Posts by Fair Vote Project

Home Page Update In Progress

17/11/2022 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Home Page Update In Progress”

We’re currently in the progress of updating our home page to reflect our most recent campaigning and advocacy work.

In the meantime, please check out our Twitter page for real-time updates and reach out to info@fairvote.uk if you have any pressing questions.

Global letter warns that OSB could make UK the world’s “Disinformation Laundromat”

11/07/2022 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Global letter warns that OSB could make UK the world’s “Disinformation Laundromat””

READ THE LETTER HERE

 

Fifty-seven organisations from nearly every continent on Earth have signed onto a letter urging the UK Government to scrap the exemptions, exceptions and exclusions in the Online Safety Bill.

Instead of exempting certain actors, we want to see robust protections for freedom of expression and other human rights applied equallyThe letter also condemns the vast powers given to the Secretary of State under the bill’s framework, and urges the bill to include provisions enabling civil society and researchers to access data in order to assess the true nature and scale of harm online.

We are concerned about the global impacts of the bill, including the potential for it to turn the UK into the world’s “disinformation laundromat” by exempting some of the biggest proponents of disinformation from any sort of oversight – all while regulating the speech of regular people. As written, the bill risks making people less safe online than they are currently, and jeopardises freedom of speech by creating a two-tiered hierarchical internet.

Getting it right is more important than getting it done. The bill must be amended. 

 

READ THE LETTER HERE

 

Photo: Nick Youngson License: Creative Commons 3 – CC BY-SA 3.0

Letter to Nadine Dorries: Our “Menu” for a Rights Protecting OSB

07/07/2022 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Letter to Nadine Dorries: Our “Menu” for a Rights Protecting OSB”

Fair Vote UK has written to the Culture Secretary alongside 15 other civil society organisations to warn the government that their Online Safety Bill is “on the verge of being unworkable“. This letter lays out the big problems with the bill – and our “menu” of amendments for a robust, rights-protecting framework for digital regulation.

READ THE LETTER HERE.

The signatory organisations include.

  • Unlock Democracy
  • Open Britain
  • Reset
  • Institute for Strategic Dialogue
  • Hope Not Hate
  • 5Rights Foundation
  • Catch22
  • Cybersalon.org
  • HackedOff
  • Chayn
  • Centenary Action Group
  • Glitch
  • The Signals Network
  • New Economics Foundation
  • Queer AF
  • Demos’s Centre for the Analysis of Social Media (CASM)

Exemptions, Exceptions, & Exclusions: Gaps in the Online Safety Bill

24/05/2022 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Exemptions, Exceptions, & Exclusions: Gaps in the Online Safety Bill”

The Online Safety Bill is a major piece of legislation that has significant potential to change the way we communicate online for the better. It could be the UK’s answer to the EU’s Digital Services Act, reigning in the damage to democracy, social well-being, and public discourse that big tech platforms have allowed to continue for years. However, in its current form it falls far short of that mark. 

A central issue is that the bill’s provisions to protect freedom of expression are simply not strong enough. In its current form, the bill depends on a number of regulatory exemptions that would give free reign to some of the most pervasive types of harmful content – leaving paid advertising, media and news publisher content, and content of “democratic importance” completely out of scope. This is a non-solution, and means freedom of expression safeguards are not operating on a level playing field – that already privileged entities, such as the press and politicians, are likely to be afforded greater freedoms by platforms than ordinary people. These exemptions could actually mean that the OSB makes the bill less safe than before. Instead, general protections for freedom of speech should be strengthened greatly and applied equally to all users. 

Read the full briefing we’ve prepared with Demos on these measures here:

Exemptions Exceptions and Exclusions _ OSB _ 20220421

Fair Vote UK Stands with Ukraine

25/03/2022 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Fair Vote UK Stands with Ukraine”

It’s been one month since Russia invaded Ukraine. Putin’s autocratic government is violating international law in an imperialist attempt to conquer a sovereign nation, with catastrophic consequences for the Ukrainian people and their democratic rights. This invasion comes on top of previous Russian imperialist military action, including the annexation of Crimea in 2014. As the war carries on, the US and others have officially accused Putin of committing war crimes. Those who believe in democracy, peace, and human rights have an obligation to stand up for the people of Ukraine and their right to self-determination.

Putin’s politics are oligarchic, plutocratic and fundamentally opposed to democracy and public trust. Indeed, Putin cracks down on his own citizens for dissenting against his government’s violation of international law. It was recently announced that Russian universities would no longer teach sociology, cultural studies or political science classes, which are key incubators of political thought and activism in any nation. Their elections are rigged and Putin’s political opponents are tossed in jail and poisoned. This is why, importantly, we must remember that it’s the Russian leadership who are culpable, and not the Russian people writ large.

Putin’s disinformation tactics substantiate calls for a robust Online Safety Bill, and the connections between Putin-aligned oligarchs and UK politics are one major reason why we’re pushing for the Elections Bill to crack down on dark money. In our current era of global democratic backsliding, it’s imperative that we unite and fight for democracy wherever possible.

We not only need to show solidarity with democracies in peril, such as Ukraine’s, but to strengthen our own democratic systems and institutions, making them resilient to the influence of autocrats and standing as a testament to the importance of public trust and equality.

Yesterday, Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy called for worldwide protest against Russia’s invasion. He urged people everywhere to “make yourself visible and heard” and to tell our governments that people matter, that freedom matters, and that peace matters.

We’ll be marching in solidarity with Ukraine alongside the European Movement, the Mayor of London, and many others tomorrow to show our support. We stand with Ukraine. 

We’d love to see you there – you can sign up here. 

How Ironic: Unelected Peers Charged with Defending Democracy

18/02/2022 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “How Ironic: Unelected Peers Charged with Defending Democracy”

Next Wednesday, the 23rd of February, the Elections Bill will go to the House of Lords for Second Reading. Despite the hard work of the Democracy Defence Coalition, a broad working group of civil society organisations and academics opposing the bill, it left the Commons with all of its dangerous provisions intact. It’s up to peers now to realise the terrible consequences that this bill could have if passed in current form. 

The government is framing this bill as “common sense” policy, a natural continuation of electoral reform that is administrative and not political. We’ve seen the evidence. We know that’s not the case.

It’s quite clear to any paying attention what this Government is about: eschewing accountability, rejecting transparency, and looking out for themselves. They’re not interested in electoral integrity, they’re interested in power consolidation.

This is a partisan bill. It’s designed to enshrine minority rule even more than the status quo of dark money donations and first-past-the-post (FPTP) already does.

It’s fundamentally undemocratic. Not coincidentally, this bill comes amid plans to tear up the Human Rights Act, weaken Judicial Review, and limit our ability to protest peacefully.

Nonetheless, the Government’s dishonest framing proved effective in the Commons, despite opposition parties’ forceful arguments against the bill. Ignoring the overwhelming evidence that Voter ID, a partisan Electoral Commission, limited campaigning for charities, and an expansion of FPTP are all disastrous ideas for improving the state of our electoral system, Conservative MPs towed the party line.

Now it’s up to the Lords. Ironically, this unelected wing of Parliament may be democracy’s saving grace by forcing a U-turn on this bill at 2nd reading. Even if they don’t halt the bill, they may be able to defeat the Government on amendments, chipping away at harmful provisions like Voter ID. Indeed, this is what happened with the Police Crime Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill, when the Lords stood up to authoritarian protest restrictions and defeated the Government on 14 different amendments.

Why is this ironic? Because the House of Lords itself isn’t democratic. In the words of Electoral Reform Society, the House of Lords is a fully-unelected “private member’s club“, and “the only time the public is allowed into the House of Lords is to pay the bill”.

LSE’s Democratic Audit Team summed it up nicely in their report on the House of Lords:

“The growth in Lords membership and costs is unsustainable, its territorial representation is lamentable, the UK’s fourth-largest party is boycotting it, and the current members lack all democratic accountability and legitimacy.”

In our efforts to reach peers as part of our campaign against the Elections Bill, we found that many peers do not have publicly listed contact information. It’s an opaque remnant of a hierarchical and aristocratic system of governance that looks nothing like a modern democracy.

And yet here we are, relying on a wholly unelected second chamber to protect the UK from the authoritarian whims of this government. We believe many peers will do the right thing, just as they did for the PCSC bill, but the irony cannot be understated.

What this situation tells us is that the UK desperately needs real democratic reform and not a partisan elections bill. 

Let’s listen to the experts, civil society, and the public when they say they want proportional representation, better regulation of campaign finance, automatic voter registration, and an end to unelected officials making policy with no democratic mandate.

It’s time we rebuild our democracy into something fit for the 21st century. 

“Partygate” and Democratic Accountability

25/01/2022 Posted by News 0 thoughts on ““Partygate” and Democratic Accountability”

In a functioning democracy, the state represents the public will. Representatives follow the rule of law, and exercise transparency and accountability. The state’s powers are so extensive as to only be trusted in the hands of those who embody the informed choices of the public. The instant our leaders hide behind opaque bureaucratic processes, lie to manipulate the public, or put themselves above the rule of law, democracy is in jeopardy. Once leaders demonstrate a lack of respect for democratic accountability, nothing they do is trustworthy. In these moments, the public needs to remember that their government works for them, and remind their leaders that true democracy means accepting nothing less than honest, transparent and accountable governance.

The UK has been existing in such a moment for years now, and yet as the scandals continue, accountability is nowhere to be found.

The sheer number of scandals churning out of this government on a weekly basis is eye-watering. More than that, it inundates the public with upsetting information, causing a sensory overload effect that lasts until the next scandal breaks and the cycle repeats. Reminiscent of Donald Trump’s never-ending string of scandals during his time in the White House, the scandal floodgates are open and the public can’t keep up.

The current UK administration is currently mired in “Partygate“, referring to a string of large gatherings held during COVID-19 lockdown while the rest of the country was isolating. Sue Gray is expected to release a report shortly and the Metropolitan police is now involved with investigations as well. This is by no means the first major scandal under this administration. To list a few other highlights from just the past couple of years:

  • The PM’s prorogation of Parliament in 2019, ruled to be unlawful and viewed by many as an attempt to avoid scrutiny before the UK’s exit from the European Union.
  • Dominic Cummings scandal, in which the PM’s (then) Chief Strategist also broke COVID restrictions
  • Priti Pratel, the Home Secretary, was accused of breaking ministerial code.
  • Covid Contract Cronyism, in which former Health Secretary Matt Hancock was ruled to have acted unlawfully in giving out PPE contracts.
  • Matt Hancock’s public affair in violation of social distancing guidelines, which the PM publicly forgave him for.
  • Owen Paterson MP resigned after the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards published a report which found him guilty of violating paid advocacy rules.

 

Consistently, this Government has obfuscated, lied and deflected in order to maintain power without addressing the fact that they broke the rules. They place themselves above the rule of law and therefore above the public, eschewing the fundamental democratic idea that the government works for the people. These scandals impede important conversations about policy and governance. It’s hard not to draw comparisons to Trump’s politics in the states, in which lies, obfuscation and distraction techniques were constantly deployed to detract from obvious unlawful behaviour that in previous years would be career-ending.

The problems we’re facing are much deeper than the personal scandals of our representatives. Their lack of accountability mirrors larger trends in UK politics. Creating a more democratic political culture of accountability, transparency, and good governance will necessitate contending with these issues.

For one thing, British politics is becoming “Americanised“, with large shadowy campaign donations playing an increasingly central role. As Stephen Kinnock MP, the Chair of the APPG on Electoral Campaigning Transparency, notes: “That is a very dangerous place to be. We have been complacent about our democracy. We thought it would just look after itself.” Liam Byrne MP, in parliamentary debate over the Elections Bill, emphasised the importance of “clean[ing] up the laundromat of British politics, which is now awash with dark money from dubious sources”. Deidre Brock MP, in the same debate, brought up Unincorporated Associations, which “can be set up with the sole purpose of siphoning money to political campaigns” without scrutiny. The Committee on Standards in Public Life acknowledged the importance of contending with dark money in their report on regulating election finance, and yet the Government’s Elections Bill makes no attempt to address this issue. Dark money calls the accountability of our representatives into question because we don’t know where all of their funding came from and what political priorities may be associated with huge and underhanded influxes of cash into their campaigns.

Disinformation, conspiracy theories, and digital platforms inability to regulate themselves plays a role here as well, much as it did in Trump’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns. Creating chaos and undermining trust, shady actors have used conspiracy theories such as QAnon and the Great Replacement theory, as well as disinformation about democratic systems and political issues like climate change and vaccines, to undermine trust and entrench extremist viewpoints that often skew into the anti-democratic. The Cambridge Analytica scandal saw political campaigns deploy big-data analysis to target digital platform users and manipulate them into voting a certain way. Data-harvesting and targeting allows campaigns to send tailored messages to specific groups, obfuscating the campaign’s real intentions and allowing them to pretend to be whoever they need to be to win a vote. This also calls accountability into question, because again, the priorities of the campaign and the representative don’t have to align with what the public actually wants, but what they’re told through micro-targeted advertising. This is why we’re working on the Online Safety Bill and encouraging a systems approach to digital platform regulation that will stop legal but harmful content from manipulating the public will with targeted half-truths and lies. For more reading about this incredibly pertinent phenomenon, check out Shoshanna Zuboff’s Surveillance Capitalism and Kyle Taylor’s Little Black Book of Data and Democracy.

A myriad of other problems have been pointed out as well, including our First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) voting system that enshrines minority rule and suppresses political diversity, the lack of power and independence given to our elections watchdog, the Electoral Commission, the rise in corporate power over government, and much more.

British politics desperately needs large-scale electoral and digital reform to solve these problems. Strong proposals exist for proportional representation, votes at 16, automatic voter registration, and more, yet constantly get shut down in Parliament. There is some hope for a decent Online Safety Bill assuming the Joint Committee on the bill’s recommendations are heeded. On the whole though, this government is putting forward a number of bills that, just like their personal conduct, are unprincipled, undemocratic and unethical.

While the government suffered amendment defeats in the House of Lords to its Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which threatened to crack down on the democratic right to protest, the Elections Bill made it through the Commons with all of its dangerous provisions in tact. This bill moves us further away from where we need to be heading. Voter ID, partisan control of the Electoral Commission, restrictions on third party campaigning, expansion of FPTP voting are not solutions to any of our problems, but new problems in and of themselves.

The Elections Bill does not address the serious challenges facing our democracy because this government does not care about fairness, accountability, or the rule of law. It is trying to entrench its own power and enshrine minority rule by making it harder to vote and undermining electoral enforcement mechanisms. Instead of focusing on the individual scandals of this administration and inundating ourselves with outrage to their benefit, we need to fight for real electoral reform and digital platform regulation. Our democracy is in a truly precarious place. Join us in fighting for its future.

Democracy Defence Coalition (DDC): Proposed Amendments for the Elections Bill

17/01/2022 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Democracy Defence Coalition (DDC): Proposed Amendments for the Elections Bill”

Overview

The Government’s recent attempt to politicise how the behaviour of MPs is policed by changing the standards rules when they implicated a member of their own party has caused outrage both in the media and across the country. The Elections Bill will give the Government unprecedented power over how elections are run in our country. It’s a dangerous move that puts democracy at risk and, so far, it’s been rushed through Parliament with next to no consultation or scrutiny. 

The all-party Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s recently issued report into the Elections Bill has urged the government to stop the passage of the bill and conduct a more thorough consultation. The Conservative Chair of the Committee, William Wragg MP said, “We feel that the elections bill proposals lack a sufficient evidence base, timely consultation, and transparency, all of which should be addressed before it makes any further progress. We cannot risk any reduction of trust in UK elections, which is why the majority of the committee is calling for the bill to be paused to give time for more work to be done to ensure the measures are fit for purpose.”

Fair Vote UK, in accordance with the Democracy Defence Coalition (DDC) encourages support for the following amendments and new clauses at the Elections Bill’s report stage on Monday, 17 January, 2021.

Voter ID:

Support Amendment 1 to remove Voter ID provisions

Justification: Large numbers of eligible voters without the right photo ID could be excluded from our democracy – they are disproportionately likely to be young people, people with disabilities and the very old. 

When photo ID was trialled in 10 areas holding local elections in 2019, over 2,000 people were turned away from the polls. The Government has refused to give any estimate of how many eligible voters could be turned away in a General Election due to a lack of a photo ID. The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s report into the Elections Bill found that voter turnout dropped by 2.3% in 2003 Northern Ireland “as a direct consequence” of Voter ID – translated to UK elections, that could mean over a million eligible voters losing their vote.

The Government has announced that a free voter ID scheme will be run by councils at a cost of up to £180 million across ten years – but have provided no details of how that scheme will work – when people need to apply by, what documents they will need to provide or whether they will have to travel to council offices. 

Electoral Commission:

Support Amendment 9 to remove clause 13

Support Amendment 10 to remove clause 14, the “Electoral Commission’s duty to have regard to strategy and policy statement”

Justification: The Government is proposing to undermine the independence of the Electoral Commission by  allowing its strategy and policy to be set by the Government and then monitored by a Government-dominated committee.  Supporting amendments 9 and 10 will stop this from happening.

Mr Pullinger, the Chair of the Electoral Commission, expressed his concerns thus: “If the Bill is passed in its current form, it will be harder to demonstrate independence and for the public to be confident of independence…”

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee report on the Elections Bill concluded that “the Government has not provided sufficient evidence to justify why the proposed measures are both necessary and proportionate.”

Third party campaigning:

Support Amendment 11 to remove clause 23, which restricts which third parties may incur controlled expenditure

Support Amendment 12 to remove clause 24, which allows the current Secretary of State to amend the list of which organisations can campaign.

Justification: Clauses 23 and 24 mean Ministers can decide to exclude a type of organisation or a category of individuals from spending more than £700 on election campaigning during the 365 days prior to election day (the regulated period). Because there are no fixed terms for Parliamentary elections, this can become a permanent restriction. For example, if a General Election is called in May 2022, then the regulated period would run back to May 2021 – so effectively charities will have to act as if they are always in a regulated period. This will have a huge chilling effect on democracy and elections.

Political finance:

Support New Clause 9 to require permissible donors to be based in the United Kingdom.

Member’s explanatory note: This new clause makes requirements for individual and company donors to be based in the United Kingdom and makes persons running companies liable for donation restriction evasion offences committed by those companies.

Support Amendment 125, which would require donors to be based in the UK.

Member’s explanatory note: This amendment would exclude non-UK-resident individuals from the definition of “permissible donor” for the purposes of the rules permitting donations to political parties.

Justification: Both of the above would ensure that only people resident in the United Kingdom can donate to a political party, safeguarding against foreign money flooding into UK democracy.

Electoral systems: 

Support New Clause 3 to establish a citizens’ assembly representative of the population aged 16 and over to consider electoral systems in the United Kingdom.

Support New Clause 13 to introduce proportional representation for elections to the House of Commons. 

Justification: Both of these new clauses would make the UK’s election system more representative of the electorate.

A More Robust Online Safety Bill: Joint Committee on OSB Recommends a Systems Approach

15/12/2021 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “A More Robust Online Safety Bill: Joint Committee on OSB Recommends a Systems Approach”

The Joint Committee on the Online Safety Bill has published an extensive report, recommending a number of legislative changes that will change the bill’s focus from content to systems. 

This is critically important. The draft bill, as it currently stands, focuses more on content – this leads to unproductive conversations about legality and illegality of such content, when the important issue is the underlying algorithms and data-driven targeting systems that manipulate what people see online based purely on clicks and ad revenues. 

We, alongside many other civil society campaigners and whistleblowers like Frances Haugen, have driven this point home for months – and the Committee has listened. The Online Safety Bill is an incredibly important piece of legislation for democracy, and, if well executed, could set the stage globally for a new era of digital regulation that protects democracy by reducing social division and disinformation. The Committee’s recommendations, if incorporated into the legislation, would ensure the bill does just that.

Importantly, the recommendations put “safety by design” at the core of digital intervention, seeking to require platforms to mitigate harm risks that stems from the design of the platform itself. Slowing down the speed at which content spreads, requiring more human moderation of large social media groups, limiting “one-click shares”, and mandating special arrangements for elections and other “periods of heightened risk”, are sensible interventions that strike at the core of the problem instead of scrambling to address the symptoms.

They echo what we and other campaigners have said about anonymity, calling for a right to anyone to verify their identity on social media and a right to filter out content from verified or unverified users. They endorse the Law Commission’s recommendations for new criminal communications offences. They support restraining the Secretary of State’s powers over the digital world included in the draft bill. They support strong protections for freedom of speech, and address grey areas in the original bill that grant regulatory exemption for “citizen journalists” and “democratically important” content, replacing it with “content where there are reasonable grounds to believe it will be in the public interest”. 

The recommendations are best taken collectively, working together to turn the bill into a truly systems-oriented and harm-reductive framework for digital regulation. This bill could usher in a new dawn of democracy-protecting digital intervention – it’s imperative that the recommended changes be made.

Read our full overview of the Joint Committee’s report below:

Fair Vote UK Briefing_ Report by the Committee on the Joint Online Safety Bill _ 20211214

 

 

 

“Sleaze” is an Understatement: This Government is Rigging the System

05/11/2021 Posted by News 0 thoughts on ““Sleaze” is an Understatement: This Government is Rigging the System”

The Government has yet again become entangled in an embarrassing corruption scandal, culminating in another U-turn from the PM on Thursday.

