Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Science, Technology, Research & Development, James Lawless has said that the Government can no longer keep its head in the sand and ignore the threat to Irish democracy from subversive online activities.
Deputy Lawless was commenting after a Channel Four News investigation aired tonight, and a recent report in The Guardian, into the activities of digital consultancies such as Cambridge Analytica during recent electoral contests across Europe and North America.
“Everyone should be incredibly worried about the contents of tonight’s broadcast. It’s clear that no democracy is free from interference in its electoral processes.
“Western democracies from the UK, to the United States, to France, to Germany and the Netherlands have all seen subversive attacks on the integrity of their elections and referenda.
“For its part, the Irish Government has been, I believe, wholly negligent in its response to this growing threat and phenomenon.
“Fine Gael in its 2011 manifesto committed to establishing a permanent electoral commission. Over seven years later, no progress has been made.
“The Government opposed my own bill, the Online Advertising and Social Media (Transparency) Bill 2017, ferociously. It only passed 2nd Stage thanks to a unified opposition. It is now due before Committee where I expect further opposition from the Government.
“If committed to protecting Irish democracy, and the electoral process, the Government should immediately stop opposing my bill, and ensure that the best possible bill gets passed by the Oireachtas quickly as possible.
“Secondly, a full review of the powers and resourcing of the Data Protection Commissioner and the National Cyber Security Centre needs to be undertaken. If both need extra powers and manpower, then Fianna Fáil will not oppose such measures.
“The Data Protection Commissioner and SIPO also need to review the interaction between political campaigning and the digital world. The 1992 Electoral Act never foresaw the advent of online campaigning and should be changed.
“Anyone who is naive about such approaches being deployed here in Ireland need only look at emerging concerns and tactics in the upcoming referendum.
“When I introduced my bill some months ago, I questioned why the Government was being so hostile. Is it because they don’t want proper oversight over the actions of their own Strategic Communications Unit?
“The Government can no longer stand by and let these subversive digital and social media consultancies potentially interfere in our electoral processes. It’s time to stop paying lip service and get on with the job of protecting Irish democracy,” concluded Lawless.