Posts by Fair Vote Project

APPG Fifth Session Features Electoral Commission and ICO members

16/07/2019 Posted by APPG, News 0 thoughts on “APPG Fifth Session Features Electoral Commission and ICO members”

On Tuesday, the 16th of July, the fifth APPG session continued the ongoing discussion of money and data in politics. The dialogue featured voices from members of the electoral commission and the information commissioner’s office. Although it was a similar discussion to that of Monday the 15th, there were some different perspectives around the room. One area of agreement was a desire to see the electoral commission gain more teeth in their ability to enforce and regulations and de-incentivize infractions. Highlights and full audio are posted below.

 

Craig Westwood of the Electoral Commission maintained that digital campaigning is most often a positive thing. Digital tools provide great ways to reach audiences and engage bilaterally. However, he went on to say that “there are a huge range of things that need to be changed to make sure that our democratic processes of elections are fit for purpose.” Agreeing with others from previous sessions such as Sam Power, he advocated for more detail in spend and return categories in campaign finance regulations. As far as Craig is concerned, the Electoral Commission is first and foremost a “financial regulator.” He therefore also agreed that strengthening the Electoral Commission’s fining and auditing powers would be a good step towards solving problems with money in politics and data misuse. He also initiated a discussion on the split between the candidate and national systems in election campaigns, and how the former is enforced by law enforcement and the latter is enforced by the Electoral Commission. He think that wrapping these together in one category could facilitate enforcement against violations.

Tom Hawthorne of the Electoral Commission discussed his desire to see more progress in registering third party actors and in targeting data. He argued that the electoral commission has improved in recent years in seeking out organizations that qualify as political actors and spend enough money to influence the public. He also wants the electoral commission to work with social media companies in tackling data misuse until ultimately a new online regulator can be created to more effectively mitigate the spread of false information. Tom and Craig agreed that there is a need to reform the fining ceiling the electoral commission can enforce (20,000£). They both felt confident that being able to fine more money would de-incentivize infractions.

Steve Wood of the ICO discussed the ICO’s investigation of how data is used in the democratic process. He maintained that the ICO has confidence in fundamental rights relating to data protection and privacy, but also freedom of speech. He is concerned that the public is unaware of “invisible processing,” which is becoming increasingly sophisticated and is always happening behind the scenes. This refers mainly to micro-targeted data analysis. We are living in what Steve calls a “Political Data Ecosystem,” in which all actors sharing data leads to greater incidence of micro-targeting of voters and/or customers. He discussed the steps the ICO has already taken to enforce regulations on giant social media companies but admits that keeping up with the technology is a challenge for the institution. Because of this, they need to take a horizontal approach rather than a vertical one. That is, they need to look at the whole field of information technology rather than focusing entirely on one infractor. Despite his concerns about micro-targeting, Steve does not support an outright ban of it. He, along with Craig and Tom seemed to agree that some degree of targeting is necessary and inevitable, but the question is simply where to draw the line.

 

Fourth APPG Evidence Session Highlights the Rising Power of Data and Money in Politics

16/07/2019 Posted by APPG, News 0 thoughts on “Fourth APPG Evidence Session Highlights the Rising Power of Data and Money in Politics”

The fourth APPG session on the 15th July featured a lively discussion about prospective ways to mitigate the power of money in politics and potential future avenues to avoid misuse of data and misinformation. There was an even focus on both short and long term objectives. The session discussed both quick measures to take for upcoming UK elections as well as long term strategies to foster more faith in democracy and fix the problems that big money and big data have caused in the digital age. Highlights for each participant and the full audio file are posted below.