After an extensive report found (now former) MP Owen Paterson guilty of “egregious” violations of lobbying rules, the PM and many others in his party voted to do away with established ethics rules and block his 30-day suspension in order to cover for him.

When opposition leaders boycotted the new Conservative-led Committee to create new ethics rules and public outrage came to a head, the plan disintegrated. The PM has since called for a new vote to effectively undo the entire ordeal, scheduled for next week. Owen Paterson has resigned, yet still proclaims his innocence.

This is by no means the first public corruption scandal (or U-turn) of this calibre under this administration. The PM’s eye-watering disregard for any semblance of ethical governance has held much of civil society and the public in nearly perpetual shock over the last couple of years.

This administration’s brash and unapologetic rejection of established norms, as well as its knee-jerk inclination to protect its own, signals to the public that fairness and decency are not a part of its agenda. Unfortunately, this current of corruption isn’t just limited to its managing of scandals, but infests all of its political operations.

Unfairness is a cornerstone of this Government’s political strategy; it’s aiming to silence opposition by rigging the system in its favour. This is abundantly clear from the legislation we’ve seen put forward since 2019. 

The Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill, currently in Committee Stage in the House of Lords, would impede citizen’s rights to protest peacefully and grant authoritarian stop and search powers which will disproportionately affect people of colour.

The Judicial Review and Courts Bill, making its way through the Commons, would limit access to justice for many by removing their right to hold lawmakers accountable.

The Nationality and Borders Bill, also in the Commons, would make arriving in the UK without permission a criminal offence, with the Government aiming to “abdicate its commitments to international law”.

The common thread in both the PM’s conduct and the legislation put forward by ministers is that this Government refuses to be held accountable and will do everything it can to rig the system in its favour. Ethical principles have been tossed aside, viewed as barriers to power consolidation.

This brings us to the Elections Bill.

While the Government’s narrative around this bill has been one of “common sense” paired with a vague concern for non-existent voter fraud (perfectly mirroring one of Donald Trump’s famous campaign strategies), such a motive flies in the face of everything we’ve seen this Government willing to do to consolidate power. They’ve publicly demonstrated disdain for human rights, apathy towards regular Britons, and a prioritisation of their own political power above all else.

What have they done to give us any reason to believe those intentions, even for a second? 

That narrative does not hold an ounce of water when you look at what’s actually in this bill.

They’d have us believe it’s simply a coincidence that the type of IDs accepted under the new voter identification scheme the bill introduces happen to belong to strong Conservative demographics.

They want you to think there’s an actual reason to limit postal and proxy voting, outside of sheer Trumpian anti-democratic power consolidation.

They hope you’ll just trust them on the Bill’s politicisation of the Electoral Commission, forcing the most important democratic institution in this country under their partisan control.

Do not trust their narrative when the real story has been in plain sight for years. Don’t listen when they tell you to ignore the evidence of your own eyes and ears. 

With all the talk of “sleaze,” let’s recognise that there is a deeper and far more sinister underlying intent, evident in both the shameful and unending string of political scandals and the actual legislative agenda of this Government.

The intent is to rig the system in its favour, step on opposition, and consolidate as much power as possible. 

This goes against everything modern Britain stands for and undermines the hard-earned achievements of past generations before us in establishing a democratic and free society.

Let’s pause and re-think whether this is truly what we want for our country. 

The Metaverse: A New Chapter in Undermining Democracy

29/10/2021 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “The Metaverse: A New Chapter in Undermining Democracy”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that he will be re-branding the company into “Meta,” likely in a futile effort to wash away the incredible damage the company has done to the social fabric of nations around the world, the integrity of political discourse globally, and the mental well-being of individuals everywhere.

There’s more to it than that. Zuckerberg, in a bizarre video, also proclaimed the creation of what he calls “the Metaverse”.

Our founder and director Kyle Taylor wrote on Friday that despite the “damning revelations about the social media platform in the last week”, “Mark Zuckerberg’s reaction has been to go full Orwellian and pretend as if none of it happened.”

Read Kyle’s full Byline Times piece for a play-by-play breakdown of Facebook’s scandals and Zuckerberg’s absurd hubris. Here is what he had to say about the Metaverse:

“On Thursday, [Mark Zuckerberg] released a video announcement that the company would be renamed Meta, declaring that it has a “new North Star” of building the metaverse – a virtual reality world in which Facebook is likely not destabilising governments, facilitating genocides and undermining global health efforts. A virtual reality in which Facebook isn’t terrible. Too late Mark, game over.”

Essentially the Metaverse is still Facebook, but in a virtual reality setting – complete with avatars, virtual homes, and more. Despite its potential surface-level appeal, experts are already raising concerns that this becoming a reality might actually increase the dangers Facebook poses to democracy: more detachment from real life, and more potential to create thought bubbles that spread hate and misinformation.

Areeq Chowdhury, Senior Policy Advisor for the Royal Society, listed some of these concerns in a twitter thread this morning:

In the Metaverse, anonymous avatars will show up to virtual rallies and be digitally violent towards politicians.”

“In the Metaverse, influencers and overt racists will select dark skin tones for their avatars.”

“In the Metaverse, extremists will livestream acts of violence on big screens in Metacinemas.”

In all likelihood, we can’t even begin to imagine what kind of changes the Metaverse will bring to the platform’s already incredibly problematic business model and operational standards.

All of this of course comes at an incredibly pertinent moment for Facebook’s reputation.

Whistleblower Frances Haugen gave testimony to UK Parliament on Monday, echoing what she said to US Parliament several weeks before and what Sophie Zhang mentioned last week:

Facebook is a slave to “meaningful social interactions”, lingo for shares, likes and comments. It doesn’t matter what content is being shared, and we know for a fact that inflammatory content gets more attention.

She also urged UK lawmakers to include ads in the scope of the upcoming Online Safety Bill, arguing that it would be a “grave danger to society and democracies around the world to omit societal harm”.

As we work to reform the bill into something that could actually stand a chance at tackling these mounting digital perils, we are grateful for her testimony and that of Sophie Zhang.

Ignore the flash and glamour of the Metaverse – somehow, Zuckerberg thinks he can absolve himself and his company by throwing some VR tech into the mix and putting on an ostentatious, tone-deaf presentation. At its worse, the metaverse represents a whole new unfortunate chapter in the story of social media’s undermining of civilised discourse and informed democratic participation.

Don’t forget what Facebook is, or who Zuckerberg is. Effective legislation, hopefully in the form of the Online Safety Bill, is the key to curtailing the damage this company has done and is continuing to do. Join the fight to create a fairer and less toxic digital space, one that values human well-being over profits.

Facebook Whistleblower Sophie Zhang Advises MPs on Digital Regulation

20/10/2021 Posted by News, Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “Facebook Whistleblower Sophie Zhang Advises MPs on Digital Regulation”

Yesterday afternoon, former Facebook data scientist Sophie Zhang testified to the Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill (you can watch the full testimony here).

This comes after she spoke out in April against her former employer.

Zhang’s allegations strongly reinforced what Frances Haugen said before a U.S. Senate subcommittee last week:

Facebook is knowingly allowing the propagation of large-scale disinformation campaigns because, to put it simply, executives can’t stomach even the smallest hit to their bottom line. 

Here is an overview of the situation to date with Facebook. Their role in choosing profits over human safety, and propagating targeted hateful, misleading and abusive content has undermined democracy and led to real events with real consequences – the insurrection on January 6th, for example.

Zhang, whose former role involved dealing with bots and fake accounts, gave Members of Parliament a good idea of how severe the problems are.

She claimed to have direct experience with bringing issues to the attention of executives and being shot down. When she brought concerns about fake Facebook accounts manipulating elections in Honduras, she claims the company failed to “agree on the importance” of the dilemma.

“The people charged with making important decisions about what the rules are and how the rules are getting enforced are the same as those charged with keeping good relationships with local politicians and governmental members”, she explained.

She also gave an illuminating perspective on how the Draft Online Safety Bill should contend with giant tech platforms like Facebook.

Zhang testified that allowing social media companies to conduct their own internal risk assessments would likely lead to them “pretend[ing] that the problem doesn’t exist”, and thus not reporting to Ofcom.

Instead of the self-reporting model, Zhang advocated for Ofcom and external regulators and digital experts to test and assess the platforms’ efficacy in keeping users safe from misinformation and abuse.

Facebook is making little to no progress towards a consistent policy on dealing with the safety of its users.

Thanks to whistleblowers like Haugen and Zhang, the public is finally beginning to get the full picture. In what many are calling Facebook’s “Big Tobacco Moment“, citizens and government officials across the political spectrum are beginning to understand the importance of comprehensive reform to the digital space.

It’s critical that the Online Safety Bill – as well as other similar attempts at digital regulation globally – gets it right. We can’t allow platforms like Facebook to pull at the social fabric of nations around the world for much longer – the consequences will only get more severe.

We Told Downing Street: No to Voter ID

08/09/2021 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “We Told Downing Street: No to Voter ID”

On Tuesday, our director Kyle Taylor went to 10 Downing Street along with representatives from the Electoral Reform Society, My Life My Say, Hands Off Our Vote and 38 Degrees to deliver 290,000+ signed petitions telling the Government to scrap dangerous plans for voter ID.

We also delivered a letter, signed by a broad coalition of civil society organisations and academics, reminding government that more than 2 million people lack photo ID and that the plans (by Government’s own figures) could cost up to £20 million per general election.

The mobilisation efforts around voter ID have been strong across civil society and the public. All of the evidence simply points to the fact that voter id will keep people away from the polls, cost millions, and solve absolutely nothing.

A data driven, peer reviewed study of voter ID pilots by Professor of Political Science & Public Policy Toby S. James (University of East Anglia) and Senior Lecturer Alistair Clark (Newcastle University) found that voter identification measures “had little effect on the security of the electoral process” and that they actually “led to some voters not casting their ballot, either for reasons of convenience and availability of suitable forms of ID, or reasons of principle and protest.”

Voter ID, along with the limitations on postal voting that are also provisioned in the Elections Bill, are US Republican-style policies designed to limit voting and make minority rule a reality. The US recently had a minority-elected President nominate lifetime Supreme Court appointments that were confirmed by a minority-elected Senate. Voter suppression measures in Texas allowed for fringe beliefs to become state law at the behest of minority-elected state legislators. The dangers of voter suppression are palpable and we do not want to see the UK move in this dangerous direction. This is a truly critical moment for the future of UK democracy.

Supporters of voter ID often bring up Northern Ireland and EU countries with mandatory voter ID, but this is not an apt comparison. The implementation of ID in Northern Ireland had a significant negative effect on voter turnout, as many are predicting will be the case here. Additionally, EU countries already have mandatory state ID card schemes which include free provision of ID for all citizens. The UK’s scheme wants to create a registration based process (ie not automatic) for “electoral identity documents” administered independently by over 300 councils (in England alone), each with their own funding limitations. We still don’t know how long it will take to arrive, or how difficult it will be to acquire. If you need to travel to a distant council office to get it, or take time off work, or are a Council tax payer, that’s not ‘free’ ID. Many will be unable to complete the registration process in the allotted time or travel to pick up the document (assuming the councils are even able to fund these plans). 

As the Elections Bill has just passed its second reading and is moving to Committee Stage on the 15th, we are urging the Government to pause and re-think this bill. The cost figures come from the largely buried impact assessment of the bill, which estimates that the bill’s provisions could cost as much as £180 million over the next 10 years. We urge the public and the Government to consider what we are actually getting for that price.

We are not alone. We, along with the 290,000+ petition signers and a 61 org strong democracy defense coalition, will not see voters disenfranchised in this country or minority rule made a reality.

Stand with us and tell the government: No to Voter ID.

What Would a Robust Elections Bill Look Like?

27/08/2021 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “What Would a Robust Elections Bill Look Like?”

The UK’s electoral system is broken in multiple ways. Fair Vote UK and our ally organisations are fighting a multi-front policy battle to ensure that voting is fair, easy and safe. The Electoral Integrity bill, an extensive policy package due for its second reading when Parliament returns in early September, represents a massive opportunity for those of us that want to bolster our electoral system against nefarious actors and authoritarian threats. While the bill gets a lot wrong in certain areas, it inches towards sensible reform in others. The UK hasn’t had meaningful electoral reform in years, and this bill needs to correctly interpret the threats posed to democracy in the age of shadow campaigns, dodgy data and encroaching authoritarianism. Instead of dwelling on what this bill is (as we’ve been doing for months now), let’s discuss what it should be. 

What would a robust elections bill actually look like? 

First, let’s get rid of the worst parts of the bill – those that add no value and in some cases actually pose serious risks to the health of our democracy.

Provisions for mandatory voter identification would need to be scrapped. Voter ID is a controversial policy that threatens to disenfranchise millions of voters and cost millions of pounds. For more information on why voter ID needs to go, please read our take on voter id or Electoral Reform Society‘s fantastic in-depth analysis of the policy.

Similarly, new requirements for postal and proxy voting also need to be tossed out. New requirements would mandate that postal voters re-apply every 3 years (before every general election), and there is no clarification on what problems these measures are even attempting to solve. The reasoning here harks back to Donald Trump’s completely unsubstantiated allegations about connections between postal voting and voter fraud. Much like voter id requirements, this is straight out of the Republican voter suppression playbook. This section of the bill also limits proxy voting and bans political campaigners from handling postal votes, citing voter fraud and ‘postal vote harvesting’. There is simply no evidence that these are real issues.

The bill also, against the recommendations of the CSPL’s report on regulating election finance, encroaches on and politicises the Electoral Commission by removing its prosecutorial powers and making it beholden to the (Conservative-dominated) Speaker’s Committee. The Commission, a vitally important democratic institution, can only function properly when its independence is preserved. No institution has more embedded knowledge of electoral law than the Electoral Commission.

A robust Elections Bill would increase the Electoral Commissions funding, maintain its prosecution powers, and grant it unlimited fining capabilities for election offenses. To go even further, oversight of local candidate financial reports could be shifted to the Commission, and regional offices could be set up around the country that operate outside of regulated election periods.

Those are the worst parts. Next, there are the aspects of the bill that move in the right direction, but don’t quite go far enough to constitute meaningful reform.

The political finance section of the bill, for example, contains some decent provisions:

  • Third-party campaigner registration: This measure will introduce a new ‘lower’ tier of registration with the Electoral Commission for third parties spending above £10,000 across the constituent parts of the UK but less than the current per-country registration thresholds. Groups in this ‘lower tier’ would be subject to basic transparency requirements and would need to be UK-based or otherwise eligible to register.
  • Restriction of all third-party campaigning to UK-based entities and eligible overseas electors: This will restrict third-party campaigning during a regulated period to only those groups eligible to register with the Electoral Commission, even those spending below the registration threshold.
  • Ban on registering as both a political party and a third-party campaigner.
  • Restrictions on coordinated spending between parties and third parties.
  • Asset and liabilities declaration for the registration of new political parties.

This is a good start, but a robust bill would have a much lower spending threshold to require registration with the Commission, perhaps £1000 instead of £10,000. Third parties can do a lot of damage without spending more than £10,000.

Here are some other additions that would make these political finance reforms more meaningful: 

  • Require exit audits for parties and third parties at the end of each regulated election period.
  • Include market-based costs of data-sets (those used to target political advertisements) in spending regulation sums.
  • All non-cash donations should be subject to permissibility checks. Cash donations over £20 should be subject. This would be supported by a national, networked electoral roll to help smaller parties manage the added workload this change would necessitate. It is impossible to be certain that one nefarious actor is not making repeated gifts “just under the limit” using multiple aliases, or “proxy donors”, as Oxford Professor Jacob Rowbottom argued in written evidence for the APPG on Electoral Campaigning Transparency’s 2020 report Defending Democracy in the Digital Age
  • Corporate donations should be required to come from profits declared in the UK. We don’t want shell corporations channeling foreign money into our elections (read more about this here).
  • Standardise all financial reporting.
  • Streamline national vs local spending with a per-seat cap on total spending.  This is necessary to unblur the line between local and national party spending as exacerbated by digital campaigning tactics. Targeted online advertising is a prime example of a campaign tactic that could be considered national or local. More broadly, this provision helps to reduce the existence of “democracy deserts” by limiting an inundation of money to very few traditionally competitive seats, broadening reach and engagement in the democratic process. 

Note: the CSPL’s report on regulating election finance contains a number of other recommendations that would be much stronger than what is currently in the Electoral Integrity Bill. Read our full analysis of that report here

Another area that could be strengthened is digital imprints. While we have long advocated for the introduction of a digital imprints regime, the one laid out in the bill leaves concerning loopholes. A robust bill would tighten the wording to ensure that embedding the imprint on the actual material (not on the account page or somewhere else) is compulsory. We also want to see imprints that mention why the viewer was targeted.

The Electoral Integrity bill has a few other sections, which we either support or don’t feel are generally harmful enough to oppose. These include:

  • Increasing the accessibility of polls to those with disabilities, which we support unequivocally.
  • Clarification of undue influence. This seeks to crack down on intimidation/threats/manipulation of voters to affect the outcome of their vote.
  • Scrapping the 15 year limit on overseas electors’ right to vote in UK. This is good, but we should note that this pro-democratic logic should be applied to other sections of the bill such as Voter ID and postal voting. 
  • EU Voting and candidacy rights.

We’ve established now that a robust Elections Bill would do away with voter ID and postal voting restrictions, strengthen and maintain the independence of the Electoral Commission, contain more impactful campaign finance reforms, and establish a fleshed-out digital imprints regime. However, the bill could go even further than that.

A truly impactful bill would include more measures to ensure transparency, enforce accountability, and encourage trust in UK democracy with an evidence-based approach to countering real threats (as opposed to non-existent ones like ‘postal vote harvesting’).

Here are some ways the bill could go above and beyond: 

  • Introduce automatic voter registration (AVR). A report commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust defines AVR as the direct enrollment of citizens onto the electoral register by public officials, without the need for pro-active action by citizens”. There are a number of options for implementation. For more information, read the Electoral Reform Society’s overview here.
  • Strengthen pandemic-related election safeguarding measures. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and global society runs the risk of fighting more pandemics in the near future, this bill should protect the integrity of our elections in the post-pandemic social landscape. For more information on this, read our report Democracy in the Age of Pandemic.
  • Create an office for Election Integrity. An Office for Election Integrity—a COBRA for elections—should be convened quarterly outside election time and twice-weekly during an election period. It would promote efficiency in interagency cooperation around these issues, so that the ICO, Electoral Commission, Ofcom (in its capacity as Online Harms regulator) and any other relevant regulatory bodies are pooling their resources, knowledge and expertise. 
  • Digital Advert Libraries. The CSPL’s election finance report recommended that “the government should legislate to require social media platforms that permit election adverts in the UK to create advert libraries that include specified information.” These libraries would be required to contain information including: precise figures for amounts spent, rather than ranges, who paid for the advert (for targeted adverts), information about the intended target audience of the advert and the types of people who actually saw the advert. They would be required to be submitted to the Electoral Commission. 
  • Ban foreign entities from buying campaign advertising in the UK. As recommended by the CSPL, this would ease concerns about electoral manipulation and help restore trust in democracy.

We can’t hope to list them all. There are many organisations working tirelessly to come up with meaningful reforms to our electoral system that would help it stand against 21st century challenges. The problems of our time can be tackled in different ways, but certainly not with further restricting who can vote and wasting taxpayer money on non-solutions like voter identification.

Realistically (and unfortunately), we aren’t going to see the perfect, idealised version of the bill we’ve just laid out. We can, however, make it miles better than it stands currently. With the help of our partner organisations we are pushing hard to reform the bill in the most important places. We’re working tirelessly on specific amendments to the bill that will push it in the right direction. Millions of peoples’ ability to vote is on the line.

The purpose of this exercise was to demonstrate how unfortunate it is that we have to fight a piece of legislation entitled the ‘Electoral Integrity Bill’. Integrity in our electoral system is of critical importance. It could be a groundbreaking, revolutionary reform package that ushers in a golden age of UK democracy. Unfortunately, it falls far, far short of that mark.

Let’s make this into a bill that actually does what it says on the tin. 

Voter ID Will Not Bolster Electoral Integrity

20/08/2021 Posted by News, Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “Voter ID Will Not Bolster Electoral Integrity”

As the debate on mandatory voter identification continues in the UK, the realities of such requirements are plainly visible across the Atlantic.

The US has been having this same debate since the Jim Crow era.  Seven Republican-dominated US states now have voter ID laws as strict as what the UK Government is proposing. These laws are implemented by state governments that also gerrymander, purge voter roles, and restrict voter registration. A lot of this legislation came directly in the wake of Democratic victories at the state level in 2020. It’s clear what their goal is.

One such bill in Georgia, SB241, included measures to end voting by mail without providing a reason alongside stringent voter id requirements. This brings to mind the UK Government’s proposals in the Electoral Integrity Bill to limit postal voting by requiring voters to re-apply every 3 years (before every general election). More similar still, Republican representatives pointed to voter fraud risk when challenged on the legislation’s intentions. The same boogeyman was used for the same purpose: disenfranchising the poorest and most vulnerable in society.

