The Canadian government is seeking a company that will scour social media and the dark web for data on Canadians’ use of cannabis. The request comes just weeks before recreational pot use becomes legalized on October 17.
According to a tender posted by Public Safety Canada this week, the government wants a company to algorithmically scan Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, and “other relevant microblogging platforms” for information on Canadians’ attitudes towards legal pot and their behaviours.
The initiative will look for self-reported usage patterns (how much, what kind, and where) and activities such as buying and selling weed. The government will also be scanning social media for “criminal activities associated with cannabis use”—driving under the influence, for example. The initiative will also capture metadata, such as self-reported location and demographics, but according to the tender the data “must exclude individual unique identifiers.”
“Exploring public perceptions of cannabis use and related behaviours is key to developing a better understanding of how best to communicate to the general public about the risk of use and engaging in certain behaviors,” Public Safety Canada spokesperson Karine Martel wrote Motherboard in an email.
Martel did not comment on whether information on cannabis-related crimes collected from social media will be shared with law enforcement, but noted that the work will be conducted in compliance with the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans. This statement says that research focusing on topics that include illegal activities depends on promises of strong confidentiality to participants.
According to a second tender, also posted this week, the feds are also looking to keep track of Canadians buying and selling weed on so-called dark web markets. Such markets are only accessible through the encrypted Tor browser and payment is most often made using cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin or Monero.
The initiative aims to analyze cannabis transactions and search forums as well as vendor and buyer profiles. The goal is to estimate the size of the digital black market for cannabis in Canada and to form effective policy.
In January, a joint US-Canadian law enforcement investigation arrested Canadian man Robert Kiessling in British Columbia on suspicion of being one of the dark web’s biggest opioid dealers. He was released after the arrest while the investigation continued and later found dead in an apparent suicide.
Both projects are slated to conclude on April 30, 2019.
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