Tuesday 18 June 2019

Election campaigns over internet are 'Wild West' of politics - FF

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John Downing

John Downing

Internet election campaigning is "the Wild West of politics" which poses a serious risk to fair and open Irish elections, a leading legal expert on the issue has insisted.

James Lawless, a barrister specialising in online regulation and also a new Fianna Fáil TD, was commenting on an official Government report that highlights the dangers of cyber insecurity having a negative effect on elections in Ireland.

Mr Lawless, who represents Kildare North, welcomed the new report but urged prompt action on its recommendations. The Interdepartmental Group on Security and Ireland's Electoral Process and Disinformation noted the low risk of interference with voting, counting of votes and election handling generally.

But the experts, drawn from several key government departments, warn that there is "a medium range" risk from online platforms, including websites, social networks and search engines. Their report, which emerged yesterday, warned of a lack of editorial control over some online information with poor transparency about who funds advertising and sponsorship.

The report also warned that disinformation can spread quickly and its effects can be difficult to undo. The group was set up after Mr Lawless published a draft law regulating this complex sector, which is still stuck at stage two in the five-step law-making process.

Mr Lawless has welcomed the expert report, which he said identified the real threats to fair and free elections in Ireland.

"We have no misgivings about the way voting is conducted and votes counted. But online campaigning is the Wild West of politics and regulation is overdue and urgently required here," he told the Irish Independent.

He said online campaigning must be regulated. The Fianna Fáil TD said the report was very welcome but said he was disappointed by one aspect of its recommendations, which suggested more consultation on the issue. He said action was now urgently required.

Irish Independent

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