U.S. elections are still vulnerable to foreign meddling, warn experts

U.S. elections are still vulnerable to foreign meddling, warn experts
[Photo: Brandon Day /Unsplash]

Despite the attention that’s been paid to apparent Russian interference with the 2016 presidential vote, U.S. elections are still vulnerable to foreign interference, warns a new report from the nonprofit, nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center.

The report comes as Twitter on Wednesday more than doubled the number of users it says interacted with Kremlin-tied accounts during last year’s election, from about 678,000 to approximately 1.4 million.

“There is every reason to believe that the experience of 2016 will be repeated in elections to come,” the Campaign Legal Center warns. “The desire for foreign actors to influence or disrupt U.S. elections is not going away. The question now is what we are going to do to stop them.”

The report recommends some ways to answer that question, including:

• Setting up a 9/11 Commission-style independent body to investigate what needs to be done to boost cybersecurity, and informing the public and foreign nations about the steps being taken and the consequences for countries that try to interfere with American elections.

• Strengthening disclosure requirements for online political ads, putting in place something like those that already exist for TV commercials, to let internet users know who’s trying to influence them. A bipartisan bill to do so has been introduced in Congress but has yet to have a hearing, according to the report.

• Having Congress give states resources and guidelines to keep voting machines and other election infrastructure secure against hackers, and make sure voting machines generate clear paper trails documenting votes. So far, the White House hasn’t taken action and “could have actually increased security risks with its plan to build a national voter database with millions of voters’ personally identifying information,” the group says.

• Supporting media literacy initiatives to help internet users distinguish reliable journalism from made-up stories and conspiracy theories.

• Analyzing how automated bots are being used to manipulate social media conversations and, for social media companies, being more transparent on what bots are doing and what they’re allowed to do on particular platforms.SM