 

Professor Rachel Gibson went in depth about strategies for deterring data misuse and called attention to the need for detection in addition to deterrence itself. She contended that a scale of activity needs to be defined when it comes to subversive online content. She established 3 categories: misinformation (partially untrue information), disinformation (information designed to mislead) and what she calls malinformation (true information obtained unlawfully). Misinformation she believes is inadvertent and inevitable, and statutes already exist to counter malinformation, but disinformation is where future efforts need to be focused. She suggests what she calls a “democratic defense team” that would “understand machine learning and ways in which computer science can be used” to find bot accounts and shut them down. She hopes to see the creation of an institution designed to provide factual information to unsure voters in the coming years. This could potentially pave the way for improvements in our education system which will teach people to be more judicious about information they read on the internet.

Doctor Kate Dommett went into depth about the importance of source transparency and data transparency. She maintained that giving citizens in depth information (beyond “paid for by x”) about the financial and political origin of ads seen online would increase people’s awareness of misinformation.  She brought to attention the prevalence of third party actors in recent election campaigns, which is problematic as they are “subject to very limited oversight.”  She believes that the aforementioned sourcing of ads could prevent potential confusion regarding the source of political third party advertising. She also thinks the electoral commission needs to be strengthened in its ability to regulate third party actors, and discussed the possibility of requiring third party organizations to declare a political position. Overall she is concerned about the anonymity of data and the fact that even many well intentioned organizations and political parties do not know where their data comes from.

Sam Power dove into the issue from a political science perspective, discussing the need to reform regulatory practices that deal with campaign finance. He advocates strongly for more transparency and detail in spending reports of political parties that would hold them more accountable to the public. On that note, he suggested a standardized template for campaign accounting practices that would make them easier to interpret and compare. Similarly to others, he believes the Electoral Commission needs more teeth in its ability to enforce regulations, primarily due to a lack of funding. Sam also spoke of a need to modernize practices of the Electoral Commission for the digital age, remarking that “there is a good case for the electoral commission to have a digital specialist unit to confront current challenges.”  Sam believes that money in politics is like water; it always finds a way through. He thinks that lowering the threshold for consideration of donations (currently at 500£) and limiting third party spending is a good place to start, but that there will always be holes in the proverbial dam of money in politics to continuously repair. 

Duncan Hanes of Transparency International defined corruption as “abuse of entrusted power for private gain.”  He believes that money in politics is a central problem in most world governments. He spoke about current problems facing democratic processes in the UK, saying that “our existing controls are insufficient given the ingenuity with which people have sought to test the limits.”  He expressed concern for the large time scale that investigative and enforcement processes take up in relation to how fast the infractions actually happened. Because of this, Duncan advocates for what he calls “a faster feedback loop” to intervene. Duncan’s big suggestion of the day however was the idea that corporate donations to political organizations should be required to  come out of earned corporate profits, and provably so. This, he believes, would prevent shady financial flows from entering into the political sphere simply by way of a corporate donation. Finally, he discussed the problem of timing once more in the context of these infractions against democracy not being limited to campaign time periods, which further complicates institutional ability to counter them. 

 

 

 

 

 

APPG welcomes key civil society organisations and academics at third session

02/07/2019 Posted by APPG, News 0 thoughts on “APPG welcomes key civil society organisations and academics at third session”

Today’s third session of the APPG saw important issues raised around long-term sustainability of electoral law along with the underlying question of truth. There were also important questions raised regarding spending limits and transparency. Highlights are below and you can listen to the entire session on the audio file below.

Bethany Shiner noted a number of the suggestions made by DCMS and other entities are only temporary and there are key long-term issues that need to be dealt with. It’s about faith in the system and trust in the electoral outcomes. The big question is values and how be build in integrity, transparency and trust. By building around values, we have the necessary flexibility to modify the rules based on changing environments. WhatsApp is the key example because we lose all transparency since it’s a totally private, encrypted network. With regard to digital imprints, Bethany pointed out that you must be clear on what types of content would need to have a digital imprint – organic? Paid? Party-funded? Grassroots led? She raised the question as to whether all micro-targeting ads should be banned.