Nevertheless, the UK Government continues to back plans for voter ID requirements, despite the fact that these requirements will alienate voters and cost taxpayers millions of pounds. In response to a petition to require ID verification for social media usage, this same Government even directly stated that “3.5 million people do not have a valid photo ID”.

Renfrewshire SNP Councillors wrote in June to the Prime Minister, accusing the UK Government of “attacking the poor”. They’re correct to think so. The Government’s own commissioned research has demonstrated that vulnerable groups were less likely to hold any form of photo ID.

Chloe Smith MP responded that the Government would continue with its plans. Echoing US Republicans, she stated that voter fraud is “a crime we cannot allow room for.” This response, dubbed a “whitewash” by the SNP Councillors, neglects to address any of the tangible concerns that many people in the UK have regarding voter id requirements. Our friends at the Electoral Reform Society hope to use the incident as a case study.

Voter fraud itself is practically non-existent, mentioned solely as a justification to allow for draconian controls on who can vote and who can not. Funnily enough, it doesn’t seem to come up much in other contexts. According to the Electoral Commission, only 4 convictions for voter fraud occurred in the 2019 general election (this tiny number is also higher than in many previous elections).

Additionally, the Voter ID section of the bill leaves a startling amount undecided. How will Councils orchestrate the supposed ‘free election identification document’ for everyone? how will it be paid for? how is this actually going to work? The bill makes provisions for ministers to make many of these decisions down the line, leaving the scale of possibilities frighteningly wide.

The worst part of all of this is that the UK electoral system is in dire need of reform. We need to better regulate third parties, expand voting access, and modernise our democracy to be fit for the digital age. We don’t need to be ripping out pages of the US Republican playbook.

Some parts of Chloe Smith’s Elections Bill even take small steps in the directions we need to be moving in, such as campaign finance and digital imprints. All of that progress is eradicated when you include policies like voter ID, part of a US policy package that American voting rights activist Stacey Abrams calls “a redux Jim Crowe in a Suit”.

Those of us that care about the integrity of the UK’s electoral system have many ideas on how to fix it, but first we need to take blatant voter suppression policies off the table.

New CSPL Report on Regulating Election Finance

08/07/2021 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “New CSPL Report on Regulating Election Finance”

On Wednesday the 7th of July, the Committee on Standards in Public Life released their 167 page report on regulating election finance, containing 47 recommendations to streamline electoral regulations and protect elections from foreign interference and dark money.

Built on months of testimony from civil society, academia, government and regular people, the immense report makes strong points about the flaws present in our electoral system. Not only does Fair Vote UK support many of the 47 recommendations laid out in this report, we strongly agree with the underlying message that our regulatory regime is in desperate need of an upgrade.

Read our full analysis on the report here.

Analysis: July 5th Elections Bill

06/07/2021 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Analysis: July 5th Elections Bill”

The Elections Bill covers a lot of territory and deserves adequate time in Parliament for its vast implications to be properly scrutinised. While there are some small positive steps in certain areas such as election finance, overseas electors and digital imprints, these are unfortunately nullified by the bill’s regressive stipulations, including voter ID and the curbing of the Electoral Commission’s independence and prosecutorial capabilities. 

Where positive, the bill often doesn’t go far enough (as in the case of election finance) or leaves significant legal loopholes (digital imprints). 

Fair Vote UK welcomes the effort to protect democracy, but our years of experience and research indicate that this bill will not accomplish that task to anywhere near the degree that democracy requires in the digital age.

Voter Identification: 

Schedule 1 of the bill addresses Voter Identification. Amending RPA 1983, it mandates that a valid form of photo identification must be produced at polling stations. Acceptable IDs include passports, driving licenses, concessionary travel passes, and photocard parking permits. Notably, student ID cards, student travel cards, and other forms of identification likely to be held by younger people are omitted from the list of valid IDs given in the bill. 

The bill does stipulate that voters can apply for free electoral identification cards if they lack any valid form of identification (as well as an anonymous elector’s ID with an electoral number in lieu of one’s name). Applications for ID may be discarded if certain deadlines are not met or certain information is not provided, potentially leaving voters with no recourse to vote if they are not fully checked in to the process. People with full-time jobs, young children, serious illness or other time-consuming life circumstances who lack valid ID may not have time to deal with this new process. 

Generally, even with free ID cards available, this legislation serves only to wedge a new and unnecessary layer of bureaucracy between would-be voters (especially members of marginalised groups) and their democratic right to a vote for no evidence-based  purpose whatsoever. It will cost millions of pounds to issue these identification cards nation-wide, and an estimated £17.9 million each election to administer.

There is no doubt that this will result in more eligible voters being turned away from polling stations. Voter fraud is not a serious problem and this treatment is far worse than the alleged disease. 

Fair Vote UK believes voter ID is a waste of time, effort, and taxpayer funds. Several prominent Conservative MPs agree, including David Davis MP, who said that voter ID “will potentially disenfranchise thousands of people” and that it is an “illogical and illiberal solution to a non-existent problem.” 

Postal and Proxy Voting Measures: 

Schedules 2 and 3 address changes to postal and proxy voting. 

Those who vote by post in the long-term will be required to re-apply every 3 years to do so. This is completely unnecessary and, like Voter ID, only serves to ultimately limit the number of people casting votes in any given election. 

To combat what Chloe Smith MP calls “postal vote harvesting”, the bill will also ban campaigners from handling postal votes. No evidence is provided to suggest this is actually a problem. 

The number of people on behalf of whom a person can vote by proxy is limited to four. Of those four, no more than two can be non-service or overseas voters. We disagree with this as it could potentially affect certain families and co-habitants that depend on proxy voting to cast all of their votes. 

Clarification of Undue Influence: 

Schedule 4 addresses deception and intimidation of electors at polling stations or elsewhere in order to affect the outcome of their vote. 

Notably, calling into question the validity of the electoral process or election administration can also amount to undue influence. This is a welcome change though again, no evidence is provided to suggest this is a serious problem. 

Accessibility of Polls: 

This section encourages election officials to make polling stations more accessible for citizens with disabilities and removes restrictions on who can act as a companion to disabled voters. This is absolutely welcome. 

Overseas Electors:

Schedule 6 scraps the 15 year time limit on overseas electors’ right to vote in Parliamentary elections. Other improvements make it easier for overseas voters to stay registered and verify their identity and connection to a UK residence. 

While an expansion of suffrage is welcome, the bill contradicts itself in that overseas voters are being re-enfranchised while the voting rights of electors living in the country itself are being limited by voter ID and postal and proxy voting requirements. 

EU Voting / Candidacy Rights: 

Schedule 7 establishes circumstances in which EU citizens in the UK can vote in non-devolved local elections. Citizens of EU nations that have voting rights agreements with the UK (Luxembourg, Spain, Portugal, and Poland) and EU citizens that have maintained residence in the UK prior to 31 December 2020 can still vote in those elections. We again welcome expanding suffrage and believe this aspect of the bill could go even further.

The Electoral Commission:

The bill introduces the ‘Strategy & Policy Statement’, which will be “developed through a statutory consultation with key stakeholders” and, crucially, approved by Parliament. The Statement will set the priorities and principles that the Commission is expected to operate within. 

The bill also increases the remit of the Speaker’s Committee (which the Commission currently reports to), making the Commission more accountable to the Committee for its “performance and delivery of general objectives”. With Westminster’s governing party holding a majority on the Committee, this would further bring the Commission under the Government’s control.

Making the Electoral Commission beholden to the Government of the day will greatly diminish its operational independence, making it a weaker and less impartial institution. This will likely erode public trust and give the party of government undue influence over the mechanisms of an Election in which they – by definition – have an interest. 

The Commission possesses a uniquely robust understanding of Electoral Law and should not be beholden to those without its same focus and expertise. This represents a serious conflict of interest, one with potentially severe consequences for free and fair elections in our democracy. 

The Electoral Commission’s capacity to prosecute will also be clearly ruled out, under the supposition that it “wastes public money” and that responsibility should remain firmly within the remit of the police and Crown Prosecution Service. This constitutes the removal of a potentially important accountability enforcement mechanism for the Commission. An already stretched CPS does not need this burden. The Commission, specialists in the area, should be given the resources and power to properly prosecute infringements of electoral law. How, exactly, is this meant to increase the public’s trust in elections?

Beyond that, another bill is in its second reading in the House of Commons that seeks to abolish the Electoral Commission entirely. While the bill looks likely to be unsuccessful, it demonstrates a consistent commitment from sections of Parliament against an independent, non-partisan Electoral Commission.

Political Finance: 

The bill introduces five new measures that attempt to curb foreign spending in UK elections and increase fairness and transparency. The five new measures are as follows: 

– Third Party Campaigner Registration

  • Third parties spending over £10,000 will need to register with the Electoral Commission and adhere to existing transparency requirements as well as indicate that they are UK-based. 

– Restriction of Third Party Campaigning

  • Only third parties that are registered with the Commission will be able to campaign during regulated election periods, whether or not they spent above the £10,000 threshold. 

– Ban on Simultaneously Registering as a Political Party and Third Party

  • It will no longer be permitted to register as both a political party and a third party. This will prevent entities from using both spending limits. 

Restrictions on Coordinated Spending Between Political Parties and Third Parties

  • Third parties and political parties that campaign jointly will be required to account for their combined costs. 

– Requirement for New Political Parties to Declare Assets and Liabilities

  • Political parties will be required to declare assets and liabilities in order to register with the Electoral Commission.

Fair Vote UK suggested actions along similar lines in our 2020 report Defending Democracy in the Digital Age. The main concern is that these actions may not be robust enough to fully address the scale of the problem at hand in terms of foreign spending and dark money political donations. 

The £10,000 spending threshold should be lower – set to 1p – and the Electoral Commission should be given the necessary capacity to fine and even prosecute infractions against election finance protocol. Whether you’re spending £1 or £100,000, any entity attempting to influence an election should be registered with the Electoral Commission.

We would like to see this section of the bill taken much further.

Our recommendations on how to do that, drawn largely from our extensive consultation, are to: 

  • Regulate all donations by reducing permissibility check requirements from £500 to 1p for all non-cash donations.
  • Increase transparency and regulation of local candidate financial reports by shifting oversight to the Electoral Commission.
  • Streamline national versus local spending limits with a per-seat cap on total spending.
  • Modernise spending regulations by instituting per-annum spending limits. 
  • Standardise financial reporting.
  • Require corporate donations to come ONLY from profits reported in the UK.
  • Third Party Political Organisations and political parties should complete an “Exit” audit after an election period before they disband.
  • Include valuations of data set costs in spending regulations

Intimidation Sanctions: 

The bill stipulates that anyone convicted of abusing a candidate, campaigner or elected official will no longer be eligible to run as a candidate themselves for five years. 

This would not function as a deterrent, as the vast majority of those who would abuse candidates/campaigners/elected officials likely have no interest in running for office.

Digital Imprints:

The new long-awaited digital imprints regime will require political campaigners to show who they are and who they are promoting material for. This applies only to all paid-for digital material. 

Elected representatives and political parties will also require an imprint if the material is digital election material, referendum material, or recall petition material. 

The paid-for vs. unpaid distinction risks the creation of certain loopholes that could nullify the effectiveness of requiring digital imprints in the first place. It is also crucial that the imprint includes why the audience is being targeted. 

Transparency in modern political campaigning should mean political advertisers are open to members of the public about the (often very specific) reasons they are being targeted with a message.

There is also no specification that the imprint needs to be visible on the material, creating yet another concerning loophole especially as the material is shared and re-shared. 

Finally, the legislation does not put a legal duty on platforms to ensure campaigners put an imprint on electronic material before it is uploaded. This is a fundamental flaw in the regime as social media companies have vast resources and it would make more sense – even purely from a practical point of view – to require the implementation of digital imprints at the upload stage rather than expecting the Electoral Commission and police to monitor compliance after the fact.  

Our Final Take:

While there are some welcome new provisions in this bill, it is clear that the driving force behind it is not electoral integrity but instead power consolidation. Making it easier to vote while living abroad but harder to vote while living in the country is blatantly contradictory and serves no purpose but to disenfranchise the most vulnerable and most marginalised in society. Explicitly eliminating the investigative and prosecutorial power of the Electoral Commission is transparently reducing the enforcement power of election law and a welcome invitation to break the law. Why weaken the independence and deterrence power of the Electoral Commission if you’re attempting to increase confidence in elections and democracy? It doesn’t make sense.

The Electoral Integrity Bill is a huge opportunity to modernise election law with several missed goals. For example, Election Day could have been moved to a weekend or been made a bank holiday to ensure people can actually get to the polls. Instead, their postal vote now expires after three years and there are even more hoops to jump through to vote on the day, including expensive Voter ID provisions that are attempting to solve a problem that evidence suggests does not exist. 

If recent efforts to actively disenfranchise voters in the USA are any indication, this bill’s greatest outcome will be to reduce democratic participation and in turn, faith in the outcome of elections. We look forward to robustly amending the bill to turn it into an actual Electoral Integrity Bill that seeks to broaden participation, deter interference and law-breaking and strengthen faith in our most cherished institution – democracy. 

Statements on Electoral Integrity Bill Reveal Concerning Contradictions

25/06/2021 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Statements on Electoral Integrity Bill Reveal Concerning Contradictions”

On June 15th 2021, Chloe Smith MP gave a speech hosted by right wing think tank Policy Exchange on the Government’s plans to safeguard democracy from 21st century dangers. She evoked the second American president, John Adams, and cited Freedom House’s Freedom of the World Index to demonstrate the global “democratic recession” that the world is currently experiencing. 

To combat this recession, she describes the multiple pending pieces of legislation, including both the Electoral Integrity Bill and the Online Safety Bill, as part of a larger initiative to “keep the UK’s democracy modern, secure, transparent, and fair.”

Smith followed this speech with two written statements to Parliament, published on the 15th and 17th of June 2021. Both revealed new information about the Government’s forthcoming Electoral Integrity Bill.

 

Changes to the Electoral Commission: 

Smith’s written statement to Parliament on the 17th of June revealed plans to significantly alter the functioning of the Electoral Commission. In order to address perceived issues with the Commission’s accountability, the Elections Bill will include measures to introduce a ‘Strategy & Policy Statement’ to guide the Commission’s core functioning.

The ‘Strategy & Policy Statement’ will be “developed through a statutory consultation with key stakeholders” and, crucially, approved by Parliament. The Statement will set the priorities and principles that the Commission is expected to operate within. Making the Electoral Commission beholden to Parliament (and thus the Government of the day) would greatly diminish its operational independence, making it a weaker and less impartial institution.

Smith also proposed to increase the remit of the Speaker’s Committee (which the Commission currently reports to), making the Commission more accountable to the Committee for its “performance and delivery of general objectives”. In theory this is no great threat to the Commission’s independence but in practice, with Westminster’s governing party holding a majority on the Committee, it would further bring the Commission under the Government’s control. 

The Electoral Commission’s capacity to prosecute will also be clearly ruled out, with ministers arguing that it “wastes public money” and preferring to keep that responsibility firmly within the remit of the police and Crown Prosecution Service. This constitutes the removal of a potentially important accountability enforcement mechanism for the Commission. An already stretched CPS does not need this extra burden. The Commission, specialists in the area, should be given the resources and power to properly prosecute infringements of electoral law. 

The bill will also “introduce a new electoral sanction, so that somebody convicted of intimidating a candidate, future candidate, campaigner or elected representative will be banned for 5 years from standing for and holding elective office.” As most online abusers are not standing for – nor do they show any interest in standing for office, this is an ineffective and pointless deterrent. 

Beyond that, another bill is in its second reading in the House of Commons that seeks to abolish the Electoral Commission entirely. While the bill will be unsuccessful, it demonstrates a consistent commitment from sections of Parliament against the Commission.

Smith also outlined “reforms to political financing, campaigning and advertising.” Campaigners would need to register with the Electoral Commission if they are spending over £10,000 across the UK on political campaigning during election periods. This is a small step in the right direction. Ideally, all campaign organisations, third party or official, should have an exit “audit” with the Electoral Commission following the election period. 

Also mentioned was “tighter rules to reduce the risk of ineligible overseas involvement” by “ensuring that campaign spending can come only from sources that have a genuine and legitimate interest in UK elections.” This is pointing in a good direction, but genuine and legitimate are subjective terms that are hard to define concretely. Corporate donations should be required to come from profits declared in the UK. 

 

Voter ID: 

Unsurprisingly, Chloe Smith MP defended the Electoral Integrity Bill’s focus on voter fraud and touted voter ID as the solution to that alleged problem. She claimed that free ID cards will be made available to all, though it is extremely unclear how exactly that will be possible or where that funding will come from. 

As we’ve seen in trial experiments of Voter ID, more people are turned away, marginalised groups are disproportionately affected, and the increase to voter confidence is negligible. 

 

In conclusion, there are a few welcome details in Smith’s recent statements, but they are greatly overshadowed by reforms that would weaken the Electoral Commission and effectively rescind its independence. This would greatly increase the Government’s authority over the body that is supposed to oversee election regulations. It is not hard to discern the conflict of interest.

The independence of democratic institutions like the Commission is of paramount importance to the health and sustainability of our democracy. In calling to curb the Commission’s independence and touting mandatory voter ID laws, Chloe Smith erodes her own pro-democratic message.

Antitrust Investigations into Facebook are Long Overdue

08/06/2021 Posted by News, Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “Antitrust Investigations into Facebook are Long Overdue”

The European Commission and UK Regulators have formally opened antitrust investigations into Facebook.

It’s about time. 

The investigations, while not focused on the significant democratic harms enabled by the platform, are beginning to scratch the surface of Facebook’s unethical data harvesting business model, back in the spotlight again recently when a data breach of over 500 million users was made public.

The platform has nearly 3 billion monthly active users, all being discreetly surveilled in the background of nearly every single one of Facebook’s features. 

Both investigations are primarily concerned with the vast troves of user data that Facebook holds, and whether that gives them an undue advantage in the online advertising market (it seems fairly obvious that it may). The European Commission is also concerned with whether Facebook benefits from holding data on rival advertisers (again, it probably does). 

This gets to the core of why this platform is so powerful, and in terms of democratic health and societal cohesion, so destructive.

While investigating Facebook’s unfair monopolisation of digital advertising is worthwhile, it gives credence to what activists like us have been saying for years: data-driven targeted advertising, especially when it comes to political ads, is short-sighted, dangerous and unethical. Targeted controversy generates clicks, and clicks generate revenue. Facebook has a clear incentive to undermine truth and democracy.

Fair Vote UK is working to build a stronger coalition around online safety. We hope to use investigations like these as stepping stones to tackling the core problem – an immoral and unsustainable business model that is desperately calling for regulation. 

Some experts have called for nationalising Facebook, arguing that “social media platforms need to be treated like public roads, not private malls.” It doesn’t have to come to that, but Facebook’s extremely toxic business model can not go on much longer without a repeat of January 6th (or something even worse). Let’s tackle this obvious problem before it truly gets out of hand. 

We can’t do it without you. Let’s end the wild west era of technology, and usher in a more stable, regulated and ethical internet. Support us

This Year at Fair Vote UK

01/06/2021 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “This Year at Fair Vote UK”

It’s been a long year. 

Although we’ve repeatedly seen democracy imperiled by an autocratic, mismanaged government and a poorly-handled pandemic, we’ve been fighting back tirelessly for a healthy, functional and inclusive democratic system. 

Here are some of the highlights: 

– In June 2020, we launched our report Defending Democracy in the Age of Pandemic following a comprehensive consultation in April 2020. The report advocated for intensifying the digitisation of Parliament and the creation of a codified crisis-response protocol that can be rapidly applied. It maintained, however, that solutions related to elections should remain low-tech, as digital election reforms should happen during more stable periods. 

– Worked with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Electoral Campaigning Transparency to advance the 20 recommendations in our January 2020 Report, Defending Democracy in the Digital Age. We’ve made strides on recommendations #7, 8, 10, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 20, including Digital Imprints in Scotland, long-term digital education campaigns, and working with Parliamentarians towards a more robust online harms regime. To that end, we’ve replied to Full Fact’s Framework for Information Incidents consultation to advance the critically important aims laid out in our APPG report. Progress is steadily being made on other recommendations as well. 

–  Fought for an online safety regimen that is fit for purpose. We’ve criticised the government’s draft Online Safety Bill for its contradictory statutes and flimsy regulatory proposals. We’ve also participated in a virtual event in Parliament organised by a number of APPGs, the Football Association, Reset Tech, Compassion in Politics, with guest speakers Thierry Henry and Lucy Bronze to discuss the tremendous impacts of online abuse and the limitations of the draft online safety bill, cementing alliances and relationships to continue the fight for online safety. 

– Fought for our electoral integrity across every corner of the UK, strongly opposing proposed Voter ID laws and anti-protest bills that threaten to exclude UK citizens from their right to democratic participation. We’ve worked with not only the Electoral Commission but parties across England, Scotland and Wales to try and crack down on fraudulent campaigning practices and strengthen electoral systems against both digital and pandemic-related challenges. 

