Today, our Digital Culture Media and Sport Select Committee has published a report giving the Government a deadline of the 24th July to confirm that it will introduce new legislation within six months to protect elections and referendums against online interference.
Our report accuses the Government of ignoring urgent recommendations in our cross party Committee’s final report into Disinformation and ‘fake news’ to:
• Introduce a new category for digital spending on political campaigns
• Ensure information about all online political advertising material is logged in a searchable public repository
• Acknowledge the risks of foreign investment in elections, for example via digital payments like Paypal
• Acknowledge the role and power of unpaid campaigns and Facebook Groups in influencing elections and referendums, inside and outside the designated election campaign spending period
Our current electoral laws are not fit for purpose. Political campaigns are predominantly fought online, not through the letter box and our laws need to be brought up to date with the digital age. We’ve repeatedly highlighted threats to our electoral system and it’s essential that public confidence is restored.
We will be taking further evidence on the subject at Committee hearings this month, including taking advice on how such legislation might be drafted. We’re looking at 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. We are concerned that a political party could participate in an election without satisfying the Electoral Commission that it has the appropriate financial procedures in place to comply with current electoral law.
The Government’s Online Harms White Paper has minimal focus on electoral interference and online political advertising, both of which we had highlighted as requiring urgent action.
Our recommendation that the White Paper should include analysis about foreign players targeting voters and whether current legislation to protect the electoral process from malign influence has also been overlooked.
You can read our report here https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmcumeds/2431/2431.pdf