A Parliamentary committee has called for “urgent legislation” to tackle the growing risk to UK elections from online interference. The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee has given the government until July 24 to respond.
The Committee said it was disappointed with the government’s failure to address concerns it raised in a February report, which stated that “electoral law is not fit for purpose and needs to be updated to reflect changes in digital campaigning techniques.”
“The Electoral Commission agrees with us about the urgency of tackling digital imprints. The Commission told us that it wants to see the draft legislative provisions of the Government’s proposal ‘as soon as possible'” a DCMS report published today notes.
The DCMS was reacting to a government whitepaper on online harms published in April, which put forward several key recommendations that should be implemented in order to secure UK elections against online interference.
These include the establishment of an independent regulator for online harms and a requirement that social media platform should have a ‘duty of care’ with regards to election fraud. However, that report has been found to be lacking by several government committees, agencies and watchdogs.
“Electoral law is not fit for purpose”
The Information Commissioner commented in today’s DCMS report: “It is surprising and concerning to me that the Government have not done a comprehensive examination of political advertising and the oversight that is needed in this space…It is a gap that really needs to be addressed by Government and Parliament.”
The DCMS recommends the creation of a separate category for digital spending on campaigns. Also included was the suggestion that information about all political advertising material should be searchable in a public repository.
The committee expressed concern that the government is working on the belief that no elections will take place until 2021.
They note that the government should not operate on the assumption that an election will not take place, because if one does occur before 2021 then: “Campaigns would be fought using electoral law that is wholly inadequate for the digital age.”
The DCMS has also hit out at social media platforms stating that: “The steps taken voluntarily, for example, by Facebook to identify political advertising and those associated with it have been very limited and do not adequately meet public concerns.”
As part of its response to the white paper the DCMS committee also wants to be granted new powers that will gift it veto power over the appointment and dismissal of the chief executive of the new regulator. They believe the timing is right to do so as: “The legislation being brought forward this autumn provides the perfect opportunity to put this in place ahead of the appointment of the chief executive of the new regulator.”