Senior Tory MP urges UK Government to tackle cyber interference before general election
Bernard Jenkin, chair of the Westminster Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, recommended the Cabinet Office establish a cyber working group
Bernard Jenkin MP - Image credit: Parliament TV
A senior Conservative MP has urged the UK Government to take action against potential foreign interference in the electoral process before the general election in June.
Bernard Jenkin, who chairs the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee at Westminster, told Holyrood’s sister magazine The House that the UK Government should accelerate its response to concerns about cyber attacks in light of Theresa May’s decision to call an early election for 8 June.
Earlier this month, the committee said it was possible that a cyber attack had been behind a crash of the UK Government’s register to vote website during the EU referendum campaign.
It recommended that a team be set up to work across the Cabinet Office, Electoral Commission, GCHQ and local government to monitor, respond to and contain potential cyber attacks.
Jenkin said: “We made a recommendation that the Cabinet Office should establish a cyber working group to monitor cyber interference in our electoral processes, in cooperation with GCHQ.
“It would probably be after the election that the government responds to this report, but they could implement this recommendation now and they should.”
Foreign interference in elections has shot up the agenda since reports emerged about the influence of Russian hacking in the US presidential campaign, but Jenkin stressed the need to keep the importance of such attacks in perspective.
He said: “The most impossible thing to hack is a polling station where people are going into a voting booth and voting.
“The only bit that was possibly knocked over in the referendum was a brand new central registration system which hadn't been properly tested or protected…
“We need to understand the psychological intent behind these kinds of attacks.
“Russia delights in everybody talking about how they may be interfering in the election of Trump or the French election.
“Whether they are succeeding or not is of secondary importance to them. Everyone is advertising their power and influence.”
Meanwhile, another long-serving MP, Labour’s Paul Flynn, expressed concern about the influence of fake news and messages targeted on social media.
“Lobbyists and billionaires are manipulating media and public opinion in defiance of transparency regulations,” he wrote.
“We are in the disturbing era where lobbyists can weaponise fake news for the highest bidder.
“They can track voters’ personal data and manipulate public opinion. All of this they can do under cover of anonymity and without regulation or oversight.”
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