Will Moy of Full Fact referenced their important report published last year – Tackling Disinformation in an Open Society – which highlights not just disinformation but what impacts people’s voting decisions. Will pointed out that it’s not just what happens in election time but all the time as the biggest predictor of a person’s voting intention is how they intend to vote the day the election is called. Full Fact’s report highlighted the need to immediately extend the imprint rule online in a genuinely meaningful way across four areas: complete transparency of content, targeting, spend and reach. He noted as well that the information environment has become an absolute fog because of the number of sources now available and the ability to hyper-target. In this fog we need better beacons of quality, reliable information. Will also pointed out that the current way of thinking about transparency – through spend – isn’t right anymore. The simple concept of splitting between local spend and national spend just doesn’t cut it anymore. Deterrence should be based on larger personal liability for law-breaking. On monitoring, it’s about giving the Electoral Commission more money to do the constant research and learning to stay on top of these issues.

Second APPG Oral Evidence Session

24/06/2019 Posted by APPG, News 0 thoughts on “Second APPG Oral Evidence Session”

Today the APPG on Electoral Campaigning Transparency welcomed Dr. Nick Anstead to give oral evidence.

Dr. Nick Anstead is Associate Professor in the Department of Media and Communications at LSE, where he also serves as programme director for the MSc Politics and Communication. Dr Anstead joined the Department in September 2010. Prior to this, he was a Lecturer in Politics at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. Previously, he studied at Mansfield College, the University of Oxford (BA in Modern History) and Royal Holloway, University of London (MSc and PhD in Politics).

His expertise includes comparative politics; data-driven campaigning; elections; internet; North American politics; political participation; political ideas; political institutions; political parties; public opinion; UK politics; Western European politics.

You can listen to all of his testimony below. Some highlights include (paraphrasing from his testimony):

Dr. Anstead noted that institutions need to be seen to work if we are to expect people to trust them and if we are serious about maintaining and improving democracy in the UK. It is fair to say that we currently have a crisis of trust in our democratic institutions, having said that, problems are bound to occur.

We have overturned a consensus we have had for 50 or so years that political advertising is to be kept out of politics, the emergence of platforms such as Facebook have led to this agreement changing. This is a significant change in how we politically communicate.

On transparency – It is one regulatory solution. Facebook is inherently different in obvious ways to broadcast media. Facebook is a private company, its product is the data users give them. Asking Facebook to be transparent on this would have an impact on their profit margin so it can be assumed they would resist this ask strongly. We must also remember that Facebook is a networked environment so we need to carefully delineate collusion and so on. Facebook ultimately would resist transparency probably on two counts, a) that the information is corporate and therefore sensitive and b) they would defend privacy framed as the privacy of users.

On deterrence – the electoral commission says they lack the ability to act as a formidable deterrent. Most electoral actors will bend the rules to gain the advantage over their opponents. There is huge incentive to break the rules using platforms such as Facebook where actors can spend large sums of money in an undetected fashion.

On monitoring – elections are infrequent, high-risk events. The communications edifice may have completely changed between two elections so effective monitoring presents a constant problem.

Dr. Anstead pointed out The Electoral Commission needs to be considerably strengthened to deal with an ever-changing communications environment. It is possibly not the answer to worry only about Facebook, though we should be worrying about them, but to overcome the regulatory problems by instilling some iron-clad values into our electoral procedures. The fact is we now have political parties now able to engage in extremely expensive commercial political advertising, we need as a society to have a conversation about the impact of allowing this type of money to enter UK politics like this. With recent elections, we can’t prove that this new type of advertising influenced the outcomes and it is probably missing the point anyway – the point really is, do we have robust electoral policing that can regulate this advertising and the money that goes with it. The basic value that has been to a certain extent has instilled into electoral procedures with the advent of this kind of political advertising is that votes can be bought.

