Government: New laws to protect UK elections and referendums from foreign interference | Science & Tech News

The government wants to introduce new laws to protect elections and referendums in the UK from the risk of interference by foreign powers.

Announcing the move, the minister for the constitution Kevin Foster MP stated: “There is no evidence that British elections or referendums have been compromised.”

However, he added: “But we need to review and refresh our analogue laws for a digital age, and ensure there are robust safeguards against hostile states, foreign lobbyists and shadowy third parties.”

According to the government’s announcement, the new plans could tackle these potential agents of influence by:

:: Barring people from running for office if found guilty of abusive behaviour;
:: Requiring online election material to clearly state who produced it;
:: Launching a consultation on strengthening laws on foreign donations.

Any laws would be brought forward later this year and not in time for the European elections later this month, a cabinet office spokesperson told Sky News.

They added that it would be developed with the department for digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS), which would help determine which organisations would need to observe any new requirements on election material.

The Commons will hold a series of 'indicative' votes on Brexit
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MPs criticised the claim that there was no ‘successful interference’ in the Brexit referendum

MPs have in the past questioned whether the government has done enough to investigate election interference in the UK.

A parliamentary inquiry into disinformation has called on the government to investigate the Russian state’s alleged attempts to influence the Brexit referendum.

In a report in February, MPs criticised the government’s claim that it “has not seen evidence of successful use of disinformation by foreign actors, including Russia, to influence UK democratic processes” despite acknowledging that such disinformation campaigns took place.

It specifically criticised the government saying there had been no evidence of “successful interference” because, as it said, “the term ‘successful’ is impossible to define in retrospect”.

How to determine whether interference campaigns were successful has also been an issue in the US.

A declassified intelligence community assessment in the US claimed that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 presidential election in support of Donald Trump, but without affecting the result.

Russia Today
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The Kremlin and connected agencies have been accused of foreign election interference

The report by the DCMS committee of MPs also looked at foreign donations, another of the issues that the government will be looking to tackle.

It focused on potential connections between Leave.EU, its founder Arron Banks – the single largest donor to any pro-Leave organisation during the referendum – and Russia.

The committee has earlier recommended that there be a criminal investigation into whether Mr Banks had received any funds from abroad that he then used to back the Brexit campaign.

The National Crime Agency is currently investigating whether any criminal activity took place, after the UK’s elections watchdog found “reasonable grounds to suspect” Mr Banks was “not the true source” of £8m loaned to an organisation that ran the Leave.EU group.

Mr Banks has denied claims that the money came from Russia.

The Culture Secretary, Jeremy Wright, will face the DCMS committee next Wednesday to answer questions regarding these issues.

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