– Launched the Fair Play Pledge campaign with Jackie Weaver. With thousands of candidates signing the pledge both directly and through their respective political parties, we’ve not only secured commitments to champion democracy from recently elected local officials, but forged lasting relationships which will enable further democracy-strengthening work at the local level in the future. 

– Fair Vote UK’s director, Kyle Taylor, published the Little Black of Data & Democracy, a comprehensive overview of social media’s profound impact on democratic health and our own personal lives.  

A lot more is in progress – defending democracy is a constant uphill struggle, a victory that is never fully won. 

Your support made a real difference for us and this country, and will continue to in the future. We couldn’t have done any of it without you. 

We also want to thank the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust for continuously backing our efforts and empowering us to take much needed action against the wide array of challenges encroaching on the health of our democracy. 

There is much more to come. Stay tuned.

Job Description: Legislative Director

28/05/2021 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Job Description: Legislative Director”

Job Description: Legislative Director

Fair Vote UK is hiring a legislative director to lead in its campaigning and lobbying work around the Westminster Online Safety Bill (as it impacts democracy and society) and Electoral Integrity Bill as well as drive similar devolved legislative work in Scotland and Wales. While the position and approach have been agreed, it is now time to ensure that safeguarding and future-proofing UK elections specifically and the democratic environment broadly are prioritised.

 

In this role you’ll:

  • Work with our existing coalition of MPs to drive policy aims;
  • Expand our MP network, building relationships in all parties;
  • Do the same as above with Welsh AMs and Scottish MSPs;
  • Engage in coalition work across the democracy sector, sometimes leading, sometimes supporting, always collaborating when it makes sense;
  • Oversee the day-to-day with the campaigns and policy officer’s work;
  • Have the space to be innovative, creative and strategic.

 

Ideally, you’d have:

  • Experience constructing, amending and engaging with Parliamentary legislation;
  • Experience running public-facing campaigns;
  • Experience working in coalition with other civil society orgs;
  • Knowledge of electoral law in the UK;
  • Knowledge of big tech’s impact on democracy and the reform agenda;
  • Some public speaking/MP communication experience.

 

This role is right for you if:

  • You have 4+ years of experience, though don’t let this dissuade if you think you’ve got what it takes to deliver;
  • You are looking for a small team that is nimble, responsive and focused on outcomes over increasing twitter followers;
  • You are looking for flexibility. We aim to get the job done, not watch the clock.
  • You care about democracy and the rule of law.

 

The details are:

  • Flexible at 3-4 days a week over 5 at FTE of £38,000-£45,000 per year;
  • 12-month consultant contract with paid annual leave at FTE of 25 days a year plus bank holidays;
  • Starting as soon as possible.

 

Fair Vote UK was set up in the wake of the Vote Leave and Cambridge Analytica scandals. Our mission is to tackle the issue of data misuse, voter manipulation and lack of transparency in elections head-on. We are committed to ensuring the institutions that protect our democratic processes are fit for purpose in a digital age. The next year is consequential for this agenda.

Fair Vote UK is an equal opportunity employer. We value a diverse workforce and an inclusive culture. Fair Vote UK encourages applications from all qualified individuals without regard to race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, national origin, marital status, citizenship, disability, veteran status and record of arrest or conviction, or any other characteristic protected under the law.

 

How to apply:

  • Send a CV, covering letter, social media profiles, link to your LinkedIn or whatever you think necessary to make your case for the role to info@fairvote.uk and we’ll reply to everyone we are able to interview!

 

Self-Contradictory Online Safety Bill Falls Short

21/05/2021 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Self-Contradictory Online Safety Bill Falls Short”

The government released its new Online Safety Bill Draft on May 12th, which the DCMS committee claims will “keep children safe, stop racial hate, and protect democracy online”. The draft bill unfortunately falls far short of what is necessary to achieve those goals. 

The new regulations impose a “duty of care” on digital platforms to monitor harmful and false content themselves. Ofcom, the UK’s regulator of broadcast media and telecommunications, is set to take on the additional role of internet watchdog, with powers to sanction companies as much as £18 million or 10% of global turnover (whichever is higher). It will also have the capacity to block access to sites entirely. 

The legislation, attempting to carve out protections for journalism and freedom of speech, ultimately contradicts itself. Online publication websites will not be in scope of this legislation, and articles shared on social media from “recognised news publishers” will be exempted from the usual requirements. Platforms will have to grant fast-track appeals processes to journalists whose content was removed, and “will be held to account by Ofcom for the arbitrary removal of journalistic content”, according to the DCMS committee. This creates a safe zone for certain types of content, which unfortunately are very poorly categorised. 

For example, the legislation sets out provisions for citizen journalists, whose content will be treated the same as professional journalism content – that is, exempt from hate speech and misinformation requirements. Anyone can be a citizen journalist and use those provisions to spread hateful speech or false and misleading content. 

Similarly, “political opinion” is protected from the new requirements, allowing racist, homophobic, transphobic speech to be laundered as “political” and therefore out of scope. 

The legislation attempts to frame tech regulation as a free speech issue which is misleading and inaccurate. Nobody is arguing that a person doesn’t have a right to free speech. The use of a privately owned social media company’s platform to freely reach millions of people regardless of the harm caused is not even comparable.

The problem is that the legislation, in the name of free speech, provides no functional mechanism for distinguishing between content that is in scope and out of scope, giving tech companies the capability to ignore their duty of care in many, many instances. 

This gets to the core of why this legislation falls so short – social media companies are still largely responsible for regulating content on their platforms and the bill gives them many openings to neglect doing that duty diligently. 

The core cause of harm online has more to do with the for-profit business model and the algorithm-driven delivery that all favour extremist content because it drives more engagement, which leads to more ad sales, which leads to more money. These companies are never going to tackle the problem on their own, and as long as bills like this one give them a viable excuse to not enforce and moderate properly, they will continue not to. Supposed “self-regulation” models – like the Facebook Oversight Board –  are not viable for the same, very obvious reason: platforms are not fit to regulate themselves because their business interests diverge from societal interests. Could you imagine allowing big tobacco to set up and fund their own oversight board to make determinations about who they should sell cigarettes too? It’s utter nonsense disguised by a layer of legitimacy. These companies will not make hard choices that hurt their bottom line. It’s up to the democratically elected governments to step in on behalf of citizens, with societal concerns at the forefront.

No, Trump’s Ban Was Not “Upheld”: Facebook’s Oversight Board is a Charade

05/05/2021 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “No, Trump’s Ban Was Not “Upheld”: Facebook’s Oversight Board is a Charade”

The headlines and social media narrative are generally positive today, as the Facebook Oversight Board claims it will “uphold the ban” on Donald Trump’s account. It may seem like a good thing that for the near future at least, Trump won’t be on the platform. In reality, we are playing with fire. The board has not upheld the ban, rather it has kicked back the decision-making power to Facebook and Zuckerberg, opening up the very real possibility of Trump causing havoc on the site once again within 6 months. 

The announcement was carefully worded, but the reality of the situation is clear. Although the beginning of the announcement states that the board “has upheld Facebook’s decision on January 7th, 2021, to restrict then-President Donald Trump’s access to posting content”, it later goes on to say that the board “insists that Facebook review this matter to determine and justify a proportionate response that is consistent with the rules applied to other users of its platform”. This essentially negates the first sentence. Since the board insists Facebook decide on a “proportionate” response, effectively allowing them to make the entire decision, they are not upholding anything. 

The Oversight Board desperately wants to have it both ways – but they can’t get credit for banning Trump without actually banning him. Facebook’s narrative, that the O.B. is an independent “supreme court” that will hold Facebook accountable, is now demonstrably a lie intended to cover up the company’s countless unethical actions and practices. The board accomplishes nothing more than allowing Facebook to pretend to hold itself accountable, while remaining entirely opaque and facing no real consequences whatsoever. 

Just to recap, here are some of the things Facebook does not want to be held accountable for:  

Playing a role in the attempted coup on January 6th 2021

– Holding indefinite records of user information 

A data breach affecting over 530 million people, which they chose not to notify users about

Running an exploitative, privacy-opposed business model based on selling personal information to advertisers 

Providing a breeding ground for conspiracy theories, extremism, vitriol, and misinformation

Need we go on? 

Right-wing insurrectionism, extremism and disinformation is still running rampant on Facebook, and very little has been put forward to alleviate the severe toxicity of the dialogue taking place on the site. The Trump ban was always a distraction, and banning him permanently was always the absolute bare minimum Facebook could have done. 

The crux of the problem is that the board was created for the sole purpose of obfuscating Facebook’s internal failure to regulate its own platform. It is designed to give the appearance of accountability, when in actuality the board is nothing more than an involved public relations campaign. 

This decision demonstrates what civil society leaders, academics and experts have been saying for a long time now: social media platforms and technology companies can not effectively self-regulate. The only solution is democratically accountable oversight that takes on the business model and the algorithms that are wreaking havoc on democratic society.

Any regulation that Facebook willingly undergoes by itself will never challenge their inherently unethical and democracy-threatening business model. 

The O.B. also brought up the importance of “freedom of expression”, when referring to Donald Trump’s online rhetoric. This isn’t a question of free speech, it’s a question of free reach. Trump does not have the state-ordained right to espouse fictitious, anti-democratic, violent messages to hundreds of millions of people. Nobody has an inherent right to spread hate and lies on Facebook, whatever their position in society. 

The idea of freedom of expression long predates the existence of billion dollar social media platforms that reverberate individual voices around the world. These platforms’ tremendous reach makes them immensely powerful, and the possibility of Trump’s reinstatement on Facebook 6 months from now sends a symbolic “go-ahead” message to nationalist strongmen such as Viktor Orbán, Jair Bolsonaro, Rodrigo Duterte, and others. 

Ultimately, Facebook can not be the decision-maker regarding how these powerful platforms should and should not be used; that kind of decision has implications far beyond their scope as a for-profit business. We wouldn’t allow an oil company to let a board they appointed decide whether they should clean up an oil spill and we shouldn’t allow a tech company’s self-appointed board to decide what’s allowed on social media. 

We’ve dealt with the repercussions of Facebook’s ineptitude and greed for far too long. Enough is enough. We can not accept this non-decision as a victory. It’s time to act.

The Cure for Cronyism: Transparency & Accountability

27/04/2021 Posted by News, Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “The Cure for Cronyism: Transparency & Accountability”

Over the last few years, government sleaze, favoritism and duplicity have come to centre stage in political debate. From the Expenses scandal in 2009 to the Panama Papers leak in 2016, the public has become increasingly desensitized to felonious and underhanded government conduct. A troubling lack of accountability and justice has left bad actors feeling emboldened and untouchable. That brings us to where we stand in 2021 in the face of brazen cronyism: shocked, but not surprised. 

The powers of public office have been routinely abused, with the current party of Government allegedly abusing its power to benefit its members and their friends, silence its opponents and avoid any and all responsibility for its own failures of governance. 

Democracy is unable to function properly under these circumstances.

When money and personal connections translate directly into political influence, individual voices are inevitably silenced. Cronyism is antithetical to democracy. 

The Conservative government under PM Boris Johnson faces a number of allegations concerning sleazy behaviour. To name a few: 

– “VIP lanes” for receiving COVID-19 contracts from the government based on political connections

– Rishi Sunak and Matt Hancock favouring personal connections in giving out taxpayer money. 

Leaked texts between Boris Johnson and Sir James Dyson, Johnson promising to “fix” tax concerns for Dyson Limited. 

– The Greensill scandal (Which Parliament voted 357-252 to block a cross-party inquiry into) 

Government encroachment on our tax-funded civil service which needs to remain independent. 

The list goes on. Unfortunately, this type of behaviour has become par for the course and billions of pounds of your taxpayer money are at stake. As a democratic society, we have a responsibility to make sure that money is spent according to the will of the people, not as partisan favours or through backroom deals. 

As we outlined in our 2020 report Democracy in the Digital Age, the rules need to be changed in favour of more transparency and accountability – to embody the democratic principles that modern Britain purports to champion. We can’t change this broken system without meaningful legislative changes. Let’s get to work.

Join us in standing for accountability.

Biden’s Inauguration Must Inspire Reform

20/01/2021 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Biden’s Inauguration Must Inspire Reform”

Fair Vote UK today again urged the UK Government to pursue immediate electoral reform as a new US President is sworn in amid insurrection and violence.

It has been exactly a year since we released our landmark report, Defending Democracy in the Digital Age, and yet there has been little progress in implementing its clear, evidence-based and urgent recommendations.

Today MPs warned that more accountability, more transparency and harsher repercussions are necessary to stave off a threat to UK democracy as was just witnessed in the United States, where shocking lies and violent anti-democratic protests have been amplified and organised on digital platforms.

Creating a secure digital environment for democracy has only become more of a top priority since this report was released one year ago today. The risks are multiplying, and the dire consequences of inaction are increasingly visible and damaging. The government’s failure to implement the comprehensive reforms outlined in this report is undermining the health of our democracy.”
↳ Stephen Kinnock MP, Chair of the APPG on Electoral Campaigning Transparency.

Based on testimony from academics, politicians, and representatives from businesses and civil society, the report highlighted aspects of the unregulated online world that pose grave risks, and proposed twenty significant reforms to create a digital environment conducive to a healthy democracy.

With the exception of a long overdue announcement from the Government to introduce digital imprints legislation, none of these have yet been implemented.

2020 showed us yet again the damage – from COVID-19 disinformation to anti-democratic conspiracy theories – that an unregulated digital sphere is reaping.

2021 must be the year we finally tackle this problem. Joe Biden’s inauguration can provide the impetus to tackle the digital rot at the heart of our democracy. Our report, published a year ago today, explains exactly what needs to be done.

Fair Vote UK, supported by The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, will continue to fight for the urgent reform we desperately need.

Looking Ahead for 2021

14/01/2021 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Looking Ahead for 2021”

Happy new year! 

With a re-intensification of the pandemic in the UK and anti-democratic violence in the US it has not been the start we were all hoping for! 

Regardless, 2021 is set to provide much for democracy reformers and campaigners to focus on and, yes, be hopeful for.

On the 20th of January we will have Joe Biden’s inauguration to celebrate. With Democrats having flipped the Senate in Georgia’s key runoff elections, Biden will have the numbers in Congress to enact positive change. Even before last week’s violence it looked likely that democratic reform and tech regulation will be on the agenda. 

Now it is of the utmost urgency.

If America leads the chances are better that others will follow. UK elections (devolved, mayoral and local) in May will be an opportunity for digital-era reforms to get the public attention they need. Fair Vote UK will be leading a coalition of like-mindedly concerned civil society organisations in promoting a “Fair Play Pledge” for candidates to sign.

Recent suggestions that the elections may be delayed (in the case of England’s local and mayoral elections for a second time!) are shocking considering we’ve had a year to prepare for this. Fair Vote UK published a report in June 2020 that outlined a safe strategy for a COVID-19 era election. From staggered voting days to “pop up” polling booths, other countries have shown that it is possible to hold a safe election in these times. 

Regardless of the circumstances, you cannot go on and on suspending democracy.

In 2021 Fair Vote UK will also be leading a coalition of civil society organisations to inspect and scrutinise the development of the Government’s Online Harms Bill. This legislation will be a major attempt to introduce some rules into the dangerously unregulated digital world. It is extremely important that the rules hit the right targets and are genuinely enforceable.

Fair Vote UK will continue to build on the achievements of 2020, holding the powerful accountable and promoting sensible democratic reform in every corner of the UK and beyond.

2021 could be the beginning of the end of the dark days of rampant and dangerous big tech.

Let’s make it happen.

Who is to Blame for Yesterday’s Attempted Coup?

07/01/2021 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Who is to Blame for Yesterday’s Attempted Coup?”

Yesterday’s incidents were shocking but they were not surprising.

Fair Vote UK and fellow campaigners for digital and democratic reform have been warning of such an event for years. This was an assault on the democratic process but it was created by the deterioration of democratic culture.

Who is to blame? Trump, Trump’s enablers and the rioters themselves all share responsibility.

Yet the threat that exploded yesterday is one that was created, nurtured and maintained by social media. Social media radicalised these people and then helped them recruit, organise and eventually plan this attack.

There are no excuses now. What happens online has real world consequences and every country must do something about it.

Wholesale regulation is now urgently essential.

Pressuring Twitter or Facebook to clean up their act (which, surprise surprise, today they proved they can do but only will do when faced with a PR crisis) is important but it is not enough. Many of the more extreme organisations were finally kicked off these platforms last summer but their followers have simply moved to less discerning sites. 

Facebook say they have banned Trump from their platforms “indefinitely” but even now they are still prevaricating, suggesting the ban could be lifted after Biden’s inauguration. Regardless, it is too little too late. We won’t forget this.

And why should we be reliant on the ad hoc “self-regulation” of a private enterprise? Would we trust any other industry to regulate themselves? 

Only Government regulation of the whole system will fix this.

In the UK there is an opportunity to do just that with the upcoming Online Harms legislation. It must be comprehensive and robust.

Government Announces Online Harms

15/12/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Government Announces Online Harms”

The UK Government’s full response to the Online Harms White Paper, outlined today by the Home Office and Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, is well-intentioned and its scale – in some areas – admirable. In other areas, however, the proposals are vague and worryingly restricted.

Under the proposals, digital companies will have a duty of care to protect their users online. They will be held responsible for both the illegal and legal (but harmful) content that appears on their platforms.

Fair Vote UK welcomes the scale of the fines (up to £18 million or 10% of global annual turnover, whichever is the higher) that the newly appointed regulator Ofcom will be able to administer. The differentiated landscape – with the largest tech companies given extra responsibilities – is also to be welcomed.

There are significant areas of ambiguity and weakness, however, that civil society should focus on reforming before the bill is put to Parliament next year.

  1. Too much responsibility is being delegated to big tech. Allowing the likes of Facebook to decide what is the “legal but harmful” content allowed on their site is essentially the system we have now and it is one that doesn’t work.
  2. The proposed exemption for journalistic content (and the comment sections on journalistic content) is fraught with problems and will blur/complicate regulation.
  3. Only including “disinformation and misinformation that could cause significant harm to an individual” is too narrow. This will exempt disinfo/misinfo that, for example, is harmful to democracy at large or to minority and marginalised groups.
  4. Using artificial intelligence to moderate content is not a panacea and should not be celebrated as so. The training and resourcing of human moderators should be prioritised.
  5. It is still unclear what exactly is meant by “harmful content” and what will fall within its parameters. We need a better idea of this before the legislation is put to Parliament next year.

The EU Commission today has also outlined comprehensive new regulations for the tech world and they provide a useful point of comparison. Companies operating within the EU will soon, like in the UK, be required to do more to prevent the spread of hate speech. 

Yet the Commission’s proposals go much further than the UK’s in many areas. The differences can perhaps best be described as one of focus. The UK’s Online Harms legislation will purely concentrate on the content that is hosted on tech platforms. The EU, in contrast, is targeting the industry’s problematic operation as a whole; anti-competition, monopolistic tendencies, advertising etc.

The two new regimes are similar in that key questions remain unanswered with regard to enforcement. Both policy proposals have lofty ambitions but the devil is in the details and we will continue to monitor how these proposals evolve through their respective legislative processes.

The USA vs. Facebook

11/12/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “The USA vs. Facebook”

The US Federal Trade Commission and 46 of 50 states are suing Facebook on the grounds it operates a harmful monopoly.

The lawsuit has been in development for over a year and is promisingly bold, specifically calling for Facebook’s empire (which includes Instagram and WhatsApp) to be broken up. It has also been called extremely tech-literate by experts, in an encouraging rebuff to the sceptics that sometimes question the state’s ability to grapple with these questions.

The case rests on the argument that Facebook’s monopolistic dominance of social media (they have boasted that 90% of all social media usage takes place on one of their platforms) has allowed the company to erode privacy protections that were once relatively robust.

This is a vindication of what privacy groups and civil society have been saying for years!

Yet we know that these cases can take very long and that Facebook will throw everything at the defence. Now the job for people that want to see a fair and democratic society in the digital age is to keep making noise and to pressure lawmakers in other countries to follow the USA’s lead.

Matt Hancock & Mark Zuckerburg

10/12/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Matt Hancock & Mark Zuckerburg”

Who did you vote for: The UK Government or Facebook?

Sometimes it isn’t very clear.

On Tuesday it was revealed that in 2018 Matt Hancock, then the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), had held a secretive meeting with Mark Zuckerburg, CEO of Facebook, in which the former made obsequious promises about the UK Government’s willingness to get cosy with big tech.

Hancock offered to change the Government’s approach from “threatening regulation to encouraging collaborative working to ensure legislation is proportionate and innovation-friendly”.

This occurred despite the fact Zuckerburg had recently flouted Parliament, declining to attend a hearing of the DCMS Select Committee to which he had been called to answer questions about Facebook’s democratic responsibilities.

In public, Hancock had criticised Zuckerburg for this. In private the tone was much different, with Hancock going out of his way to ensure Zuckerburg that Facebook had the UK Government’s full support.

Before attending the meeting Zuckerburg had to receive numerous assurances from Hancock’s team that the meeting was going to be positive. In the meeting he threatened to pull UK investment.

Does that sound right to you? Elected representatives should be the ones making demands of powerful businessmen, not the other way round.