If we consider the next major democratic act, which may be a General Election or another referendum, the particular storm we got in 2016 was partially a consequence of holding a referendum. In this event, voters weren’t as bound by party politics so there was in many ways everything to play for in a very delineated manner that created a very fruitful environment for the type of political commercial advertising that we saw emerge during the campaign. Also communications edifices were created outside of the main parties. However it would be better to enter an election event with a stronger electoral commission.

One major issue he raised is that because UK voters have lost a serious amount of trust in their democratic institutions, any outcome of a General or a referendum is bound to face calls of illegality, cheating and of being invalid so it is in the best interest of parties across the political spectrum to deal with this issue – so this is potentially a serious rhetorical problem for political parties. We need to revisit the institutional arrangements that govern elections and this can’t just be by looking at the referendum but needs to take into account future events, the goal then would be to create a robust enough but nimble, reactive institutional arrangements that could not only fix the things that went wrong in 2016 but anticipate and deal with problems in the future as they occur.

We look forward to welcoming Full Fact, DEMOS and Dr. Bethany Shiner at our next session on Tuesday 2 July.

 

First APPG Oral Evidence Session

17/06/2019 Posted by APPG, News 0 thoughts on “First APPG Oral Evidence Session”

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Electoral Campaigning Transparency held his first oral evidence session with Jessica Garland from the Electoral Reform Society and Kyle Taylor from Fair Vote. Stephen Kinnock MP, APPG Chair and Kenneth Clarke MP, APPG Vice-Chair were both attending the session.

The session was incredibly productive and acted as a strong framing conversation for the rest of the inquiry.

Stephen Kinnock MP said:

‘It is already clear we need a more powerful regulator that can enforce the law out of fear of recourse for wrongdoing.”

Kyle Taylor from Fair Vote said:

‘Fair Vote first pursued these issues more than a year ago. Much more needs to be done. The stakes are bigger than any one election. They concern a wide range of election campaigning areas like funding and online advertisements. Those who break the law should be investigated and prosecuted.’

Jessica Garland from the Electoral Reform Society said:

‘We don’t want to be in a context when the results of an election are put into question. We want to have the right monitoring in the first place to avoid that.’

On funding, Kenneth Clarke MP said:

‘We should have a complete openness on sources of finance. At the moment it seems you can do whatever you like in a campaign. It’s a danger to our democracy.’

This first APPG oral evidence session pointed out that at the moment, there is a culture of malfeasance because deterrents are not significant enough. Campaigners know that it’s very unlikely that they would ever face consequences for what they do in election time because the Electoral Commission does not have sufficient powers to investigate and prosecute offenders.

The next session is 24 June and open to the public.

 

Listen to the first Oral Evidence session

 

APPG Inquiry Formally Opens – Share your expertise

07/06/2019 Posted by APPG, News, Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “APPG Inquiry Formally Opens – Share your expertise”

We have formally opened a written evidence submission period for the APPG on Electoral Campaigning Transparency.  It will be open until 25 July 2019 at 5pm. If you have specialised knowledge or would simply like to contribute, you can do so here:

https://forms.gle/y4CbwxcEt4KmjRtV8

Please note we have a commitment to transparency. This means all submissions will be publicly available. We look forward to hearing from you, and please do share this link with other people you believe will be positive contributions.

You can find more information on the APPG here

First Meeting of APPG on Electoral Campaigning Transparency Held

16/05/2019 Posted by APPG, News 0 thoughts on “First Meeting of APPG on Electoral Campaigning Transparency Held”

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Electoral Campaign Transparency – formed in Parliament yesterday – will launch an inquiry into Britain’s electoral campaign rules. It will take evidence from experts and civil society to feed into a Green Paper advising the government on how to better safeguard and strengthen our democracy.

It comes after increasing pressure on the government to act in safeguarding elections from unscrupulous political donations, campaign advertising and foreign interference. The government recently published its response to the consultation on ‘Protecting the Debate’, pledging some changes. But there is little detail so far, campaigners say.

