Defending Democracy: Taking Stock of the Global Fight Against Digital Repression, Disinformation, and Election Insecurity
53 Pages Posted: 30 Mar 2020 Last revised: 30 Apr 2020
Date Written: March 4, 2020
Amidst the regular drumbeat of reports about Russian attempts to undermine U.S. democratic institutions from Twitter bots to cyber-attacks on Congressional candidates, it is easy to forget that the problem of election security is not isolated to the United States and extends far beyond safeguarding insecure voting machines. Consider Australia, which has long been grappling with repeated Chinese attempts to interfere with its political system. Yet Australia has taken a distinct approach in how it has sought to protect its democratic institutions, including reclassifying its political parties as “critical infrastructure,” a step that the U.S. government has yet to take despite repeated breaches at both the Democratic and Republican National Committees.
This Article analyzes the Australian approach to protecting its democratic institutions from Chinese influence operations and compares it to the U.S. response to Russian efforts. It then moves on to discuss how other cyber powers, including the European Union, have taken on the fight against digital repression and disinformation, and then compares these practices to the particular vulnerabilities of Small Pacific Island Nations. Such a comparative study is vital to help build resilience, and trust, in democratic systems on both sides of the Pacific. We argue that a multifaceted approach is needed to build more resilient and sustainable democratic systems. This should encompass both targeted reforms focusing on election infrastructure security — such as requiring paper ballots and risk-limiting audits — with deeper structural interventions to limit the spread of misinformation and combat digital repression.
Keywords: Democracy, Election Security, Hacking, Voting, China, Russia, Misinformation, Digital Repression
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