But what more can you expect from a Government that has done next to nothing to regulate big tech and protect our democracy, even after years of mounting evidence that something needs to be done?

We only know about this meeting because the Information Commissioner’s Office ordered DCMS to release the minutes after the Bureau of Investigative Journalism had been requesting to see them – as they have every right to do – since November 2018!

The whole situation stinks and the UK deserves better.

Big tech needs regulation – Facebook said so themselves in our 2019 consultation! – and the UK Government needs to deliver it. This will of course require a degree of dialogue between Westminster and Silicon Valley but it is not a dialogue between equals. One party is a private business. The other is a democratically elected Government. The democratic representatives set the terms, not the unelected billionaires.

Just today it was announced that a forty state coalition in the United States will be challenging Facebook over its monopolistic practices.

More of that in the UK please.

A Statement in Solidarity with Timnit Gebru

09/12/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “A Statement in Solidarity with Timnit Gebru”

Timnit Gebru is known worldwide as one of the leading minds in tackling the racism and gender bias that plagues AI. She is also a Black woman in an industry that too often proves unsafe for racialized people. Her research has shifted policy on AI internationally and she was co-lead on the Ethical AI programme – until Google fired her.

Google is one of the largest companies the world has ever known. It has immense power. Using that power to silence Gebru reflects the fragility of Google’s stated commitment to AI ethics.

We stand in solidarity with Gebru and all Black people working in tech. Along with the Google Walkout organisers, our organisations call on Google to strengthen its commitment to integrity, anti-racism, and adherence to the company’s own AI Principles in its research.

Happy 20th Birthday to the Electoral Commission!

03/12/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Happy 20th Birthday to the Electoral Commission!”

On Monday the Electoral Commission turned 20! 

Celebrations at the independent regulator were likely subdued, however, after an autumn that has seen senior Conservatives ramp up attacks on the Commission with threats to bring it under political control and even abolish it.

The Electoral Commission was established in 2000 to bring much needed transparency and accountability to the UK’s broken and unregulated political donations environment.

Who remembers the 1990s? When every week seemed to bring a new scandal around party financing.

You don’t even need time travel to see what an unregulated electoral environment looks like. Just check across the Atlantic, where electoral regulation is weak and politics is awash with unaccountable money and untransparent lobbying. It’s part of the reason why special interest groups – like the gun lobby – can do so well despite holding minority positions.

The Electoral Commission is respected around the world and does a good job with the little resources and power it has.

But the world has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. The internet has reintroduced the bad old days of hidden money and dodgy campaigning. The Electoral Commission wasn’t designed to deal with this. How could it have been?

Let’s make it a great birthday and give it the powers it needs to protect us for the next 20 years and beyond.

Our report – Defending our Democracy in the Digital Age – outlined the twenty ways to do just that, from increasing fines to giving the Commission prosecutorial capabilities.

In the UK the pensions regulator is allowed to prosecute but the regulator charged with protecting our democracy isn’t… Does that seem right to you?

How to End Infodemics

25/11/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “How to End Infodemics”

The Forum on Information & Democracy recently published a comprehensive report – How to End Infodemics – that details what action governments can take to tackle this scourge.

Spoiler alert: it is yet more evidence that we need regulatory reform. To make it more digestible, Fair Vote UK’s team have put together a summary here.

Infodemic is a term given to the rapid spread of misinformation. In the internet age, tech giants have turbocharged an old problem by creating platforms that privilege sensationalistic and untrustworthy content over factually reliable news.

In 2020 the problem has been dramatically highlighted by the rapid spread of extremely harmful COVID-19 misinformation.

Going forward it is imperative that we tackle this problem forcefully. Not just to ensure the COVD-19 recovery is not hampered but to protect democratic culture full stop. 

Misinformation creates a fractured and untrusting public. And a fractured and untrusting public is incapable of agreeing on the problems facing society, let alone on what should be done to fix them. That is very bad for democracy.

We have seen that tech self-regulation does not work. The Forum on Information & Democracy’s report calls on governments to do more to tackle this problem and outlines four key areas to focus on:

  1. Transparency.
  2. Regulation of Content Moderation.
  3. Platform Design.
  4. Closed Messaging Safeguarding.

 

Many of the report’s conclusions independently mirror the recommendations that we published in January.

Consensus is building on the need to do something about this problem. Now is the time for advocacy to evolve into policy. The health of the public and the health of democracy depends on it.

Elections are democratic events. Democracy is a way of life.

12/11/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Elections are democratic events. Democracy is a way of life.”

“Elections are democratic events. Democracy is a way of life.”

→ Kyle Taylor, Founder & Director of Fair Vote UK.

Kyle was speaking at an Aspen Institute Live Webinar on the 22nd of October and the words have already taken on heightened meaning. The conversation, ‘The Future of Data and Democracy’, is now available to listen to here.

The news from the USA may be good but the fight is not over.

Indeed, with establishment Republicans showing a worrying willingness to indulge Trump’s election lies, that fight may have already arrived and it’s not even been a week.

Yet even when Biden is finally secure in the White House (which is not a foregone conclusion), that should not be a sign to rest on our laurels. All progressives and reformers must push his administration to implement the reforms to democracy, regulation and big tech that are so desperately needed.

There have been some promising early signs that this is on the Biden team’s agenda.

Let’s keep them to their word.

Here in the UK the fight is also heating up.

Despite spending years degrading the news and information landscape to devastating effect, Facebook have had one of its top executives put on a panel to advise on UK broadcasting rules by our Government.

Do we want a Government that has the interests of citizens or the interests of big business and big tech at heart? The two are increasingly mutually exclusive. 

Biden’s victory in the USA is being talked of as a turning point. 

It can be, but only if we remain vigilant.

Trump’s Desperate Lies & The Future of Democracy

05/11/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Trump’s Desperate Lies & The Future of Democracy”

Many of you – like us at the Fair Vote UK Team – are likely sleep deprived and a little anxious today.

Nothing is certain yet but one definitive statement we can make at this stage is: The current American President does not believe in the rule of law and does not believe in democracy.

Trump’s shameful and dishonest behaviour since Tuesday must be a final wake up call to us all.

The good news: The democratic process will continue despite his desperate attempts to subdue it.

Whatever the final result ends up being, we must now fight to preserve and strengthen the culture and the institutions of democracy. That means:

  • Taking on the anti-democratic power and influence of big tech;
  • Supporting, resourcing and celebrating the key democratic organisations: regulators, postal services, public institutions;
  • Reintroducing transparency to the heart of the democratic process.

 

This is a fight for the US, the UK and the whole world. It may not be sexy to talk about election safeguarding but there are few things as significant. Democracy is more than Elections. Democracy is our way of life. Is there anything more important?

The American Election

02/11/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “The American Election”

Last week the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google were pulled in front of the US Senate’s Commerce Committee for the latest in what has now become a long series of largely ineffectual big tech hearings.

We first learned four years ago of the true scale of the problems these tech “disruptors” were creating for democracy. 

Since then there have been numerous hearings of this kind, with representatives of big tech hauled before legislatures in Washington, D.C., London and around the world.

Since then we’ve also learned a lot more about the problem. We even have a name for it: surveillance capitalism.

Yet what has actually changed?

No significant regulatory laws have been passed.

Here in the UK the Government will soon (finally!) be implementing a key Fair Vote UK demand: digital imprints. This is welcome but it is a piecemeal response to what is a major crisis.

In the US, activists and civil rights campaigners (including our founder and director Kyle Taylor), made desperate by the inaction of policymakers, have been forced to conduct their own scrutiny and create The Real Facebook Oversight Board.

Regardless of tomorrow’s US election outcome, we cannot waste anymore time. We must get serious about tech regulation and ensure both the US and the UK are again leading lights of progressivism and democratic values. It won’t be easy but nothing that’s worth it ever is.

ICO’s Letter to Parliament on Cambridge Analytica

07/10/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “ICO’s Letter to Parliament on Cambridge Analytica”

Yesterday the Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham sent a letter to Parliament summarising the ICO’s wide-ranging investigation into Cambridge Analytica (and its parent company Strategic Communication Laboratories) and the wider world of data harvesting and targeted political advertising.

This was one of the scandals that gave birth to Fair Vote UK. Trying to protect our democracy from the toxic world it exposed is what drives us everyday.

The letter shines further light on the sorry saga of Cambridge Analytica and the part-incompetent, part-dangerous industry that it existed in (and which by no means has gone away).

In Cambridge Analytica, the Information Commissioner paints a picture of a shoddy outfit with very big aspirations.

What could be a more dangerous combination?

Cambridge Analytica appears to have been:

  • Disorganised. ‘My investigation found data in a variety of locations, with little thought for effective security measures.’
  • Dishonest. ‘There appeared to be concern internally about the external messaging when set against the reality of their processing.’
  • Sneaky. ‘We also identified evidence that in its latter stages Cambridge Analytica was drawing up plans to relocate its data offshore to avoid regulatory scrutiny by the ICO.’
  • Ineffective. ‘Strategic Communication Laboratories’s own marketing material claimed they had “Over 5,000 data points per individual on 230 million adult Americans.” Based on what we found it appears that this may have been an exaggeration.’

 

Despite these myriad flaws (charlatanry has a long history in the world of political data “science”), Cambridge Analytica was able to use the tools made available to them by Facebook to ‘improperly’ acquire the personal data of millions of citizens.

They then used this improperly acquired data to feed machine learning algorithms with the intention of predicting voter behaviour.

Facebook’s complicity in all of this (whether knowledgeable or not) should not be downplayed. They built this terrible system and then sold it to whichever unscrupulous enterprise provided the money.

Does this industry sound like the sort of thing a democracy should tolerate?

While a number of unanswered questions remain, The Information Commissioner’s letter highlighted that the ICO’s investigation has exposed ‘systemic vulnerabilities in our democratic system’. However, it did not go further in detailing what the fixes could be. To be fair, that is not the ICO’s job.

This is a political problem and it will only be solved when voters and politicians decide that it has to be solved.

Our report details what needs to be done.

What are we waiting for?

Russian Money

21/09/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Russian Money”

Two months ago the Intelligence and Security Committee revealed to us all that successive Conservative Governments have sat on the problem of Russian interference in UK democracy.

One of the problems they highlighted was the amount of foreign money that could be making its way into the UK.

Now, leaked FinCEN documents from Deutsche Bank allegedly shows us that the partner of one of the Conservative Party’s largest private donors seems to have a very close financial relationship with Suleyman Kerimov, a billionaire Russian oligarch with close ties to Vladimir Putin.

Lubov Chernukhin, a British citizen and the donor in question, has donated £1.7 million to the Conservative Party over the last eight years. The leaked FinCen documents suggest that her husband, Vladimir Chernukhin, who is not a British citizen, was sent £6.1 million by Kerimov.

This is yet more evidence that we need a proper inquiry into the question of foreign interference – both financial and digital – in UK democracy.

The Intelligence and Security Committee’s report pointed to the fact that UK electoral regulators lacked the teeth to pursue these matters adequately.

All of Chernukhin’s donations were properly reported to the Electoral Commission but the EC needs the authority to investigate the true source of such a large contribution.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab’s announcement in July that the UK would be implementing its own version of the Magnitsky Act – whereby foreign nationals suspected of human rights abuses are banned from visiting or spending money in this country – is a welcome step in the right direction.

Yet as openDemocracy highlighted at the time, we need to go further. Surely a place to start would be cleaning up political donations?

This state of affairs not only undermines UK democracy, it makes our attempts to promote better governance around the world (such as the Magnitsky Act) seem hypocritical, especially when it comes on the back of controversial plans to break international law.

We can be better than this.

MPs and Voters Denied a Voice

18/09/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “MPs and Voters Denied a Voice”

Coming on the back of a highly publicised Government attempt to breach international law and undermine their own Brexit agreement, the farce of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s anti-remote Parliament was thrown into stark relief on Wednesday when MPs had to again form a 1km+ long queue just to vote.

The cancellation of remote proceedings back in June has effectively disenfranchised millions of voters as MPs that need to shield have no way of voting or being heard in Parliament. Let’s remind ourselves: these MPs are following the Government’s own COVID-19 advice and doing the right thing to protect themselves or vulnerable members of their household. 

Why should they (and their constituents) be punished for that?

This week, even Keir Starmer was denied the ability to remotely question the Prime Minister when a potential COVID-19 case in his family consigned him to his home.

A hybrid arrangement existed in Westminster until June and it worked. Fair Vote UK’s report Democracy in the Age of Pandemic commended the sensible mix of social distancing and remote functioning. Similar arrangements continue to work in Scotland, Wales and even the House of Lords.

When the House of Lords is more modern than you then something has to be wrong.

This may not seem like the biggest problem in the world right now but it goes beyond merely inconveniencing MPs with a long and boring wait.

Geraint Davies, MP for Swansea West, has called the arrangement a symptom of a wider problem. Namely, this Government’s willingness to sideline Parliament and run roughshod over our democratic traditions and conventions. Ironically, Davies’ own bill seeking to address the problem had to be presented by Dawn Butler MP as the former is himself shielding.

The people of Swansea deserve better. Everyone in this country deserves better.

As Davies wrote: ‘The taxpayer has already invested heavily in technology that worked well until June in the House of Commons, so the purpose of my Bill is to reinstate this entirely functional system.’

What could be more reasonable than that?

Threats to Abolish the Electoral Commission

02/09/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Threats to Abolish the Electoral Commission”

Fix, don’t abolish.

Amanda Milling MP, Co-Chairperson of the Conservative Party, last weekend issued a stark warning to the Electoral Commission: reform or be dismantled.

Milling, writing in The Telegraph, was repeating her party’s submission to the Committee on Standards in Public Life’s review of electoral regulation. 

She complained that the Commission’s remit was muddled and its structure unaccountable. She also chastised their stated desire to possess prosecutorial powers. Perhaps most striking was the desire to bring the Commission under direct Government authority.

Fair Vote UK agrees that the Commission needs to change – and we stressed this in our own submission to the review – but Milling’s main protests are disingenuous and circular in logic.

Firstly, The Electoral Commission is accountable. To Parliament, not Government. This is designed to ensure its non-partisan political independence. It reports to the Speaker of the House of Commons, is governed by the rule of law and is answerable to the courts. Independent regulatory bodies of this type are a common part of the UK constitution.

Ask yourself, would an electoral regulator directly answerable to No. 10 be trusted as independent?

Secondly, if the Electoral Commission does indeed have an ‘unclear rulebook’, then isn’t that the fault of the politicians that created it? The Commission was established by an Act of Parliament and could(/should) be reformed by one.

The Commission is not attempting to ‘give itself more powers without recourse to the Government or Parliament’, but rather asking for the right tools to continue doing its job.

Thirdly, why shouldn’t the Commission have prosecutorial powers? Many UK regulators have this authority. It is reasonable for the one that oversees our democratic processes to be the same. 

Milling claims there is a conflict of interest if the body which provides operational advice and drafts guidance on the law, then has a role as an arbiter and prosecutor of that law, despite this contradicting the function of most regulators. As the Commission argued in its own submission to the CSPL’s review, the guidance on its responsibility has allowed it – in the vast majority of cases – to foster a culture of compliance before the fact rather than punishment after.

If the Commission has ‘neither the capacity nor the competence to act as a prosecutor’ then we should instead be giving it the capacity, not floating the idea of abolishing it.

Every democracy in the world right now is grappling with the question of protecting democratic processes in the digital age. Why would we choose this moment to threaten our regulator with abolition?

Let’s support it and give it what it needs.

Premonitions from Across the Atlantic

28/08/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Premonitions from Across the Atlantic”

Anti-democratic malefactors are winning in the United States. This is what it looks like.

The Republican-majority Senate recently released an intelligence report, which conceded that Russia and others had significant influence in the 2016 election (surprise, surprise). Nothing has been done to prevent this from happening again.

Since 2016, the situation has only worsened.

The divisions forged on the internet by bots, hate-mongering and sophisticated targeting techniques are turning into increasingly explosive real-life conflicts.

The incredibly toxic and divisive social media environment created and enabled by tech conglomerates, international and foreign malefactors, and the current unprincipled administration is seeping into real life with alarming regularity.

A 17-year old is charged with murdering two Black Lives Matter protestors after being radicalized by hateful rhetoric online. The lies spun on social media in order to garner support for Trump have once again – nope, this isn’t the first time – incited murder.

The way the American public was manipulated, lied to, and gaslighted is a crime.

In addition to relying on social media sites to spin his “alternative facts”, Trump has suggested postponing the 2020 election and is currently sabotaging the US postal service in order to prevent mail in votes from costing him the election. According to the Washington Post, Trump told 25 lies in his speech accepting the Republican nomination. This is textbook fascism.

With the country in complete disarray, a neglected pandemic breaking new records every day, intense political and racial contentions everywhere, and a government with no interest in being accountable to its citizens, the US is a premonition for those of us in countries that have not yet fully fallen to the tide of fascism.

Countless videos of extreme police brutality and misconduct, especially against people of color, serve as a reminder that fascism and the erosion of democracy happens gradually at first – but then all at once.

Here in the UK, it is still happening gradually, but we are headed towards all-at-once.

The 20 reforms laid out in our report Defending Democracy in the Digital Age would drastically diminish political organizations’ ability to radicalize citizens and politicize every topic under the sun.

There is still time for us here in the UK, and we can learn a harrowing lesson from looking across the pond.

The buck stops here.

We at Fair Vote UK are up for the fight, as always. It is not too late.

 

Fair Vote UK Submits to Committee on Standards in Public Life

20/08/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Fair Vote UK Submits to Committee on Standards in Public Life”

The momentum behind sensible democratic reform is growing!

Building on last week’s good news about the introduction of digital imprints, today Fair Vote UK submitted to the Committee on Standards in Public Life’s review of electoral regulation.

The CSPL’s inquiry is looking specifically at the regulation of electoral finance and the role of the Electoral Commission. It was a similar review by the CSPL that led to the creation of the Electoral Commission and our current regulatory framework in 2000.

The Electoral Commission is a world renowned institution but how could a regulatory framework devised twenty years ago possibly still be fair? Think how different the world was then…

Fairness and trust were at the heart of Fair Vote UK’s submission. 

The former creates the latter; if fairness is not upheld, then trust will erode. This is exactly what we have seen happen in recent years, as organisations bend the rules and get away with it.

The Electoral Commission needs a new charter from Parliament that significantly increases its power and resourcing. The Commission needs to be able to act faster, audit wider and deeper, utilise academic expertise, establish regional offices, bring prosecutions and administer substantially larger fines.

The rules the Commission is responsible for enforcing also need to be made clearer and more robust. The digital revolution has introduced significant loopholes into our regulatory regime. These must be closed if democracy is to thrive in the 21st century.

It may seem like things move very slowly in this area but they do move!

Last week’s announcement on digital imprints is evidence of this.

The Cabinet Office has invited Fair Vote UK to contribute to the technical consultation on digital imprints and we will be using the opportunity to push for rules that are as robust as possible. Imprints should be clear, embedded on the image and state clearly who has paid for the content, why you are seeing it and who else it is being targeted at.

If concerned citizens maintain pressure then change does happen. Thank you to everyone that has supported Fair Vote UK’s work in these often worrying years.

A Big Win Today: Digital Imprints Will Become a Legal Requirement

12/08/2020 Posted by APPG, News 0 thoughts on “A Big Win Today: Digital Imprints Will Become a Legal Requirement”

Today was a big win!

The Cabinet Office has announced that political parties and campaigning organisations will soon be required to include digital imprints on all online campaign material.

Fair Vote UK and the APPG on Electoral Campaigning Transparency that we secretariat welcome this reform. Digital imprints were a central recommendation of the report – Defending our Democracy in the Digital Age – that we jointly published in January.

The imprints will show who produced the material and, importantly, who paid for it. The rules will also apply for the entire year and not just during election periods. This is a particularly encouraging detail as we now live in an age of permanent campaigning and the rules should be updated to reflect this reality.

Fair Vote UK and the APPG on Electoral Campaigning Transparency will now seek assurances from the Cabinet Office that the new rules will require the imprints to be clearly visible and actually on the image or video that is being promoted. 

This reform must be the first step in a bold updating of the UK’s electoral law, which has not been changed in nearly 20 years. 

The Electoral Commission must also be strengthened by Parliament so it can properly ensure that these regulations are adhered to. 

Kyle Taylor, Director of Fair Vote UK said: “This reform is a boost for democracy. It will put power in the hands of the voter and allow all of us to make better informed decisions. This is not a moment for rest though. Fair Vote UK will continue to push for the other 19 recommendations in our report and an electoral regime that has transparency and fairness at its core.”

Stephen Kinnock MP, Chair of the APPG said:This is a welcome and common sense proposal that would bring online campaigning rules in line with the regulation that already exists for print, TV and radio material. Mandatory digital imprints was just one of 20 recommendations in our APPG’s report Defending our Democracy in the Digital Age, published in January 2020. It will greatly increase transparency and lead to a better informed public and a better quality of public debate. Yet, as our report shows, there is much more that needs to be done. The Government should seize the opportunity to modernise the rules and create a democracy fit for the digital age.”

