Announcement

The Alliance for Securing Democracy is proud to partner with Microsoft in bringing together representatives from government, industry and civil society to counter cyber threats to elections and democracy more broadly as part of the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace.

Our Take

Partisanship in our democratic discourse creates openings for actors seeking to weaken our institutions, and use the online space to advance their own agenda, Director Laura Rosenberger told The New York Times.

The problem of deep fakes is expanding, as the software to make convincing fakes has become available to almost everyone, Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman warned in The Los Angeles Times.

Foreign powers covertly funnel money into Western politics; thwarting their actions will require active and coordinated responses from governments and the private sector, Fellow for Malign Finance Josh Rudolph said in a panel discussion at the Center for International Private Enterprise.

Vacancies in key leadership roles at the Election Assistance Commission could undermine some of the good work the agency has done since the 2016 election, Fellow for Elections Integrity David Levine wrote in The Hill.

Authoritarian regimes target and seek to manipulate journalists by impersonating reporters and news outlets, hacking and harassing journalists, and soliciting coverage of false or divisive narratives, argued former Research Assistant Bradley Hanlon.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Since President Trump announced a U.S.-withdrawal from northern Syria, Kremlin-backed media and diplomats have doubled down on their Syria coverage, hammering the United States for being an unreliable ally, for its “illegal seizure” of Syrian oil fields, and for being a “paper tiger” in the Middle East. Media and Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer places the recent coverage in the context of Russian state-backed media’s larger campaign to shape the global narrative around the Syrian conflict.

News and Commentary

Beijing-based social media app TikTok ignored US employees’ censorship concerns: Former U.S. employees of TikTok spoke out about culture clashes within the company, saying American employees were told to restrict videos that Beijing-based teams found to be controversial or subversive, including political content. These employees said their attempts to push back on decisions to block certain videos were “routinely ignored” by Beijing-based moderators. This news comes amidst growing concerns among U.S. lawmakers regarding Beijing’s potential influence over TikTok, and bipartisan calls for an assessment of the national security risks posed by other China-owned content platforms. China Analyst Matthew Schrader previously warned that TikTok has the potential to be a powerful tool for the Communist Party to censor information and manipulate discourse outside China. (Washington Post, Cotton.senate.gov, Nikkei Asia Review)

U.S. Department of Justice alleges two Twitter employees spied for Saudi Arabia: In a criminal complaint issued last week, the Justice Department alleged that two former Twitter employees mined Twitter’s internal systems to obtain sensitive, nonpublic information about critics of the Saudi regime. This incident highlights concerns about the ability of social media companies to protect the private information of users; it also draws attention to repressive regimes continuing to exploit online platforms to quiet those dissenters. Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt said this case reveals another way that non-democratic governments can use American social media companies to manipulate the information space: intimidating critics into silence. (Justice.gov, Washington Post, CNN, Twitter)

Top national security chiefs say securing elections remains a priority after 2019 election: While seven national security chiefs issued a statement concluding there was “no evidence of a compromise or disruption to election infrastructure” last week, they underscored that foreign actors such as Russia, China, and Iran “will seek to interfere in the voting process or influence voter perceptions.” In looking to 2020, federal, state, and local officials can build on the steps taken this election cycle to secure election systems, such as improving information-sharing capabilities, increasing threat monitoring, updating rapid-response plans, and upgrading voting equipment in some states. Social media companies also responded in real time to posts spreading election-related disinformation once alerted to the posts, including one claiming Real ID driver’s licenses were required to vote in Virginia. David Levine argued that these efforts to ensure the integrity of the vote must continue, along with increasing public awareness and presenting a unified, bipartisan front to the threat of foreign interference. (DNI.gov, Washington Post, CNN, Radio IQ, Twitter)

In other news

  • The White House released a framework for notifying—in a consistent and unbiased manner—members of Congress, state and local officials, the private sector, and the public of foreign interference in U.S. elections
  • Florida officials announced that they will invest millions of dollars to protect the state’s election systems from foreign interference.
  • Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) sent a letter to the Secretary of Defense, urging the Pentagon to remove Chinese-made surveillance cameras that have been banned for government purchase from all Defense Department facilities.
  • In his first speech as U.S. Chief Technology Officer, Michael Kratsios echoed calls for European allies to cooperate in banning Huawei from 5G networks.
  • The California Attorney General said that Facebook has not “adequately complied” with information requests in its ongoing investigation of the company’s privacy practices.
  • UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused to clear the publication of a report examining Russian interference in British politics ahead of the December general election.

Quote of the Week

“Our adversaries want to undermine our democratic institutions, influence public sentiment and affect government policies. Russia, China, Iran, and other foreign malicious actors all will seek to interfere in the voting process or influence voter perceptions… the U.S. government will defend our democracy and maintain transparency with the American public about our efforts.”

  • Joint statement by Attorney General William Barr, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan, Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, FBI Director Christopher Wray, U.S. Cyber Command Commander and NSA Director General Paul Nakasone, and CISA Director Christopher Krebs on Election Day 2019
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.