WE'RE ASKING CANDIDATES TO PLEDGE NOT TO ACCEPT HELP FROM MALIGN FOREIGN POWERS

Source: CNN

By Michael Chertoff and Anders Fogh Rasmussen

Rudy Giuliani's comment that there is "nothing wrong with taking information from Russians" has thrown a spotlight on an already raging debate in the United States about how far a candidate should go to win. While the Mueller report did not find that there was coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, there is a wider issue of whether -- unwittingly -- candidates are helping malign foreign powers to achieve their goals.

In the fight against election meddling, we have seen the West start to act after years of denial and failure to cooperate against a common threat. Today, the USA has begun to talk to its allies, including coordination at the G7 level through a Rapid Response Mechanism, and at international, federal and state level there are measures being put in place, such as the EU adopting a code of conduct for web platforms, presidential threats to respond to meddling attempts, and greater coordination between US states to share information to protect ballot box integrity. 

However, government action is always going to be behind the technology curve. Governments must be careful not to infringe on the rights of their citizens, such as free speech. Yet this hesitancy to act continues to leave the "good guys" two steps behind the meddlers. Lawless actors thus have the upper hand in the fight and are free to manipulate fast-evolving technologies to spread fake or highly polarizing news.
  
Governments and legislators have rightly placed the emphasis on the responsibilities of platforms. While they still have much work to do to regain lost trust, there is also a growing ethical question over how far the likes of Facebook and Twitter can self-regulate, especially when drawing the sensitive balance between free speech and harmful disinformation.
 
This is why we cannot rely on government or platforms alone to prevent election meddling. All of us must play our role, too.
 
In particular, political parties and candidates themselves are on the front line of this fight to protect our democracy. Foreign meddlers seek out candidates whose agendas may fit their anti-establishment narrative and seek to use them to diffuse hyperpartisan or even false narratives and stories. These tactics could range from serious acts of collusion, ranging from the transfer of dirty campaign finances, through to seemingly innocent acts such as sharing social media posts from a source without checking their veracity.
 
The Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity that we co-chair believes candidates and parties must step up and take their own responsibility to defend democracy. Our members hail from across the Atlantic alliance, and from different political traditions -- but we are united on the need to protect the process that enables us to argue our differences on a level playing field.
 
This is why the Transatlantic Commission launched a Pledge for Election Integrity addressed to all elected representatives or candidates. The five-point pledge calls on candidates to not use or spread data that is gained illicitly for disinformation purposes, not to disseminate misleading doctored photos or video, to be transparent about the use of bots, to train their party staff in basic cybersecurity measures, and to be transparent about sources of campaign finance.
 
So far, more than 150 candidates to the European elections have signed the pledge, including all the main candidates to assume the role of European Commission president -- the head of the EU's executive. The pledge is also aimed at those running for offices in the USA and Canada.
 
This is not, and should never be, a partisan issue. It is about all patriots standing together to say we will run our own election campaigns, and we will not run them in the murky waters in which foreign meddlers operate. Indeed, we cite Denmark as an example where sparring political parties from across the political spectrum have all agreed to coordinate on this overriding issue of national importance, notifying each other of attempts to hack servers or efforts to interfere in their upcoming elections.
 
Russia, Iran and other states seek to undermine our democracies, divide our tried-and-tested alliances, and sow chaos that make us weaker and them stronger. Candidates and parties should not help them to spread their bile, misinformation and skewed narratives. In 2016, interference in the presidential election further polarized the US political system. It is incumbent upon all of us to ensure that in 2020 US candidates fight a clean fight instead of indulging in a race to the bottom, which will damage democracy's most precious gift: the ability vote freely.

 

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