Murphy Tells Election Symposium More, Not Less Transparency Needed to Safeguard The Vote

September 17, 2019 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – Representative Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla. told attendees at an election security forum Tuesday that tech platforms have becomebattlefields” in a “bloodless conflict” and that winning requires arming voters with in-depth knowledge of the threat they face.

“We need to recognize that when it comes to information warfare, it is the 250 million eligible voters in this country that are on the front lines of this fight,” Murphy said during a daylong symposium at the Federal Election Commission headquarters.

“It’s their vote that foreign powers are seeking to influence through false online content and stolen data dumps. It’s their ability to vote, or to have their vote accurately counted, that’s at risk if foreign actors penetrate state and local computer networks,” she said.

“Therefore, a key component of our strategy should be to arm voters with knowledge about the nature and severity of the threat they face. The best defense against disinformation is accurate information,” Murphy continued. “When our enemies seek to sow confusion, we should speak to our citizens with clarity and candor, so they know what they’re up against and how best to fight back.”

The symposium co-hosted by the FEC, Pen America and the Global Digital Policy Incubator at Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center, was held to discuss how best to combat digital disinformation in the run-up to the 2020 election season.

Participants included scholars, policymakers and representatives from the major social media platforms.

Among the topics discussed were the risks and challenges posed by misleading ads, posts and messages, and how disinformation could impact the upcoming campaign and election.

Murphy told event attendees that there are currently about 40 different election security bills pending in Congress, and that many of the steps the federal government must take to safeguard elections are self-evident.

“Congress must provide federal, state, and local agencies with the resources to harden election infrastructure, and agencies should hire tech-fluent individuals to defend against this threat,” the representative said.

“In addition, Congress must ensure that federal agencies share—rather than silo—intelligence about specific threats. The assault on our democracy in 2016, not unlike the 9/11 attacks, exposed gaps in our defenses that our adversary exploited,” she said.

Congress also needs to reduce barriers that make it harder for information to flow between the federal government and state and local officials responsible for election infrastructure. One challenge is these officials often lack the requisite security clearance. So we need to streamline that process,” Murphy said.

But even if Congress did all of this, she said it would not be enough to produce a comprehensive American strategy.

Toward that end, Murphy called for a “whole-of-society” approach to election security in which the private sector and regular citizens comprehend the threat and commit to do their part to combat it.

Turning to the representatives from Microsoft, Twitter and Google in attendance, the representative said she spent years in the private sector and believes corporate responsibility should include a sense of corporate patriotism.

“These firms can do more to mitigate the problem without congressional mandates and without compromising American values. If this means a modest hit to their bottom line, it’s a small sacrifice for a larger purpose,” she said.

As for the civic education she deems so vital, Murphy suggested there are two reasons it hasn’t occurred to the extent that it should.

“The first is our national security establishment’s penchant for secrecy, its culture of classification, and its default position not to share detailed threat information with the American people,” she said. “In the context of other national security challenges, this approach makes sense.

“But in the case of information warfare, the tendency of our government to keep things hush-hush is self-defeating. How can we expect our citizens to take the Russia threat as seriously as they should going into 2020 when we didn’t release detailed information about what Russia did in 2016 until three years after the fact?”

Murphy said while it’s important not to jeopardize intelligence sources or methods, “our government should err on the side of telling citizens more, not less, when foreign powers interfere with our democracy.”

“Our citizens can then counter the threat by scrutinizing the information they view online, checking their voter registration data to confirm it wasn’t tampered with, and holding accountable state and local officials who fail to protect election infrastructure,” she said.

Murphy then turned to the second reason she believes civic education on election threats has fallen short, and posited that it is also a factor in why Congress hasn’t passed more election security bills.

The problem is that the topic of election security has been poisoned by politics,” the representative said. “Those of us in this room may agree there is ironclad proof Russia interfered in the 2016 election, and that this is a bad thing. But a significant percentage of Republican voters don’t believe Russia intervened. Of those who do, some don’t seem particularly exorcised about it.”

“To close this partisan divide, Republicans and Democrats in Congress must work to reframe election security as a non-partisan issue,” she continued. “For Republican leaders, this means publicly endorsing our intelligence community’s conclusion that Moscow meddled in 2016 and will likely do so again in 2020.

“It means clearly stating that U.S. elections should be contests between candidates’ ideas and values, decided by our citizens in accordance with our laws. It means pointing out that American patriots of every political stripe should view attempts by a foreign power to manipulate our democratic process as an attack on our security and sovereignty. Period,” Murphy said.

“As for Democratic leaders, we have to stop relitigating the result of the 2016 election and publicly accept that Donald Trump won,” she said. “This will hopefully give Republicans the political space they need to accept that Russia interfered in the election, without fear such acceptance will be gleefully pounced upon by partisans determined to question the President’s legitimacy.

“If leaders of the two parties fulfill these respective responsibilities, it will facilitate the passage of bipartisan election security legislation—and that has to be the overriding goal,” Murphy added.

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