Stephen Kinnock, Labour MP for Aberavon, chair of the new group, said:

“The fall-out from the 2016 referendum has exposed the fact that our democracy is in danger of being overwhelmed by a toxic combination of dodgy data and dirty money. Drip by drip we have seen how our legislative and regulatory frameworks are simply not fit for purpose.

“Our political system can only function effectively if the public is confident that our elections and referenda are being policed effectively and that the playing field is level. Yet we currently have analogue regulations governing a digital age.”

 

Caroline Lucas Green MP for Brighton Pavilion , vice-chair of the new group, said:

“The work of the appg on electoral campaigning transparency seeks to make our electoral laws fit for the 21st century. This is not about Brexit, this is about all future elections and ensuring that the people can determine the future of the UK by strengthening our democratic processes.

This APPG will work to increase confidence in our governance institutions and to return power to the people”

 

Kenneth Clarke, Conservative MP for Rushcliffe, vice chair of the APPG, said: 

“This APPG is about looking forward not backward. No one can deny that we learned some valuable lessons about our democratic system in 2016. It’s time to act on those lessons to safeguard UK democracy and that’s why I’ve joined this APPG on Electoral Campaigning Transparency. Our current campaign laws are designed for soapboxes and leaflets and the fact is elections are fought and won not just on the doorsteps but online as well.

“An issue this important and this complex requires crossparty cooperation. Public confidence in elections must be restored and members of this APPG will be working to strengthen our laws, which by extension will strengthen our democracy.”

Meanwhile the government is still not willing to enforce better regulations on electoral practices.

We will continue campaigning to hold the government accountable and ensure electoral transparency.

 

APPG Vice Chairs Include:

Caroline Lucas MP

Kenneth Clarke MP

Wera Hobhouse MP

Deirde Brock MP

Owen Smith MP

Lord Chris Rennard

Launching An APPG on Electoral Campaigning Transparency

09/05/2019 Posted by APPG, News 0 thoughts on “Launching An APPG on Electoral Campaigning Transparency”

We are launching an initiative to strengthen our democracy and improve our transparency standards in our elections. Fair Vote will be serving as secretariat to an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Electoral Campaigning Transparency to be chaired by Stephen Kinnock MP.

It’s a major step forward in changing our laws to improve our democracy.

Our membership will aim to include MPs from all parties of the House because our scope of work is intentionally focused on common sense, cross-partisan areas of concern: transparency, deterrence and monitoring.

This APPG is built on Fair Vote’s recommendations and will be pushing for “quick win” reforms to electoral campaigning transparency including:

  • Giving the Election Commission more powers to punish and deter offenders;

  • Reporting campaign spending online;

  • Ending financial transfers between aligned campaigning groups;

  • Strengthening digital campaigning laws.

And, as soon as it is created, the APPG will be investigating major areas including:

  • Funding and spending on campaigns (to include issues such as where money comes from, money spent outside of regulated periods (e.g. database creation, involvement of third parties/external agencies etc), reporting on spending (e.g. breakdown of social media spend, reporting in real time), local and national spending limits and regulating the difference;

  • Online political campaign adverts (to include but not be limited to: imprints, public searchable ad databases and codes of practice for campaigners);

  • Investigatory and enforcement powers of the Electoral Commission;

  • Possible regulatory frameworks to ensure maintenance of laws put in place.

 

Find out more about the APPG here

Fair Vote UK files motion to reopen case in Mississippi against companies associated with Arron Banks

16/04/2019 Posted by News, Press Releases 0 thoughts on “Fair Vote UK files motion to reopen case in Mississippi against companies associated with Arron Banks”

Fair Vote UK files motion to reopen case in Mississippi against companies associated with Arron Banks

While giving testimony to the DCMS select committee, Brittany Kaiser, former Cambridge Analytica employee, said that Arron Bank’s company Big Data Dolphins was storing and using British citizen’s data at the University of Mississippi.

