The Government decided in December 2017 to establish an interdepartmental group to consider the risks to Ireland’s electoral process.
In particular the group was tasked with looking at the substantive issues arising from recent experiences in other democratic countries with regard to the use of social media by external, anonymous or hidden third parties.
The Report looks at issues concerning the security of the electoral process, taking into account risks that apply across the whole process. It also includes a summary of the most common or frequently occurring factors in other jurisdictions.
Overall, the Report finds that risks to the electoral process in Ireland are relatively low, taking into account the mitigation factors already in place.
However, the spread of disinformation online and the risk of cyber-attacks on the electoral system pose more substantial risks. This aligns with EU Commission findings and recent international experience.
The Report identifies a number of proposals to address the gaps identified and offer a way forward on a more cohesive and coordinated approach to safeguarding of the electoral process from disinformation and security risks.
It acknowledges that actions arising from such proposals will require widespread support from both political and civil society.
The key next steps, as agreed by Government, are to expedite the establishment of an Electoral Commission and to regulate transparency of online political advertising.
This will build upon some of the principles proposed in the Online Advertising and Social Media (Transparency) Bill by Deputy James Lawless and recent discussions in the Dáil and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and the Environment.
These matters are to be considered, in the first instance, by way of an Open Policy Forum involving relevant stakeholders across industry, academia, political parties, the media, and civil society.
The Interdepartmental Group, coordinated by the Department of the Taoiseach, has met on a number of occasions since its establishment. Membership includes representatives from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Defence, An Garda Síochána, and the Defence Forces.
The Group also considered Ireland’s approach to the issues outlined in the EU Commission’s recent Communication: “Tackling Online Disinformation: A European Approach” The Communication sets out a number of measures to address disinformation at an EU level. It proposes to review progress on these actions by end 2018 and Ireland will support the Commission’s work in this regard.
The proposals put forward for consideration are:
In light of the pressing nature of these issues, the following next steps are suggested:
These matters to be considered, in the first instance, by way of an Open Policy Forum involving political parties, industry organisations, academia, civil society, the media and NGOs in addition to formal engagement with the Oireachtas.