U.K. Parliament Committee Calls for Protections Against Online Election Interference

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Houses of Parliament in London

"Political campaigns are fought online, not through the letter box, and our laws need to be brought up to date with the digital age."

The U.K. parliament’s digital, culture, media & sport committee is urging the government to introduce legislation by year’s end to protect the country against online electoral interference.

In its report on the government’s so-called Online Harms White Paper, members of the committee in the House of Commons on Tuesday accused the government of ignoring recommendations to introduce such measures as making all online political advertising material searchable in a public repository, acknowledging “the risks of foreign investment in elections, for example via digital payments,” and acknowledging “the role and power of unpaid campaigns and Facebook groups in influencing elections and referendums.”

“We’re calling on the government to bring in urgent legislation before the end of the year to protect our democracy against online electoral interference,” said Damian Collins, chair of the DCMS committee, which includes politicians from the Conservative and Labour Parties, as well as a member of the Scottish National Party. “We know that our electoral laws are not fit for purpose. Political campaigns are fought online, not through the letter box, and our laws need to be brought up to date with the digital age.”

Members of parliament also highlighted what they called “concerns about omissions in the White Paper” shared by U.K. information commissioner Elizabeth Denham. They cited evidence from her in which she said she was “surprised and disappointed that there was not more focus on … electoral interference and on the need for more transparency in political advertising.”

The DCMS committee said it would take further evidence on the subject this month, including “taking advice on how such legislation might be drafted.” It added that it will also “explore how anti-money laundering regulations might be adapted to ensure political parties can be held accountable for their financing practices in the era of digital payment systems.”