In response to this revelation, Fair Vote UK immediately sought legal counsel in Mississippi and pursued a preservation order over this data so that the companies in question could not destroy or tamper with it. Fair Vote UK successfully obtained two separate restraining orders preventing destruction. However, the case was later dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, thereby dissolving the prior restraints against destruction.

There are now six major developments that weigh in favour of the court reconsidering its dismissal of the plaintiff’s complaint on jurisdictional grounds.

The Mississippi court granted the motion to dismiss filed by defendants Big Data Dolphins LTD and Eldon Insurance Services LTD on the grounds that Mississippi did not have personal jurisdiction over the nonresidents defendants. Just three months later, the defendants nullified the court’s findings by filing their own lawsuit in against the University of Mississippi – affirming that Mississippi does indeed have jurisdiction over them.

Big Data Dolphins and Eldon Insurance have failed to fully disclose what personal data they possess.
The Information Commissioner’s Office fined Eldon Insurance for its misuse of sensitive personal data and started an audit in November 2018.

The National Crime Agency started investigating Eldon Insurance, its owner Arron Banks and Elizabeth Bilney in November 2018.

Parliament released Disinformation and ‘fake news’: Final Report, a report that detailed the “porous relationship” between Eldon Insurance and Leave.EU.

Big Data Dolphins and Eldon Insurance have a relationship with data scientist Dr. Domenico Mimmo Parisi, the founder and head of National Strategic Planning & Analysis Research Center’s at Mississippi State University, who recently accepted a position with the Five Star Movement, a right-wing political party in Italy.

Kyle Taylor, Director of Fair Vote UK, said: “The six major developments since the case was dismissed illustrate why the court should reconsider the dismissal.

Big Data Dolphins and Eldon Insurance have now consented to litigate the very issue they hotly contested just a few months ago. It’s important to remember this isn’t a suit claiming that they have offshore data, it is a preservation order to ensure nothing is destroyed while the relevant bodies can determine whether data protection laws were broken. If there was no misconduct, we see no reason why Eldon or Big Data Dolphins to oppose the motion.”

Click here to read the full motion.

Fair Vote UK welcomes Labour party policy adoption of key digital democracy reforms

06/02/2019 Posted by News, Press Releases 0 thoughts on “Fair Vote UK welcomes Labour party policy adoption of key digital democracy reforms”

Today Tom Watson announces Labour party proposals to rebalance the distorted digital market by establishing a new statutory regulator with powers to prevent market abuse and break up monopolies, introducing a Digital Bill of Rights and a legal Duty of Care to give more powers and protections back to consumers, particularly children and introducing Digital Democracy Guarantees – new rules to protect our democracy from subversion online.

Fair Vote UK’s white paper on digital democracy first published in April 2018 – was one of the first calls for such changes following the whistleblower allegations relating to private data taken from Facebook and misuse of private data in the EU referendum by Vote Leave. Since then, they have actively worked for legislative change that regulate social media platforms, enshrine citizens’ digital rights and fundamentally change rules to safeguard our democracy from foreign interference and disinformation online.

Kyle Taylor, Director of Fair Vote UK said:

“This is a really important first step in finally starting to tackle these serious issues facing our democracy. It has been almost a year since allegations of law-breaking and data theft emerged and more than six months since the Electoral Commission found Vote Leave guilty of breaking Electoral Law. There is an active NCA investigation into Arron Banks and Leave.EU and the ICO is also investigating further allegations of data crimes. It is obvious we need independent regulation of digital platforms and serious reforms to digital spaces so they cannot undermine our democratic institutions.

Tom Watson’s announcement today is an important first step and now the government should follow the opposition’s lead and introduce legislation to set up a new statutory regulator, enshrine digital rights into law and overhaul campaigning rules to protect our elections from foreign interference and disinformation. The evidence is clear. This shouldn’t be that difficult.”