Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Technology says the publication of a new report highlights the need for a fundamental reform of electoral laws to safeguard our democratic process.

Deputy Lawless made the comments following the publication of the ‘First Report of the Interdepartmental Group on Security of Ireland’s Electoral Process and Disinformation’.

The report was commissioned after Deputy Lawless put forward the ‘Online Advertising and Social Media (Transparency) Bill’ aimed at dealing with the serious concerns surrounding the unregulated nature of online political advertising.

Deputy Lawless said, “While I welcome the publication of this report I do have concerns surrounding some of the recommendations contained in it. They don’t seem to take into account the seriousness of the threat posed by external interference in our democratic process. It feeds into the general lack of urgency that the Government has shown towards dealing with fake news. For example, we were promised a new Electoral Commission in 2011 which still has not been delivered.

“The report recognises that Ireland is a high risk target when it comes to cyber-attacks and politically motivated disinformation campaigns. However the recommendations of the report don’t seem to reflect the seriousness of this threat. For example, the report proposed the establishment of an ‘open forum’ to consider what should be done to deal with these threats. Previous experience shows us that such a forum would essentially just amount to a talking shop.

“The Oireachtas Communications Committee has been engaging with stakeholders, including Facebook, Google and Twitter, for the last six months on this issue following the publication of my Bill. The Government should empower the Committee to continue its work instead of attempting to reinvent the wheel.

“The Bill I brought forward has already reached Second Stage, why is the Government proposing to start an entirely new process which will only serve to delay taking the steps needed to protect our democratic process? The majority of TD’s, parties and groups want my Bill to progress. It makes little sense to now restart the entire process.

“I’m also concerned that the report was published following the Dáil recess. This has essentially stifled any discussion or debate on the steps that we need to take to reform our electoral processes to bring them into the digital age.

“The publication of this report is a positive development, but the Government needs to show some urgency in dealing with the threat posed by unregulated online political advertising. There is a growing body of evidence which shows there was substantial interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election and the Brexit referendum. We need a fundamental overhaul of our electoral laws to ensure Ireland does not fall victim to a similar State sponsored attack in the future,” concluded Deputy Lawless.