference, and safety and security risks to Canadians and the Armed Forces when adversaries obtain and use AI capabilities for intelligence or military purposes. Aaron Shull, managing director and general counsel at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ontario, said he agrees with CSIS’s assessment, but would go even further. He cited other foreign threats in this realm, such as AI-enabled cyberattacks, use of facial recognition and surveillance by authoritarian regimes, automated bots that spread disinformation, and dependence on international supply chains partly controlled by adversaries.
The spy agency noted that protecting Canadian AI and the Big Data underpinning it goes beyond protecting citizens’ privacy, and involves securing the future of the nation against the actions of hostile state actors. It stressed the importance of Big Data to AI, saying that the more data a country possesses, the more it can be fed into its AI systems, which gives it an advantage in the AI industry and the decisions that follow.
CSIS also warned that the West faces “the threat of growing authoritarian dominance of the internet” by Beijing, given the large number of internet users in China and the government’s focus on gaining complete and centralized collection and retention of data. The agency concluded by stressing the importance of protecting Canadian AI and Big Data in order to ensure the nation’s future.