 

 

 

Electoral Commission submit to the CSPL

05/08/2020 Posted by News, Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “Electoral Commission submit to the CSPL”

This week the Electoral Commission published their submission to the Committee on Standards in Public Life’s (CSPL) review of electoral regulation. You can read a summary and the full submission here.

The CSPL’s inquiry is looking specifically at the regulation of electoral finance and the role – strengths and weaknesses – of the Electoral Commission. It was a similar review by the CSPL that led to the creation of the Electoral Commission and our current regulatory framework in 2000. 

This is a very important and hopeful moment!

Fair Vote UK are delighted to announce that the Electoral Commission’s submission has independently echoed many of the recommendations that we’ve been campaigning for over the last few years.

The Electoral Commission rightly identified transparency, proportionality and enforceability as the principles that should govern the UK’s regulatory regime.

Current weaknesses were identified as: 

  • A lack of transparency (especially in the digital sphere); 
  • A legal/prosecutorial framework that is disjointed, confusing and in need of rationalisation;
  • Weak deterrence capabilities.

 

These all echo points made in our report: Defending our Democracy in the Digital Age, published by Fair Vote UK in January.

Their submission rightly reminded us that though the Electoral Commission is a respected and world renowned election regulator, it needs an updated mandate and the necessary resources to be able to do their job in an election landscape that has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. 

In short, it needs more teeth. With a few tweaks this is very achievable!

Their submission expressed a desire to be able to work faster, audit non-political organisations (such as tech companies), work more closely with the Information Commissioner’s Office & police and have their deterrence capabilities boosted (with the upper limit of fines lifted from £20,000 to £500,000). Fair Vote UK made similar recommendations in January and we re-indorse them again now. Reforms along these lines would bring the Electoral Commission’s powers in sync with similarly sized UK regulators. 

We also welcome the announcement that the Electoral Commission plans to build “in house” prosecutorial functions. This reform would simplify the currently incoherent system, ease the burden on police/public prosecutors and allow the Electoral Commission to utilise their expertise and specific focus.

Fair Vote UK will be submitting our own evidence to the inquiry soon, as well as a joint submission with Open Rights Group specifically focussed on the important but overlooked question of valuing datasets. We will again be reiterating many of the points raised by the Electoral Commission.

These are promising times!

A 21st Century Crisis

31/07/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “A 21st Century Crisis”

It’s been quite a week:

  • Nancy Pelosi & leading Democrats claim to see evidence that “foreign powers” are attempting to interfere with the workings of Congress and the upcoming US election;
  • Oh wait, Trump wants to delay that election because of the non-existent problem of mail fraud?
  • Antitrust hearings take the big tech giants to task for their monopolistic models;
  • Over here our own Russia Report tells us that almost nothing has been done about Russian interference into UK democracy;
  • And users are forced to boycott Twitter over their unwillingness to remove overtly antisemitic tweets posted by a celebrity musician;
  • UK ministers applaud the boycott from the sidelines, seemingly forgetting the fact they are the ones that could mandate Twitter to do something about it.

 

All in a week’s work. For concerned citizens it is overwhelming. Too much information to take in and process. We used to rely on editors to do that job for us… 

The world’s anti-democratic malefactors may not have designed this state of affairs but it certainly suits their agenda.

We are used to the 20th century model of democratic death: the army takes over, elections are suspended and protest is forbidden. 

But democracies in the 21st century won’t die the same way. Instead the facade of democracy will continue – elections will carry on, our leaders will be “politicians” – but the core will have been hollowed out.

This is not speculation. It has already happened. Look at Poland, where Andrzej Duda was just narrowly re-elected. Look at Russia. Look at Hungary. Look at Turkey. Democracy is fragile.

We at Fair Vote UK say enough is enough. We will not be next. And we’re up for the fight.

It is not too late. 

The Russia Report & A Dangerous Culture of Inaction

21/07/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “The Russia Report & A Dangerous Culture of Inaction”

Today the long anticipated publication of the Intelligence and Security Committee’s ‘Russia Report’ has revealed a dangerous culture of inaction at the top of the British state.

Despite mounting evidence of Russian interference in the UK’s democratic process over half a decade (including during the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, the EU referendum of 2016 and the general election of 2017), our Government has never conducted risk assessments of Russian-based or any foreign interference threat after the above mentioned events.

Stewart Hosie MP, a member of the Committee, was particularly critical of successive UK Governments at the launch of the report, accusing ministers of ‘actively avoiding’ this issue.

The wide-ranging report concluded that Moscow makes a concerted effort to disrupt UK democracy, with online disinformation campaigns a central part of the strategy. It is unclear at our end which organisation is responsible for dealing with this threat. 

The report also called for social media companies to do more to remove ‘covert hostile state material’ from their platforms and encouraged the UK Government to name and shame those that do not. It also highlighted the fact the Electoral Commission and other relevant agencies currently lack the ‘weight and access’ to tackle this problem. 

The uncomfortable and oft-underreported fact that the UK – and London in particular – has become a hotbed of Russian money laundering and corruption was also a headline conclusion of the report.

It is shocking that, in the face of such all-encompassing problems, our Government has done next to nothing about the Russian challenge.

It is indicative of a larger threat to our democracy: inaction driven by a perceived short-term benefit.

Under-resourcing and under-valuing of the institutions central to our democracy is now an endemic problem in this country. We have to start protecting and emboldening our democratic institutions. They are not invulnerable. They will wither on the vine if not continuously supported.

Fair Vote UK have been focussed on this problem for years. Our report – Defending Our Democracy in the Digital Age – called for many of the reforms that the ISC’s Inquiry have now re-highlighted.

Next week Fair Vote UK will be submitting to yet another inquiry being conducted by the influential Committee on Standards in Public Life.

Really, another inquiry? After half a decade since major flaws in our electoral system were most recently exposed it seems pretty clear we’ve thoroughly inquired.

We need our elected representatives to do something about it. Now is the time to take action.

Fair Vote UK Submits Evidence to Procedure Committee Inquiry

15/07/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Fair Vote UK Submits Evidence to Procedure Committee Inquiry”

Today Fair Vote UK submitted evidence to the Procedure Committee’s inquiry into parliamentary procedure under coronavirus restrictions.

This is an opportunity for positive, lasting change.

The Committee is monitoring and evaluating the temporary practices introduced to the House of Commons in April as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fair Vote UK wanted to use the opportunity to detail the findings of our recent consultation and the report – Democracy in the Age of Pandemic – that grew out of it.

Our submission to the Committee was clear: The current crisis has afforded Parliament the chance to reform and modernise. 

As our report made clear, some of the coronavirus innovations (remote voting, digitisation) should be introduced full-time. Recent attempts by the Government to cancel this progress are irresponsible and should be reversed. A more flexible Parliament is more democratic and better prepared for future disruptions. 

However, the reforms could have – and still should – go further. Fair Vote UK have called for the establishment of a Coronavirus-focussed Select Committee (cross party, opposition led and publicly viewable online) to increase scrutiny of the Government. This will be very important in the coming months as the UK eases out of lockdown, contends with the social and economic fallout of the crisis and navigates possible re-intensification of the pandemic.

These reforms should also be enshrined in a crisis-response protocol that can allow Parliament to move forward into an uncertain 21st Century confident and prepared.

Everyone is currently talking about what the post-coronavirus world will look like. Most are determined to make sure we build back better. Our democratic institutions should not be exempt from this conversation.

Let’s create a modern, robust Parliament! If we get it right, it could be one of the inadvertent positives of this awful crisis.

Thank You!

08/07/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Thank You!”

We would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone that donated to Fair Vote UK in our recent drive.

Thanks to all of you, we hit our target for this campaign!

This will help us continue our vital work in the coming months. All of your generosity is hugely appreciated.

For the rest of 2020 (and beyond!) we will keep pressing regulators and lawmakers across the country for sensible democratic reform.

Our priorities:

  • Pushing forward with getting the 20 recommendations from our report Defending our Democracy in the Digital Age cemented in law;
  • Ensuring our democracy is invested in and made COVID-proof. Elections and parliamentary functioning cannot be suspended again;
  • Building a resource and platform that helps explain – in an easily accessible way – why the issue of data and democracy is so important to tackle.

 

Privacy International and the Lords Democracy and Digital Technologies Select Committee have both just released reports that independently echo Fair Vote UK’s recommendations. And the Committee on Standards in Public Life are currently conducting an inquiry into these questions which we have been invited to contribute to.

Momentum for sensible reform is building but we cannot take our foot off the pedal.

The fight for our democracy goes on and it is a fight made possible by you, so thank you.

Two Pandemics

06/07/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Two Pandemics”

Can you help Fair Vote UK fight for our democracy by making sure we hit our fundraising target?

We’re only halfway through 2020 but it has already been an extraordinary year. We are in the midst of two acute crises.

The obvious one is Covid-19. The pandemic poses a unique threat to society, the economy and our democracy. The other crisis – more slow burning, less obvious – is the gradual erosion, through a combination of malignancy and neglect, of our democratic institutions and conventions.

With the American election, Brexit negotiations and the Covid-19 fallout looming, these crises could get much worse in the second half of 2020.

They must be resisted.

It is Fair Vote UK’s mission to do just that but we couldn’t do it without the support of you.

Please donate £25 or whatever you can to Fair Vote UK today and help us keep up the fight for our democracy.

We’re Demystifying Data & Democracy. Can You Help?

02/07/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “We’re Demystifying Data & Democracy. Can You Help?”

The fight for our democracy can be overwhelming at times.

Not only do the malignant forces of this world seem to be on the rise, the issues we are fighting about – the misuse and abuse of data, misinformation campaigns, surveillance capitalism – can be daunting topics to wrap your head around.

This suits the people and organisations that are undermining our democracy just fine. As far as they are concerned, the less citizens know about these problems the better.

But it needn’t be like this.

Everyday the case for protecting our democracy in the digital age grows stronger and reaches wider audiences. 

The current #BoycottFacebook campaign, started by a civil rights coalition headed by the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP, is an excellent example of this.

Lots of brilliant work has been done in this field but much of it remains dense or overly academic.

Over the summer Fair Vote UK will be working on a resource that demystifies these issues in an accessible, short and punchy way, designed with the layperson in mind.

We want this to be a resource that can reach the widest possible audience.

But we couldn’t do it without you.

Can you chip in £25 or whatever you can today to ensure we can keep making the fight for our democracy?

We’re a near totally volunteer team and rely on the generosity of supporters to do much of our work. Generosity for which we are eternally grateful.

Thank you.

Can You Help Fair Vote UK Defend Our Democracy?

25/06/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Can You Help Fair Vote UK Defend Our Democracy?”

Beyond our democracy reform work, we have worked to be at the forefront of tackling new threats as they arise. The most obvious example is the impact of Covid-19 on democracy. As of writing more than 60 elections around the world have been postponed or cancelled as a result of the pandemic.

Seeing how Covid-19 threatened to undermine the practices and institutions of democracy itself, we responded by launching a consultation that became the report Democracy in the Age of Pandemic published last week.

Its recommendations – which can be summarised as high-tech Parliament, low-tech elections – are designed to prepare our democracy for debilitating crises of this sort.

We have taken the report to MPs and will be submitting its recommendations to the Procedure Committee’s inquiry into Parliament’s temporary (and currently threatened) Covid-19 practices.

There has been some talk of suspending next year’s Senedd elections because of the pandemic.

This is unacceptable in a mature democracy.

This work isn’t easy or straightforward but it’s essential, which is why we need to ask our supporters like you to chip in and ensure we can keep the pressure on to make sure no more elections are postponed.

We know times are tough right now and the civil society space is no different. Can you chip in £20 or whatever you can today to ensure we can keep fighting?

We’re a near totally volunteer team and we couldn’t do it without you.

Thank you,

The Fair Vote UK Team.

P.S. Can you donate £20 or whatever you can today to ensure we can fight to make sure no more elections are postponed?

2020 So Far

17/06/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “2020 So Far”

Here at the halfway point of an extraordinary year, we wanted to take stock and update all our supporters on the progress of Fair Vote UK’s 2020 so far.

While for many it has felt like a year to be “cancelled,” we are feeling quite the opposite. The impact of Covid-19 and the important, powerful Black Lives Matter protests suggest 2020 could be a consequential year for progressive change.

For us, the year started with the publication of our landmark reportDefending our Democracy in the Digital Age – in January.

The result of a major inquiry in 2019 that drew evidence from MPs, regulators, peers and campaigners, the report and its 20 recommendations provide the most comprehensive answer yet to the concerns around election safeguarding in the UK.

If 2019 had been a year of consolidation and preparation, 2020 was to be a year of action and implementation. 

Covid-19 threatened to undermine this plan but we have taken our campaign online, holding productive virtual meetings with lawmakers and campaigners from across the UK. 

With the digitisation of our lives accelerating as a result of the current crisis, the need to modernise and strengthen our electoral law has become even greater.  

Our conversations have shown that in every UK country and in every UK political party, there is the will for sensible reform. We cannot, however, risk complacency and must seize this moment to enshrine our recommendations in law.

The hard work of turning recommendations into law is being funded in part by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, from whom we were privileged to have received a grant.

With a US Presidential election in November already marred in controversy and parts of the UK set to go to the polls next May, these issues remain as urgent as ever and we’ll keep fighting to defend our democracy.

‘Democracy in the Age of Pandemic’: New Report Launched

09/06/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “‘Democracy in the Age of Pandemic’: New Report Launched”

Fair Vote UK is proud to announce the publication of our report ‘Democracy in the Age of Pandemic’.

The report – born out of our April 2020 consultation – analyses and tackles the threat posed to democracy by Covid-19.

Two central functions of our democracy have been imperilled by this crisis: Governments and Parliaments functioning and Elections taking place. ‘Democracy in the Age of Pandemic’ addresses both of these in turn and outlines solutions.

This country must be better prepared for future disruptions of this sort, whether they be re-intensifications of Covid-19 or similarly debilitating crises.

You can download the report and accompanying appendices, as two separate documents, here:

REPORT – Democracy in the Age of Pandemic – Fair Vote UK – June 2020

APPENDICES – Democracy in the Age of Pandemic – Fair Vote UK Report June 2020

The Remote Parliament That Almost Was?

04/06/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “The Remote Parliament That Almost Was?”

Next week will see the launch of Fair Vote UK’s report: ‘Democracy in the Age of Pandemic’.

At the start of this crisis it quickly became clear that democratic institutions and practices were particularly vulnerable to the new threat. It was in an attempt to work out solutions that Fair Vote UK launched a consultation in April. 

This report has been drawn from the 80+ brilliant responses that were received.

The responses and our recommendations focus on two key areas: Parliament/Government functioning and elections.

On the former, early drafts of the report were full of praise for Parliament’s response to the pandemic. Though it had been slow off the mark, Westminster’s hybrid solution – part social distancing, part digitisation – had been a sensible and welcome mix of familiarity and innovation.

The farcical scenes this week of MPs forming a gargantuan queue outside the Commons and shielding and vulnerable MPs being unable to travel and vote have completely jeopardised the good progress that had been made. Indeed, it appears it may have also led to a minister inadvertently speaking from the dispatch box while displaying symptoms, potentially exposing dozens of MPs – and the Prime Minister – to the virus.

Abandoning the virtual Parliament was an irresponsible decision that should be reversed. 

A poll published today by YouGov found that 76% of British people think MPs should be allowed to continue working remotely.

‘The emergence of a “high-tech”, modern and robust Parliament could be one of the ways this crisis inadvertently improves democracy’.

That had been a line in our report before this week.

It could still be possible.

Stand up to discrimination against EU citizens in the UK

28/05/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Stand up to discrimination against EU citizens in the UK”

In May 2019, the UK Government denied over a million EU citizens living here their right to vote in the EU Parliamentary election.

The3million, set up in the wake of the Brexit referendum, is an organisation that represents EU citizens living in the UK. 

They are challenging the UK Government in court and need your help. 

You can donate here.

In November last year, the Electoral Commission issued a special report and found that:

‘People who were entitled to vote and wanted to vote in the European Parliament elections in the UK were unable to do so. This is unacceptable in a modern democracy. Many of them rightly felt frustrated, disappointed and angry that they were unable to vote.’

Donate to help the challenge here.

In January, the High Court ruled their case should proceed and it is now being brought forward to a firm ruling. The3million need to raise £60,000 to prepare for the review. 

And yet the Government, unwilling to accept responsibility, are determined to fight on.

This injustice should be rectified and a precedent should be set that discrimination against EU citizens, already in a precarious position, is not acceptable.

In difficult times such as these it is especially important to make sure fundamental rights are upheld and, if necessary, defended in Court.

In what has been an exceptional year, you would be forgiven for missing this story. Yet it is vitally important that this decision is challenged – both for the sake of EU citizens living here and for the future of democracy in this country. 

Privacy rights groups demand transparency over the Government’s Covid-19 database

22/05/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Privacy rights groups demand transparency over the Government’s Covid-19 database”

On Monday, Fair Vote UK joined a coalition of 27+ high-profile digital rights organisations, academics and experts from across the country to sign an open letter to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock. 

We are urging Hancock to answer questions about plans to build a sprawling COVID-19 database that would see the NHS partnered with for-profit organisations like Palantir, Faculty, Amazon, Google and Microsoft.

There is currently very limited transparency around the partnership and a high risk of abuse.

The letter was written by Anouk Ruhaak of AlgorithmWatch and signed by Big Brother Watch, Echo Chamber Club, Foxglove, Liberty, medConfidential, openDemocracy, Open Knowledge Foundation, Open Rights Group, Privacy International, WebRoots Democracy and others.

“Emergencies require rapid responses, but these responses should also be appropriate, lawful and just.”

You can read the full letter here.

Fair Vote UK and others asked: 

  • How is the datastore financed?
  • What agreements are in place with each private partner?
  • Who has control over the data in these public private partnerships ?
  • For what duration is the data collected and what happens when that period ends? 

There are now lots of privacy concerns surrounding the Government’s COVID-19 response but it is not too late to remedy the situation.

We urge Matt Hancok to quickly address the issues raised in our open letter and we’ll keep you updated on his response.

Tracking App

13/05/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Tracking App”

There is a lot to follow right now. One would be forgiven for forgetting that the problems surrounding the NHS tracking app, launched as a trial on the Isle of Wight two weeks ago, have very much not been resolved.

Ever since this crisis began, it has been clear, even to the most ardent of tech-sceptics, that technology will inevitably have to play a part in the global effort to defeat coronavirus. However, as with every other part of the increasing digitisation of our lives, it should never be a given that this requires us to sacrifice our privacy or our civil rights.

Tracking apps work by using Bluetooth signals to log when smartphone users are close to each other – so that if one of them develops coronavirus symptoms, an alert can be sent to people that they have been in close contact with. They have been a crucial part of the picture in countries (such as South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore) that have dealt with the pandemic well.

The main argument now is about whether the app should be “centralised” or “decentralised”, with the former model storing users’ anonymised data in a central hub and the latter keeping it in the users’ phone. So far the UK has opted for the former.

Fair Vote UK is joining the many voices in calling for this decision to be reversed and a decentralised system adopted instead.

Privacy International and Open Rights Group have done a lot of good work detailing the app’s flaws but aside from the many problems associated with the current design – from battery draining to incompatibility with older phones – privacy is the main concern.

The news this week that the UK government has been striking deals with US tech giants to transfer NHS data should be all the evidence needed to convince anyone of the dangers of a centralised data bank.

These apps inevitably collect a lot of personal information. 

They will not be used if they are not trusted by the public.

Singapore used a centralised system early in the crisis but soon realised only 20% of the population were using it. Cases have since spiked in the country. Norway is still using a centralised system and usership similarly dawdles at 21%.

Realising the flaws, Germany, Australia, Colombia, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Spain have all joined Singapore in ditching centralisation in favour of decentralisation.

Yet again the UK is in the position to look at other countries and learn from their example – we should not make the same mistake again!

‘Covid-19 & Democracy’ Consultation Update

30/04/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “‘Covid-19 & Democracy’ Consultation Update”

This week we have been organising the 80+ responses we received to our ‘Democracy & COVID-19’ Consultation! Again we would like to thank everyone that took the time to participate.

Our aim was to analyse the threats COVID-19 and lockdown posed to our democracy and brainstorm what could be done about it. The responses have been a delight to read through.

Ahead of our report’s publication in May, we wanted to share with you some of the consultation’s trends and highlight a few of the responses.

Given the consultation’s timing a few weeks ago, many respondents flagged up the problematic fact that Parliament was not sitting at a time of national crisis. It is good news then, that a socially distanced and remotely functioning Parliament is now back up and running.

The Scottish and Welsh Assemblies were frequently commended for their swift move to remote working. Indeed, this crisis presents a chance for the devolved Assemblies to be real leaders of progressive democratic reform in this country. Fair Vote UK is planning to encourage them to do so in the coming months.

Somewhat further afield, New Zealand, flagged by several submissions, has created a watchable, cross-party special select committee tasked with considering the Government’s response to the crisis. In doing so it has met many of our respondents’ concerns head on. Namely the need for rigorous, transparent scrutiny and non-partisan cooperation. 

Indeed, the Electoral Reform Society, in their response to the consultation, called for the UK to follow suit with, ‘an opposition-led Coronavirus Response Select Committee with full parliamentary powers, to hold government and officials to account across the UK’.

