Dispatch (February 11th) from the Alliance for Securing Democracy

Dispatch from the Alliance for Securing Democracy

Our Take:
Updates to the Alliance for Securing Democracy’s Authoritarian Interference Tracker highlight Russian state-sponsored media outlets’ efforts to discredit adversaries and to manipulate social media using inauthentic accounts.

News and Commentary:

Federal, state officials ramp up efforts to secure 2020 elections: U.S. officials from the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security worked with intelligence officials to hold a “classified election security workshop” for state election officials from across the country last week. The workshop, which brought together officials from 40 states, was intended to “enhance existing partnerships to ensure the sharing of timely, substantive information” ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security scrambled to resume its election security efforts, some of which were halted due to the government shutdown. At the state level, partisan divides have emerged over House bill H.R. 1, though many officials want election security funding included in the bill. While some states, such as Pennsylvania, have taken measures independently of Washington, critics argue that federal assistance to the states will be imperative to secure future elections. (Defense One, CNN, Washington Post, Politico)

Germany targets Facebook data collection as the company prepares to merge services: Germany’s competition regulator the Federal Cartel Office (FCO) ordered Facebook to substantially restrict the data it collects and combines last week. Specifically, the FCO prohibited Facebook from combining data gathered on its platforms (including Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp) and third-party sites (which may have integrated like or share buttons) without explicit consent from users to do so. Although the ruling only affects Facebook’s activities in Germany, the decision could have grave implications for the company’s future plans to “integrate the technology behind” the chat platforms of Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp. While Facebook asserts that such a move would improve its ad targeting and help it identify fake accounts, critics have argued that it could threaten anonymity and privacy on the company’s platforms. (BBC, Deutsche Welle, Bloomberg)

Lawmakers seek to facilitate U.S. 5G network: Last week, U.S. Representatives John Curtis (R-UT) and Yvette Clark (D-NY) announced a bipartisan effort to facilitate the construction of 5G infrastructure in the United States, which would allow for “lightning-fast internet speeds” and increased connectivity across the country. Speaking to The Hill, Curtis and Clark highlighted the importance of keeping 5G a nonpartisan issue and the need for rapid development given global competition from countries like China. Washington Post Journalist John Pomfret writes that the U.S. government’s increased focus on 5G is part of a larger strategic competition with China over the development of 5G technology, which is “expected to reshape not only modern economies but modern warfare, too.” As part of this competition, U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to sign a new executive order this week “banning Chinese telecom equipment from U.S. wireless networks” to prevent over-reliance on Chinese-produced technology. (The Hill, The Washington Post, Politico)

In Other News:

– Bellingcat implicated a third Russian GRU officer linked to the Skripal poisonings in the 2015 poisoning of Bulgarian businessman Emilian Gebrev.

– In effort to prove that its equipment does not aid Beijing’s intelligence services, China’s tech giant Huawei wants to build a cyber security center in Poland.

– The intelligence community warns that China is pursuing a nontraditional form of espionage by sending students into the United States as spies.

– Researchers uncovered evidence of a hacking operation by a Chinese government espionage group against a European software firm, a U.S. law firm, and a global apparel company.

– Analysts emphasize the importance of the U.S. putting more effort into fighting the increasing threat of cybercrime.

– According to the head of Ukraine’s foreign intelligence service, Russia lost $173 billion due to U.S. and EU sanctions.

– A recent report from Freedom House found that 2018 marked the 13th consecutive year of a decrease in global freedom.

– Several fact-checking companies are ending their partnerships with Facebook, citing the company’s process as “too labor-intensive.”

– Australia’s Federal MP’s computer network was hacked by a possible foreign government, three months ahead of federal elections.

– Russia agreed to let Google continue operating in the country in exchange for deleting certain websites from its search results.

– Russia expert Mark Galeotti highlights the emergence of Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin as a dangerous powerbroker in the Kremlin.

– France will support the EU proposal to regulate the Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which may jeopardize its completion.

– With efforts underway to combat foreign interference in the 2020 election, some are calling for candidates to adhere to new norms on social media.

– British political analysts believe Russian disinformation networks found an unlikely partner in Parliament.

– A $150M investment in Reddit by Chinese tech firm Tencent has platform users worried about censorship.

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