EU must guard against election meddling
Sir, – The European elections to be held in May will see 350 million EU voters headed to the polls. But they may not be the only ones to have their say – foreign powers will also want to influence the outcome.
At least, this is what we expect given that foreign powers such as Russia have systematically tried to influence recent elections.
According to a report by the French foreign ministry, 80 per cent of disinformation activities in Europe come from Russia. The Transatlantic Commission’s own recent election monitoring shows that between 10 per cent to 20 per cent of the online conversations are artificial – generated by bots.
European institutions, national governments, electoral commissions, and intelligence services have mobilised to varying degrees to counter these threats.
Yet not enough has been done. The legislative window is closing on European Union institutions to act, and laggard member states are a weak link in a chain that leaves the whole EU vulnerable.
At the same time, governments must be careful not to infringe on the rights of their citizens when taking action, leaving the “good guys” two steps behind the meddlers, who do not have such constraints. Lawless actors thus have the upper hand in the fight and are free to manipulate fast-evolving technologies to spread fake or highly polarising news.
This leaves political parties and their candidates on the front line of democracy and election integrity. Unfortunately, foreign meddlers know this and try to manipulate candidates to diffuse messages in line with the meddlers’ agenda of discontent and instability. The bottom line: we will only overcome the contamination of our politics when parties and candidates resist these tactics and stand together to protect people’s rights.
That is why we are calling on all democratic parties – both pan-European and national – as well as candidates themselves, to commit to take no action to aid and abet those who seek to undermine our democracies. In particular, we are calling on candidates to pledge the following:
Committing not to fabricate, use or spread data or materials that were falsified, fabricated, doxed or stolen, for disinformation or propaganda purposes;
Avoiding dissemination, doctored audios/videos or images that impersonate other candidates, including deep-fake videos;
Making transparent the use of bot networks to disseminate messages and avoiding using these networks to attack opponents or using third parties or proxies to undertake such actions;
Taking active steps to maintain cyber-security and to train campaign staff in media literacy and risk awareness to recognise and prevent attacks;
Committing to transparency about the sources of campaign finances.
This pledge is a first but similar initiatives are not unprecedented. In Denmark, ahead of impending national elections, the main parties have formed an agreement to notify each other if they are subjected to foreign efforts to hack their systems or interfere in the process. This is an example to other countries where partisan politics may stand in the way of a bipartisan or multiparty response.
We are politicians from across Europe and North America, spanning the political spectrum. We may have differences over policy, but we all share a strong belief in fair play and free and open democracy.
By signing to pledge to respect these commitments, candidates will show their voters that the first promise they make as citizens seeking democratically elected office is to defend democracy itself. If we are to ensure that all Europeans get an honest outcome to the elections this spring, such responsibility is incumbent upon every single candidate and party. We cannot continue to wake up the day after an election and find that democracy has been undermined – we must unite now, and all play our role in defending our rights to a free and open election. – Yours, etc,
Alliance of Democracies Foundation,
secretary general of Nato
prime minister of Denmark (2001-2009);
Alliance of Democracies Foundation,
US secretary of homeland security (2005-2009);
of the United States (2009-2017);
Global Digital Policy
Stanford Centre for
Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law;
of Ukraine (2014-2016),
executive director of the
Financial Oversight and
for Puerto Rico;
anchor and correspondent ABC news
and CNN (1984-2011),
senior fellow at the
for Cyber and Homeland
United States deputy
of state (2007-2009),
director of national
to the UN (2004-2006),
vice-president of the
delegation to the US;
UK minister for
Internet safety and security
of Benevolent AI;
on behalf of Alliance