Many respondents recognised that from this unique crisis there is an opportunity for bold reform. 

Online voting, of course, but also online citizen assemblies, as advocated by multiple submissions, or a radical decentralisation of power and strengthening of local authorities, as was also proposed. Given the even greater importance of the internet, it was also argued that the Government should now do much more to ensure every household has access.

But there were also notes of caution.

The Open Rights Group warned against the many dangers inherent in an, ‘uncritical application of digital tools in a time of crisis’. This was echoed by several noting that a rush to online democracy risks alienating the digitally illiterate and digitally excluded.

All of these responses and many more will feature in our report, to be published in May.

Clearly, many challenges lie ahead. But necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention.

Democracy in the Age of Covid-19

23/04/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Democracy in the Age of Covid-19”

First, a huge thanks to the more than 80 individuals and organisations that took part in our consultation ‘COVID-19 & Democracy’. This week we have been reading through and organising all the brilliant responses. We will be using them to compile what will be a valuable report addressing the challenges to democracy that lockdown measures present and what can be done about them. 

Parliament’s resumption this week was very welcome news. PMQs was a reminder of how important proper, public debate is to a democracy. We’d like to congratulate all House of Commons staff for managing the innovative return so well! Yet, as many of you mentioned in the consultation, the Welsh and Scottish Assemblies should be commended for having already implemented remote work weeks ago.

We must not forget, however, that our Parliaments and Assemblies are only a fraction of the picture.

On Tuesday The World Health Organisation’s David Nabarro told the BBC that we must learn to live with COVID-19. Chris Witty reiterated this at Wednesday’s press conference, explaining that some ‘disruptive’ lockdown measures are set to remain in place until at least the end of the year.

This means we must now prepare innovative ways to protect all the functions of our democracy and in particular elections.

The International Institute for Democracy & Electoral Assistance has been keeping a comprehensive list of COVID-19’s global impact on elections and it makes for sober reading. Even in America – a country that has never cancelled or suspended an election even in times of civil war – the current crisis has been upsetting old certainties.

Fair Vote UK will now be turning its attention towards this pressing issue. Suspending elections cannot be the solution and we intend for our report to make clear how this can be avoided so the foundation of our society – free and fair elections – can continue.

‘Covid-19 & Democracy’ Consultation Deadline Extended to 17th of April

14/04/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “‘Covid-19 & Democracy’ Consultation Deadline Extended to 17th of April”

Given the long bank holiday weekend, we have decided to extend the deadline of our ‘COVID-19 & Democracy’ Consultation to Friday the 17th.

Thank you to everyone that has already taken part! 

To those of you that haven’t, we want to hear from you!

Things move quickly in the lockdown. Since the launch of this consultation, Parliament – responding to pressure from the press and civil society – have set forward plans on how to work remotely when they reconvene on the 21st of April.

This is good news, but Parliament is only one part of our democracy. This lockdown is a challenge to so much more.

Elections, for instance, cannot be postponed indefinitely. The worrying scenes from Wisconsin last week show us that protecting the right to vote during this crisis has the potential to be a fraught but vitally important fight.

So many of democracy’s core functions – from voting to MP surgeries and protesting – are threatened by the need to isolate and maintain social distancing. Given that this crisis may last a long time, we have to start thinking creatively about how to protect these core functions.

This is why we launched the ‘COVID-19 & Democracy’ Consultation and why we want to hear from you.

What weaknesses in democratic processes has COVID-19 highlighted?

Which countries/regions have effectively put in place mediating practices that insulate them from the social distancing effects of COVID-19?

If you have any answers to these questions or any ideas about what can be done to protect democratic practices, then please take a moment to fill out our short questionnaire.

A Way To Help Right Now

09/04/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “A Way To Help Right Now”

Are you looking for a way to help out during this crisis? Can you help vulnerable people in your area? Do you need help while you self-isolate or do you know someone that needs help?

Members of our team here at Fair Vote UK have helped Citizen Sector and Tectonica volunteer-build and launch a free app called WeGotYou that helps volunteers connect with people in need.

The idea is simple:

  1. Users can make requests for help (for themselves or for someone else) to collect shopping, pick up medication or simply walk the dog.
  2. Other users can then see the requests that are closest to them and take immediate action to help.

If you’re self-isolating and need help or you’re able to help your neighbours in need, check out the WeGotYou website here!

This crisis has already shown us countless inspiring examples of people volunteering to help their local communities. WeGotYou hopes to supplement and assist this incredible work and give volunteers the tools they need to be at their most effective.

We know, however, that lots of the most vulnerable people are not always online. Crucially, WeGotYou allows people to request help for others, whether they be an elderly neighbour up the road or a relative in another part of the country.

So if you can, sign up at WeGotYou.

Also, please don’t forget our ongoing consultation ‘COVID-19 and Democracy’. You can take part in our questionnaire here. We’d love to hear from you!

Fair Vote UK Launches ‘Covid-19 and Democracy’ Consultation

02/04/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Fair Vote UK Launches ‘Covid-19 and Democracy’ Consultation”

Fair Vote UK are launching a “COVID-19 and Democracy” consultation and we want to hear from you!

It is now clear that this crisis is going to seriously disrupt democratic functions across the world. The lockdown makes it impossible for many core components of democracy to continue as they did before.

How does a parliament “sit” if they cannot convene or vote in person? How do citizens continue to exercise their democratic rights if they cannot leave their house?

The UK acted quickly to suspend elections and close Parliament. These, however, cannot be long term solutions if, as some are predicting, lockdown measures have to continue for an extended period of time.

There are examples everywhere of creative solutions to this problem. The Welsh Assembly, for example, has just announced that it will move to video-link debating. Calls are growing for Parliament to do the same.

Now, we want to hear from you:

Fair Vote UK will be compiling a report into democracy and COVID-19 and want to collect ideas from as diverse a range of people and organisations as possible.

What are the challenges highlighted by this crisis and what could be the solutions?

This is the time to think outside the box!

Please take a moment to complete our short questionnaire.

The consultation will end on the 15th of April.

Running a Democracy in the Covid-19 World

27/03/2020 Posted by News, Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “Running a Democracy in the Covid-19 World”

It has been another extraordinary week with lockdown measures intensifying across the world. As we all start to acclimatise to a reality that would have been unimaginable only weeks ago, the conversation has started to shift to the political and social impact of this pandemic.

In this time of crisis, we face two particularly important choices. The first is between totalitarian surveillance and citizen empowerment. The second is between nationalist isolation and global solidarity.”

That was Yuval Noah Harrari’s take in a particularly prescient article for the Financial Times that you can read here.

One thing that has received scant attention, however, is the practical question of how a democracy can continue to function during a crisis that shuts people in their homes and could last up to 18 months with the possibility of more disruption beyond that.

It is now impossible to imagine many core components of our democracy – from demonstrations and voting to Parliamentary debates and select committees – continuing as they did before.

That is why Fair Vote UK is turning its attention towards addressing this fundamentally important question.

From Estonia’s long established system of e-voting to the EU Parliament’s recent decision to move to email voting, there are many examples from across the world of how to make remote democracy work in a practical and easy way.

This is the time to think outside the box!

Fair Vote UK are looking forward to engaging with our supporters on this issue. Stay tuned for the opening of our consultation period, when we would love to hear any ideas you have.

Law Commissions Publish Their Report Into Electoral Reform

20/03/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Law Commissions Publish Their Report Into Electoral Reform”

It has been an extraordinary week with measures to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic significantly ramping up and impacting all of our lives.

Perhaps understandably, the publication on Tuesday of a new report into the UK’s electoral law by the Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission did not receive a great deal of attention. The report calls for a raft of significant and necessary reforms to our democracy, many of which are at the heart of Fair Vote UK’s mission.

The report (which you can read here) described the UK’s electoral laws as, ‘out-dated, confusing and no longer fit for purpose’.

Nicholas Paines QC, Public Law Commissioner, has warned that if the laws are left as they are, ‘there is a very real risk of the electoral process losing credibility which could be catastrophic’.

Some of the report’s key recommendations include: 

  • Codifying current laws (which are currently spread across 50+ statutes and regulations!) into a single legislative framework.
  • A timely call, made before the current crisis led to the suspension of May’s elections, for reform over the conditions required for suspending polls.
  • The introduction of digital imprints for online campaign material, including for social media advertisements. This would include who has paid for the advert, as is the case for leaflets and traditional advertisements.
  • Improving how election results can be challenged. This would include modernising and simplifying the system; allowing returning officers to bring challenges and giving the court the power to weed out ill-founded claims that waste court time.

 

These are common sense, necessary reforms and are wholeheartedly endorsed by Fair Vote UK.

In a time of crisis like this it is especially important that our system of government remains fair, robust and fit for purpose.

Civil Society is Ready to Tackle Election Safeguarding Reform

13/03/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Civil Society is Ready to Tackle Election Safeguarding Reform”

The campaign to electoral safeguarding reform that is fit for the digital age takes many forms. Fair Vote UK is working with UK, Scottish and Welsh governments to ensure the right legislation is passed and structural reforms are put in place so that our elections are not vulnerable to dark money, disinformation and electoral misdemeanours. Civil society is a vital aspect of this campaign. 

 

We’re delighted to say that we will be working with groups such as the Electoral Reform Society, Open Rights Group, Privacy International, Transparency International, Global Witness, Digital Action and experts from Bangor University. The inaugural meeting of the civil society coalition, which took place on 4th March, was a step to ensuring that this issue remains at the top of the decision maker’s agenda. Moving forward member organisations will be working in concert with each other to complement each other’s policy priorities and to de-conflict campaigning work to avoid duplication. 

 

We will be working together with these organisations to make sure the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments act now to safeguard elections. We will keep you updated as the coalition progresses.

Defending our Democracy in the Digital Age Determines Debate

05/03/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Defending our Democracy in the Digital Age Determines Debate”

Earlier this week, on Wednesday 3rd March, the Electoral Commission gave oral evidence to the House of Lord’s Democracy and Digital Technologies Committee. The discussion was wide ranging and what was most noticeable was how many of the topics raised were issues from APPG on Electoral Campaigning Transparency’s recently published report. If you’d like to see the evidence session, you can find a video link here. Both the questions from the Peers and answers from officials at the Electoral Commission covered the 20 recommendations of Defending our Democracy in the Digital Age.

 

Two lines of questioning were particularly striking. Firstly, there was no clarity as to why regulation on offline campaigning was significantly stronger than campaigning online. Secondly, laws need to catch up to the realities of digital technologies to allow the Electoral Commission to do its job. The current legal framework simply does not allow the Commission to properly regulate. Amongst other issues relevant to the report, they also discussed plans for better education campaigns at the primary and secondary level, better and more granular use of ad libraries and raising the sanction limit.

 

It’s great to see that the terms of debate are now set and Defending our Democracy in the Digital Age offers evidenced policy solutions. Most importantly we clearly need to change the law to ensure that our elections are properly safeguarded in the future. Regulators know this, experts know this, the public know this and politicians know this. It’s time for action.

Disinformation, Coronavirus and Twitter Tests New Tool

25/02/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Disinformation, Coronavirus and Twitter Tests New Tool”

Disinformation isn’t just a political phenomenon that rears it ugly head during elections. Lies and conspiracy theories are peddled every day on social media, often funded and fuelled by state actors. US State Department officials tasked with combating Russian disinformation have recently confirmed that thousands of Russian-linked social media accounts have launched a coordinated effort to spread alarm about the new coronavirus, disrupting global efforts to fight the epidemic. This campaign has focused efforts on peddling conspiracy theories that the US government is responsible for the current Coronavirus outbreak.

 

“Russia’s intent is to sow discord and undermine US institutions and alliances from within, including through covert and coercive malign influence campaigns,” said Philip Reeker, the acting Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia. 

 

Existing policy on social media companies allow this harmful activity to happen. Though social media companies have acknowledged these threats, as recently as October last year, Facebook stated that it will not be monitoring the truth of statements made on its platform. Some companies are, however, being more proactive. Last week, NBC News reported that Twitter is experimenting with adding brightly coloured labels directly beneath lies and misinformation posted by politicians and other public figures. In this version, disinformation or misleading information posted by public figures would be corrected directly beneath a tweet by fact-checkers and journalists who are verified on the platform and possibly by other users who would participate in a new “community reports” feature, which the demo claims is “like Wikipedia.”

 

This is an encouraging development. We will have to wait and see what the impact is of this new policy if – and when – it is rolled out across the platform. It remains to be seen if it will be used to target all disinformation, not just that of an overtly political nature. What we do know is that if tools like this are to be useful, they can’t just focus on one piece of the puzzle. Lies on social media platforms that are sown to stoke distrust can be equally damaging during and outside of elections.

 

It’s great to see Twitter wants to tackle this. It’s now on Facebook to follow suit. Having shown no intent to do so, governments must now make such requirements statutory.

It’s not what it says. It’s what it doesn’t say.

18/02/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “It’s not what it says. It’s what it doesn’t say.”

Last week the Government published its Online Harms White Paper – the first announcement from the Government since its consultation into “online harms”, which ran from April to the end of June 2019. Kyle Taylor, founder of Fair Vote UK, has published a piece in the Byline Times responding to the announcement. Shockingly, on the crucial issue of disinformation, fake news and online harms to democracy the government’s response is conspicuously silent. Given the role that technology played in the wrongdoings during and since the EU Referendum, this omission is glaring. Fair Vote UK and the APPG on Electoral Campaigning Transparency have 20 recommendations that the Government could implement now that would protect our democracy in the digital age. No more consulting, it’s time for action.

 

You can find a link to the article here.

The Hard Work Begins

07/02/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “The Hard Work Begins”

Fair Vote UK and the APPG on Electoral Campaigning Transparency published Defending Our Democracy in the Digital Age on Monday 20th January. Described by the Observer as a ‘landmark report’, it sets out 20 recommendations on how to protect UK elections and referenda from malfeasance and misbehaviour. You can download a copy of the report and annexes here.

 

It is the most comprehensive answer to the problems in our democratic system exposed by the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

 

The hard work of implementing these 20 recommendations is now upon us. Fair Vote UK, in conjunction with APPG Chair Stephen Kinnock MP and Vice-chairs Caroline Lucas MP and Deidre Brock MP will be meeting with the new government to make the case for change. The cross-party coalition will be working hard to make sure that the government listens and makes the right change to safeguard our democracy.

 

Real reform will only happen if new laws are brought in to respond to the threats our democracies face.

 

To make real change we need your help. Fair Vote UK is a small organisation that packs a punch. Since its inception it has changed the conversation on the impact of new technologies in democracies. To continue our important work we will need new support from generous donors. 

 

To support us to take this important work to the next stage, click here.

Our Day In Court – Mississippi Hearing

31/01/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Our Day In Court – Mississippi Hearing”

While it has been quite some time, we finally have some exciting news on the Mississippi Court Case. In October last year we instructed the Carson Law Group in Mississippi to pursue further legal action against Arron Banks and his companies. The work with Carson Law Group to get a preservation order to secure voter data that is allegedly held in Mississippi by Eldon Insurance and/or Big Data Dolphins has now reached the courts.

In its ongoing effort to help determine whether UK citizen’s data was off-shored by some of Arron Banks’ companies, yesterday Fair Vote UK had a hearing in court in Mississippi in pursuit of a preservation and production order. Our original lawsuit – backed by the ICO – was dismissed on purely procedural grounds. Having now satisfied all the requirements of the court, with still no documents produced by Arron Banks’ companies, we are optimistic about our chances for success.

As you’ll be aware, important legal challenges like this one are time-consuming and expensive but we refuse to let the powerful get away if they’ve committed wrongs. Please consider supporting our ongoing work now. As a team of near all volunteers, we greatly appreciate it. Click here to donate.

Defending our Democracy in the Digital Age: New Report Launched

20/01/2020 Posted by APPG 0 thoughts on “Defending our Democracy in the Digital Age: New Report Launched”

Fair Vote UK and the APPG on Electoral Campaigning Transparency are proud to announce the launch of the report Defending our Democracy in the Digital Age. This ground-breaking report sets out 20 recommendations on how to protect UK elections and referenda from ‘dirty money and dodgy data misuse’.

 

The landmark report is the result of a major inquiry which took place over several months in 2019 and called a range of leading experts on electoral law. The Parliamentary group received written and oral evidence from more than 70 organisations and experts including Facebook, the Information Commissioner’s Office, and the Electoral Commission.  

 

MPs, regulators, peers, and campaigners reveal how UK elections are wide-open to abuse, with electoral law not properly updated since 2001 – when the internet was barely recognisable compared to today. It presents the most comprehensive answer yet to the concerns around election safeguarding in the UK.

You can download the report and accompanying appendices, as two separate documents, here.

Defending-our-Democracy-in-the-Digital-Age-APPG-ECT-Report-Jan-2020

Defending our Democracy in the Digital Age – APPG ECT Report Appendices – Jan 2020

CCHQ Checked out of the Truth

21/11/2019 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “CCHQ Checked out of the Truth”

It’s not just special interest groups and non-party organisations that enjoy misleading the public, but political parties too. On Tuesday evening, while Britain was tuning in to the first General Election debate of 2019, an official Conservative party Twitter account rebranded itself to make it look like it was providing a fact-checking service. David Lammy, prominent Labour MP, remarked that it showed “what disdain this party and this government has for the truth”. Following complaints from Full Fact, the charity that provides a non-partisan fact checking service, and others, Twitter said it would take “decisive corrective action” if a similar action was attempted again. But, in such a fast moving political environment, the damage is done.

This stunt exposes a few things that need urgent addressing. The first is that guidelines on what political activities are prohibited on social media platforms are not yet effective. When reporting tweets, you can now mark that a tweet is “misleading about voting”. That’s a welcome change. But it clearly isn’t enough. This tweet also shows us that established political parties aren’t above the fray. They’re more than happy to openly mislead the public in order to grab votes.

There are things we can do to make a hostile environment for this misbehaviour. We can call such action out publicly. We can contact our local elected officials and demand that they change their conduct. We can vote. And we can change election law. Our politics will continue to deteriorate if we don’t do what’s right and fight for our British values, the truth and fair play. The next government will have the power to enact legislation that safeguards our elections. It’s time we made sure that those in power put democracy, truth and fair play before their party.

#EyesOnElection

14/11/2019 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “#EyesOnElection”

Earlier this week, we at Fair Vote UK launched  ‘Eyes on Election’, an Election Vulnerabilities Monitoring Project. This project, that will run the course of the General Election to 12th December, will keep the public informed about what misbehaviour there might be. It will play a vital public role in calling out threats to the election as they emerge – from blatant lies to more insidious disinformation, dodgy money and foreign interference. Disinformation and meddling can come from any side of the political aisle and so this will be non-partisan. It will call out attempts by parties and activists from all political groups of all persuasions.

There is already evidence of disinformation and there will be much more up until polling day because politicians have done nothing to protect elections in the digital age. This issue is urgent. By the end of the year, two elections will have been fought since our electoral system was demonstrated to be vulnerable in the 2016 EU Referendum. Lack of lasting structural change to the electoral system and the legislation that governs it will mean our elections remain vulnerable. Projects like Eyes on Election should not need to exist. There should be laws in place that protect our elections from threats on social media. Fair Vote UK will continue to fight for election safeguarding and expose the evidence for its urgency. It will build the evidence base necessary to force legislators to act on day 1 of the new Parliament – whoever is in power.

If you see something nefarious or suspect say something by sharing it on Twitter with #EyesOnElection.

We’ll also be posting some advice on how to identify such malfeasance on the web. Here’s a few pointers on how to recognise social media “bots”:

How to Identify a Bot

  • They post a lot. the Oxford Internet Institute’s Computational Propaganda team views an average of more than 50 posts a day as suspicious.
  • Their profile is “sparse”. There’s often no header photo and the profile pic looks generic. The less personal information on the profile, the more likely it is to be a bot.
  • Their ratio of followers to following is off balance. If they’re following 500+ people but only have 3 followers, be suspicious.

Russia Report Refused

05/11/2019 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Russia Report Refused”

Yesterday we learned that the government has refused the publication of a report that examines Russian meddling in UK politics, including attempts to interfere in the 2016 EU referendum. The government gave a process excuse – that it needed more time to assess publication – as its flimsy reason for refusal. The result is that we will now have a General Election without a full understanding of the extent to which WE ALREADY KNOW a hostile foreign actor possibly infiltrated important recent democratic events. The investigation is done. The report is written. We are now knowingly calling an Election when new information exists on possible threats to its legitimacy. As a result, the Security Committee, which commissioned the report, will now be unable to use it as evidence for recommendations for greater safeguards for the upcoming Election.

 

Without real legislative change, we will be further exposing ourselves to risk from foreign interference in our elections. The elections laws in the UK have not been updated since 2001. Since that time, an enormous amount has changed, from the rise of social media and online campaigning to the deterioration of relations between the West and Russia. We already have substantial proof from the DCMS’s report on fake news to the APPG on Electoral Campaigning Transparency’s evidence in 2019 that our current laws are not fit for purpose. This report would likely reinforce this evidence and demonstrate the need for change. But the government has decided to silence the truth. We should not accept such negligence. 

