Action must be taken to tackle cyber threats to electoral process including online disinformation – Farrell

-   Alan Farrell TD

The Government must act to protect Ireland from cyber threats to the electoral process, a Fine Gael TD has said.

Chair of the Oireachtas Children and Youth Affairs Committee and Fine Gael TD for Dublin Fingal, Alan Farrell, said that given events during our recent referendum and elections globally, we must also focus on threats posed by concerted attempts at online disinformation, particularly from outside our jurisdiction.

Deputy Farrell said: “All issues of cyber-safety must be tackled in a comprehensive manner by Government. For many months, the Committee on Children and Youth Affairs examined, and subsequently brought forward recommendations regarding the safety of children and young people online.

“Now, following the recent referendum, and events which have occurred globally, I believe the Government must consider taking action to ensure our electoral process is protected from potential cyber threats, and that voters are insulated from attempts to influence their vote using social media disinformation, particularly where it originates outside of our jurisdiction.

“Given the importance of this matter, I raised a parliamentary question with An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar regarding the work of the interdepartmental group, chaired by his Department, which is examining threats to the integrity of the electoral process.

“In his response to my question, regarding the impact such threats constitute, An Taoiseach stated: “It is now evident that there was external interference in the Brexit referendum and in elections in Ukraine and that there were at least attempts in France and Italy. We know that when it came to our referendum only a few weeks ago Facebook and Google decided in one case not to carry any advertisements related to that referendum at all and, in the other, not to allow any from overseas. I do not know why the companies did that but one can only assume that they may have seen something coming which caused them to act.”

“Furthermore, highlighting the upcoming European elections, An Taoiseach continued: “The group is examining, in particular, the experience in EU member states and other countries. It is examining our electoral process and disinformation, and social media and cybersecurity. It is trying to examine how other countries have tried to deal with this threat to see what we can do.”

Deputy Farrell continued: “I am pleased to see that the interdepartmental group is taking this matter seriously in the context of upcoming elections in Ireland, and I was glad to hear that the draft report, when produced, will be shared with the various parties in Dáil Éireann.

“Ensuring the Irish electorate are adequately protected from concerted efforts to unduly influence the electoral process using methods such as online disinformation must be a priority for representatives from all parties and none.”

ENDS

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