Securing Democracy Dispatch

December 3, 2018

Our Take

On Tuesday, December 4, ASD will launch the Authoritarian Interference Tracker, a new interactive tool that analyzes the Russian government’s interference operations in 42 countries across the transatlantic space over the past two decades. If you would like to register for this launch event, please click here.

ASD’s David Salvo and Joshua Kirschenbaum published a new blog post calling on the U.S. government to combat foreign interference in the wake of the midterm elections: “The United States remains vulnerable to foreign interference…to defend itself better against this and overcome the bitter politicization of the issue, the Trump administration and Congress need to act now in a bipartisan manner, using tools they already have and others that can be implemented at the start of the new congressional session.”

News and Commentary

EU citizens express concern over the security of upcoming elections: A report released by the European Commission on November 26 reveals widespread concern over the vulnerability of upcoming European elections to cyberattacks. 61% of Europeans feel that their elections could be manipulated through cyber activity and 59% expressed apprehension about influence from foreign actors. Estonian citizens reported the highest confidence in the security of their electoral process, and respondents from the United Kingdom and Spain were the most concerned by the lack of security in their electoral processes. Vĕra Jourová, the European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers, and Gender Equality, responded to the report by stating: “This survey confirms that Europeans know that the upcoming elections will not be business as usual. We are working to fight with illegal data manipulation, to counter disinformation and make our elections more resilient.”(EURACTIV, The Telegraph)

Google is under fire for Project Dragonfly and GDPR violations: More than 300 Google employees signed a public letter asking Google to shut down plans to create a censored version of the search engine for China, called Project Dragonfly. This is the first time employees have publicly called for the project to end, and the letter stated their objection to “technologies that aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable.” Meanwhile, groups from seven different European countries have filed GDPR complaints against Google’s location tracker, which violates the EU’s new data-privacy law. The groups claim that Google does not give users the opportunity to turn off the tracker, and it does not explain what Google will do with the tracking data. (Recode, Medium, Bloomberg, The Verge, The Wall Street Journal)

Facebook continues to face international pressure as new revelations about its past failures come to light: According to emails seized by British lawmakers, Facebook was aware of Russian data harvesting from its platform as early as 2014. Despite mounting scrutiny, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg chose not to appear at a hearing with lawmakers from nine countries to review the company’s practices and discuss the spread of misinformation on the platform, instead sending a lower-level representative. According to The Washington Post, “the series of rebukes [by the representatives of the nine countries]…reflected the vast magnitude of growing global unease with Facebook’s business practices and mounting frustration with [Zuckerberg].” (The Verge, The New York Times, The Washington Post)

In Other News:

– U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis claimed that Russia attempted to “muck around” in the 2018 midterm elections.

– Journalist Lily Hay Newman explained that Russian hackers are still “probing the U.S. power grid.”

– Former Vice President Joe Biden and Senior Director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement Michael Carpenter proposed solutions to counter foreign dark money that is threatening U.S. democracy.

– Two of President Trump’s nominees to join the U.S. Election Assistance Committee testified before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, outlining plans to review voting best practices and standards.

– NATO allies and partners conducted a three-day exercise in Estonia to prepare for cyber threats.

– China specialists warned of Beijing’s efforts to influence American society, while The New York Times detailed China’s efforts to control its own citizens.

– British journalist Peter Pomerantsev called for a new charter for human rights online to protect journalists.

Reuters published a special report on Iranian efforts to spread disinformation around the world.

– German authorities raided the headquarters of Deutsche Bank as part of an ongoing money-laundering investigation.

– U.S. cybersecurity firm revealed that Beijing “likely meddled in Taiwan election” to help a pro-China political party.

Hamilton 68 dashboard

Accounts tracked by the Hamilton 68 dashboard last week focused heavily on the ongoing crisis between Russia and Ukraine following the seizure of three Ukrainian ships off the coast of Crimea, driving hashtags and topics like “Ukraine,” “Kerchstrait,” and “Kiev” to the top of the dashboard. Kremlin-oriented accounts also shared numerous articles from Russian government-sponsored media outlets amplifying a pro-Kremlin narrative of the conflict. As in the past, accounts tracked by Hamilton quickly shifted from focusing on domestic U.S. issues to promoting Kremlin-sponsored messages when the Russian government’s geopolitical interests were at stake.

Quote of the Week

“Our opposition to Dragonfly is not about China: we object to technologies that aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable, wherever they may be. The Chinese government certainly isn’t alone in its readiness to stifle freedom of expression, and to use surveillance to repress dissent. Dragonfly in China would establish a dangerous precedent at a volatile political moment, one that would make it harder for Google to deny other countries similar concessions.”

Letter by Google employees and Amnesty International, calling on Google to cancel project Dragonfly, November 27, 2018

The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.