 

Safeguarding elections will remain urgent until politicians pass the right kind of reform. In January next year, the report on Electoral Campaigning Transparency will be published. Fair Vote UK will be working hard to ensure that the new government will enact its recommendations in full. Keep watching our Facebook, Twitter and this Blog for more information on how you can help to pressure decision makers to keep this high on their agenda. Together, we can make the difference that will help to re-establish trust in elections and our democracy. 

Public Inquiry Case Update

23/10/2019 Posted by News, Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “Public Inquiry Case Update”

We have a further update on our legal battle to secure a public inquiry into wrongdoing during the EU referendum campaign.

 

Last October, Fair Vote UK issued a judicial review to challenge the Government’s unwillingness to establish a public inquiry into the conduct of the 2016 EU Referendum. We wanted to ensure that vital lessons could be learned from a public inquiry and applied in future referendums and elections, including through urgent changes in the law.

 

Much has changed since then and we have, with the advice of our lawyers, made the difficult decision to withdraw our case for a judicial review. 

 

Our case for a Public Inquiry has been made more difficult by the many different Parliamentary inquiries, reviews and government consultations that have started since we first started out legal battle. These investigations and initiatives, such as the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s Electoral Law inquiry; the government’s announcement of a range of new measures to safeguard UK elections; and the government’s Online Harms White Paper could possibly generate evidence and proposals that would address some of the issues that an EU referendum public inquiry would cover. We believe that the risk is high that the Courts will side with the government’s decision to reject the request for a public inquiry whilst these processes run their course. The decision to retreat has been hard but we are sure it was the right one given how likely it was that the court would refuse permission for our judicial review.

 

We are not giving up in any way our fight to uncover the whole truth about what happened during the 2016 EU referendum. We still believe that only a comprehensive public inquiry will get to the bottom of the wrongdoings during the EU referendum campaign. It is still crucial that the truth is exposed and decision makers are compelled to make the structural changes necessary to safeguard our democracy. 

Electoral Integrity Bill Misses The Point

16/10/2019 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Electoral Integrity Bill Misses The Point”

Earlier this week we were treated to perhaps one of the oddest Queen’s Speech on record. Aside from the obvious fact that without a majority, this current government will find it difficult to pursue its policy priorities, it also previewed something referred to as the ‘Electoral Integrity Bill’. Following two trials from elections this and last year, the government intends to require people to show an approved form of photo ID in order to vote – in general elections in Britain and local elections in England.

 

It’s not quite clear why this law is needed. According to the Electoral Reform Society, “out of 44.6 million votes cast in 2017, there was one conviction resulting from the 28 allegations of in-person voter fraud – that’s 0.000063%”. The independent Electoral Commission even states that “there is no evidence of large-scale electoral fraud relating to the 2018 local elections.” It seems to be fixing a problem that doesn’t exist. This law is just political window dressing. It’s a way for the government to say that it takes the issue of safeguarding future elections seriously without having to tackle the real issues.  

 

We know what the real problems with the current system are. We know that the current regulation of funding and spending on campaigns as well as online political campaign adverts is broken. We know that our electoral law isn’t adequate for the realities of political campaigning in the age of social media. We know that our current systems of transparency, monitoring and deterrence are just not working. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Electoral Campaigning Transparency will soon publish its report and recommendations on this issue. It will be clear on exactly what needs to happen now and what will need to happen in the future so that our elections can continue to be fair and free. Here’s a sneak preview: Voter IDs isn’t included.

 

It’s great to see electoral law in the Queen’s Speech. But until it’s the right kind of reform, nothing will change.

Public Inquiry Update

07/10/2019 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Public Inquiry Update”

Last week in Manchester, the Prime Minister warned there would be “grave consequences for trust in democracy” if Brexit were not delivered. We are already past this point. To restore trust in institutions and our democracy, we need to fully understand what happened during the EU Referendum campaign. This is why Fair Vote UK is continuing to fight for a Public Inquiry into wrongdoing in the EU Referendum. 

 

Here’s a quick reminder of what a Public Inquiry could get to the bottom of:

 

1. Russian interference in the EU Referendum

This is a real and pressing concern which is simply not being investigated. 

2. The involvement of foreign-based companies in the EU Referendum campaign

There is much evidence that shady, foreign companies supplied services to the designated Leave campaign and other campaigners during the EU Referendum campaign. 

3. Issues of truthfulness during the EU Referendum campaign

In June 2016 and June 2018 the Electoral Commission recognised that the truthfulness of certain arguments used in 2016 was a concern. 1000 days have passed since the Referendum and still there has been no investigation into what lies and misinformation were spread, by whom, with what financial backing and to what effect.

4. The lack of effective sanctions and accountability for overspending in the EU Referendum campaign

In June 2018, The Electoral Commission referred to the current £20k sanction as being “a cost of doing business” for some campaigners. It is clearly not fit for purpose and needs an urgent review. 

5. The scale of campaign donations in the EU Referendum

Donations of the scale of Arron Banks’s alleged £8.4 million to the Leave campaign or the £435,000 made to the DUP by the Constitutional Research Council are contrary to British values and our democracy.

6. The source of funds used by certain campaigners in the EU Referendum

Two recent DCMS reports noted that it was still unclear where some of the money for donations to the Leave Campaign have come from.

7. The anomalous rules relating to Northern Ireland have created gaps that may have been exploited during the EU Referendum campaign

Open Democracy has revealed that the DUP took out a full page advert in the Metro – which does not circulate in Northern Ireland – advocating leave and that the advert was paid for by Richard Cook of the Scottish-based Constitutional Research Council. This suggests coordination between the two entities.

8. Psychographic targeting in political campaigns and the lack of oversight of these new methods of political campaigning

Sophisticated new methods were used to target voters in the EU Referendum campaign, many of which have since been shown to be unethical and contrary to data protection legislation. The Information Commissioner has looked into the extent that profiling and targeting was in breach of data protection rights and taken action. However, there is still much we don’t know.

 

The Permission Hearing for the Public Inquiry will be later this month, on the 24th October. At the hearing, our lawyers will explain why the written refusal of permission back in January was wrong, and will make the case for permission to be granted so we can argue our case at a full hearing.

 

This has taken on a new urgency. With a probable upcoming election and possible new referendum, it’s important that all the lessons from the 2016 are learned. This way we can ensure that future elections are fought fairly.

Mississippi Case Update: Carson Law Group Instructed

01/10/2019 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Mississippi Case Update: Carson Law Group Instructed”

With the seemingly constant stream of political crises, it can be difficult to get a handle on what’s going on in our democracy. Despite the tumult, we at Fair Vote UK remain focused on the impact of big data on elections. Misuse of new technologies will continue to harm the legitimacy of elections and trust in the democratic process if we don’t act now. This has taken us to Mississippi to pursue a case to prevent UK citizens’ data from being offshored (for more on this see here https://fairvote.uk/press-release-fair-vote-uk-launches-crowdfunder-to-fight-cambridge-analytica-related-data-case-against-arron-banks/).

 

Last month we hit our initial target of £10k and now are able to instruct the Carson Law Group in Mississippi to pursue further legal action against Arron Banks and his companies. This week, Fair Vote UK will restart its work with Carson Law Group to get a preservation order to secure voter data that is allegedly held in Mississippi by Eldon Insurance and/or Big Data Dolphins. The Carson Law Group has a rich history in working with clients in all areas of intellectual property law, including privacy.

 

This case could have important consequences for democracy. If this preservation order is obtained, it could set a precedent and open the door to other cases where individuals can seek to discover and repatriate illegally held data. Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of any democracy. In this febrile political environment it is particularly important that the public can trust that no campaign is cheating.

We are just at the beginning of this journey and will continue to need your support. We now have a stretch target of £25k, which will cover the legal fees as the case unfolds. Please share, where you can, this crowdjustice link https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/data-arronbanks/ so that we can get the word out and establish more support.

Health Check: Checks & Balances are Fighting Fit

26/09/2019 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Health Check: Checks & Balances are Fighting Fit”

Democracies on both sides of the pond have been stretched to new limits in the years since 2016. This latest week has been a particularly acute stress test. But it turns out that the system of checks and balances is in rude health. On Tuesday 24th September, the UK Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling that the Prime Minister’s suspension of Parliament was indeed illegal. Later that day in the US, Democrats have launched an inquiry into impeachment proceedings against President Trump. This is following reports that President Trump had pressured the Ukrainian President to investigate the son of the frontrunner in the Democratic primary, Joe Biden. In both cases fundamental pillars of democracies are acting to check the abuse of executive power: in the UK, the judiciary and the US, the legislature.

No matter how we might feel about the proceedings in either case, they remain fundamental to our democracy. Using vitriolic language about these systems will put us all at risk, no matter how we might identify politically. That’s why responses to the past events have caused such outrage. Talk of “constitutional coups” and “hoaxes” is deeply worrying. The Executive’s penchant to undermine the judiciary or legislature through language and actions will not end well.

Fair Vote UK is waging its own battle to hold the powerful to account. With your support, we’ve raised nearly £12k for legal fees for our new case in Mississippi. This case will determine if UK citizens’ data was off-shored by Arron Banks’s companies to be used without people’s consent. To donate, please go to https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/data-arronbanks/ or share the link on Facebook or Twitter to raise support. Checks on power are fundamental to our democracy. That might be at the highest court in the land or in Congress, or it might even be in a court in Mississippi. We’ll also have an update for you soon about our judicial review against the government for failing to have a public inquiry into the EU referendum.

Rule Breaking Still Ruling the Roost?

18/09/2019 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Rule Breaking Still Ruling the Roost?”

The rule of law is essential for any democracy: it’s Politics 101. We now know what impact rule breaking has: in referendums and elections. But it’s not like rule breaking has taken a back seat since 2016; it’s still a problem we face today in democracies across the world. 

 

That’s why we at Fair Vote UK are keenly watching the developments in the UK justice system. Today, the UK Supreme Court will resume its hearing into whether Boris Johnson acted lawfully in suspending Parliament. Two appeals are at play: one from Boris Johnson’s government contesting the recent ruling in the Scottish Courts and the other from campaigner Gina Miller. If the Supreme Court upholds the Scottish Court’s ruling and sides with Gina Miller’s appeal, it will be another proven example of the government’s current fashion for tearing up the rules and norms that have kept democracies strong for centuries. Where will it end if we don’t put a stop to this?

 

Across the pond, Fair Vote UK is fighting its own battle against rule breaking. Last year, a former senior Cambridge Analytica employee told MPs that she believed Cambridge Analytica and Leave.EU took data from UKIP and combined it with user data from a series of US and UK-based companies to manipulate the outcome of the Brexit referendum. Fair Vote UK pursued a preservation order in Mississippi over this data so that the companies in question could not destroy or tamper with it. Though unsuccessful in the first attempt, we believe we have now met the court’s criteria and refiled a motion. 

 

In both cases, powerful players are trying to break the rules to get what they want. Why should government stifle debate because they can’t control it? Why should powerful companies, and their wealthy backers, have more of a say? 

You can help with our case in Mississippi. We have set up a crowdfunder to pay for legal fees for the court case. To support our crowdfunder got to: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/data-arronbanks/ If you can’t give (or already have done) then please share the link and get the word out. This is important. This is about the right of the people to chart their own democratic destinies free from manipulation.

Rule Breaking Still Ruling the Roost?

18/09/2019 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Rule Breaking Still Ruling the Roost?”

The rule of law is essential for any democracy: it’s Politics 101. We now know what impact rule breaking has: in referendums and elections. But it’s not like rule breaking has taken a back seat since 2016; it’s still a problem we face today in democracies across the world. 

 

That’s why we at Fair Vote UK are keenly watching the developments in the UK justice system. Today, the UK Supreme Court will resume its hearing into whether Boris Johnson acted lawfully in suspending Parliament. Two appeals are at play: one from Boris Johnson’s government contesting the recent ruling in the Scottish Courts and the other from campaigner Gina Miller. If the Court upholds the Scottish Court’s ruling and sides with Gina Miller’s appeal, it will be another proven example of the government’s current fashion for tearing up the rules and norms that have kept democracies strong for centuries. Where will it end if we don’t put a stop to this?

 

Across the pond, Fair Vote UK is fighting its own battle against rule breaking. Last year, a former senior Cambridge Analytica employee told MPs that she believed Cambridge Analytica and Leave.EU took data from UKIP and combined it with user data from a series of US and UK-based companies to manipulate the outcome of the Brexit referendum. Fair Vote UK pursued a preservation order in Mississippi over this data so that the companies in question could not destroy or tamper with it. Though unsuccessful in the first attempt, we believe we have now met the court’s criteria and refiled a motion. 

 

In both cases, powerful players are trying to break the rules to get what they want. Why should government stifle debate because they can’t control it? Why should powerful companies, and their wealthy backers, have more of a say? 

 

You can help with our case in Mississippi. We have set up a crowdfunder to pay for legal fees for the court case. To support our crowdfunder go to: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/data-arronbanks/ If you can’t give (or already have done) then please share the link and get the word out. This is important. This is about the right of the people to chart their own democratic destinies free from manipulation and that means their data needs to be protected.

Press Release: Fair Vote UK launches crowdfunder to fight Cambridge Analytica-related data case against Arron Banks

06/09/2019 Posted by News, Press Releases 0 thoughts on “Press Release: Fair Vote UK launches crowdfunder to fight Cambridge Analytica-related data case against Arron Banks”

Fair Vote UK launches crowdfunder to fight Cambridge Analytica-related data case against Arron Banks

 

Fair Vote UK has today launched a crowdfunder in order to pursue further legal action against Arron Banks and his companies to determine whether UK citizens’ data was off-shored to be used without their consent. 

 

Last year Brittany Kaiser, former Cambridge Analytica employee, said while giving testimony to the DCMS select committee that Eldon Insurance and Big Data Dolphins were storing and using British citizen’s data in Mississippi. This was further backed up by research done by Dr. Emma Briant, who brought forward audio recordings of Andy Wigmore (Director of Communications for Leave.EU) where Mr. Wigmore suggests UK citizens’ data was illegally stored in Mississippi.

 

In response to this revelation, Fair Vote UK immediately secured 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. They were – at the time – granted a temporary injunction. Fair Vote UK went to Mississippi to testify in the hope of being granted a permanent injunction.

 

The Information Commissioner’s Office wrote a letter strongly supporting Fair Vote UK’s pursuit of this data, and stated its desire to investigate the data in question:

 

“Preservation and access to this data is of significant importance to the ICO’s current investigation. For this reason, and in light of potential uncertainty as to whether the data will remain preserved beyond the hearing on 5 June 2018, the ICO lends its support to Fair Vote Project’s claim for permanent injunctive relief.”

 

Fair Vote UK was unsuccessful in their first attempt, with the court noting certain criteria it would like the entity to meet. Fair Vote UK has now met – to our knowledge – that criteria and thus refiled their motion.

 

Arron Banks and his group of companies have not yet admitted offshoring of UK citizens’ data despite officers being on tape saying they did in fact offshore data, which is further evidenced by emails obtained during the first hearing.

 

Fair Vote UK Director Kyle Taylor said: “We don’t want to stop our pursuit. If this injunction is obtained, it could set a precedent and open the door to other cases where individuals can seek to discover and repatriate illegally held data – an issue we now know is a global one.

 

“While the UK agonises over its political future, calls to defend our democracy have missed the fact our democracy hasn’t been up to the job for quite some time. Data and democracy are now intimately linked. We need now to ask for full democratic accountability. To get there we need to hold any individual or organisation who has abused the weaknesses in our data-driven democratic processes to account.”

 

“This is not about Brexit and for us never has been, this is about the right of the people to chart their own democratic destinies free from manipulation and that means their data needs to be protected.”

 

About the need for the crowdfunding, Taylor added: “While we have been fortunate to have had pro-bono legal support and some early donors, to continue this lawsuit we need to crowdfund for legal fees and associated costs. It is likely we will end up back in Court. We are up against a very well-funded opposition. Arron Banks’ group of companies chose independently to fight our efforts to obtain information and documents, which raises some very serious questions. We believe strongly that this case needs to be seen through, and we’re grateful for any support.”

 

ENDS

For press enquiries please contact sara@fairvote.uk or call 07554 665 940

Notes

If you use any part of Kyle Taylor’s quotation please include a link to the crowdfunder.

Link to crowdfunder: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/data-arronbanks/

Bank Holiday Surprise: The Assault on British Democracy Continues

29/08/2019 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Bank Holiday Surprise: The Assault on British Democracy Continues”

The UK is left reeling from the latest assault on its democracy. On 28 August, Prime Minister Boris Johnson received assent from the Queen to prorogue Parliament. If the plans go ahead, Parliament will now be suspended for five weeks ahead of 31 October, the day the UK is due to leave the EU. Boris Johnson has only spent one day under parliamentary scrutiny, and if the prorogation goes ahead, will only face it for one week. This move severely restricts MP’s room to act to stop a no-deal Brexit.

This coup flies in the face of democratic norms and is part of a wider trend. Since the EU Referendum campaign of 2016, certain political leaders have consistently demonstrated that they have a disregard for our democracy. Is a Brexit-at-all-costs worth breaking our democracy for? When and where will this end?

APPG 6th Session Illuminates Anti-Democratic Aspects of Digital Campaigning

23/07/2019 Posted by APPG, News 0 thoughts on “APPG 6th Session Illuminates Anti-Democratic Aspects of Digital Campaigning”

On Monday the 23rd of July, the sixth APPG session facilitated a lively discussion, mainly focused on digital campaigning, between representatives of Demos and Open Rights Group. Many recurring themes from past sessions were revisited, including curbing data misuse and campaign finance, but Monday’s team introduced some new interpretations and suggestions for potential solutions. Highlights and full audio are available below.

Polly Mackenzie of Demos discussed the, in her view, problematic concept of what she calls “hyper-personalization.” She believes that the extent to which campaigners target individuals leads to a divergence in the overall message of the political party; this is inherently undemocratic as democracy is about “majority rule and not consumer choice.” She gave the example of Brexit, discussing how “3 different Brexits were offered to 3 different voter groups.” She went on to advocate for the creation of an “agile”  regulator, which could keep up with new tactics and have the teeth to actually solve these problems.

Jim Killock of Open Rights Group began his time by questioning the current legality of facebook’s “profiling engine,” which citizens do not consent to be a part of. Conversely, facebook is advertised and presented as a social network, which in the minds of most does not involve using your data to target you for ads and political campaigns. The GDPR lays out consent as a prerequisite to targeted advertising, and Jim believes facebook does not meet that requirement. As others have discussed, he suggested the idea of advanced imprints that tell you “this ad was paid for by x, and you are seeing it because you are y.” He also agreed with Polly about a need for more advanced regulatory agencies that can stay ahead of these problems and take preventative action.

Pascal Crowe of Open Rights Group dove into the problem of payment anonymity. He discussed the existence of facebook groups that can bypass facebook moderators and manage to politically advertise a message to consumers without being tied to a political party’s cash flow. Pascal recommended that the private sector be required to register ads with the electoral commission, along with the need for advanced digital imprints. He also encouraged the ICO and EC to conduct “joint data audits” which would include assigning a monetary value to the data sets held by political advertisers (and counting it towards campaign spend limits), ethically and legally auditing the source of the data, and reserve the right to conduct random “drug tests” to check for illegal activity.

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.”

10 reasons why a public inquiry is the only way forward

25/01/2019 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “10 reasons why a public inquiry is the only way forward”

Why only an inquiry will do

We urgently need to raise £35,000 to take the case for a public inquiry into the referendum campaign to the next stage – an oral permission hearing at which our lawyers make the case for permission to proceed direct to a judge and explain why the written refusal of permission was wrong.

Overnight we’ve raised £7500 in response to our urgent appeal, which is fantastic. Thank you to everyone who’s donated so far. Over the weekend we very much hope we can raise the remaining £30,000 needed to move forward at this critical stage.

Please do consider supporting us now, even if you have in the past. We believe the stakes in our case are too important to let it stall.

It’s worth keeping in mind that there are 10 powerful reasons why only a public inquiry can get to the bottom of wrongdoing in the EU Referendum and help change the law so it will never happen again:

  1. Only an inquiry could reach comprehensive, robust, independent, evidence-based conclusions about what really happened in the EU Referendum – including involvement of individuals, companies and donors abroad and exploitation of loopholes in electoral law – to ensure the truth is known, lessons are learned for the future, and public confidence is restored.
  2. Only an inquiry would allow the UK to take the lead on investigating issues of Russian interference in the EU Referendum (avoiding the lead investigation by default being Robert Mueller’s examination of the role of Russian influence in the US elections). There is no Police, National Crime Agency or any other form of investigation happening at present that can compel Russia to publicly explain its actions. The need for accountability of this kind was why an inquiry had to be ordered by Teresa May herself into Alexander Litvinenko’s killing. That happened because Marina Litvinenko won a judicial review challenging Mrs May’s refusal to establish one.
  3. Only an inquiry would be in a position make factual findings on evidence other bodies – such as the Electoral Commission and Information Commissioner – have been unable to secure because of the limits on their jurisdiction. An inquiry would allow for a form of accountability for wrongs that are not currently crimes or regulatory offences (or which may be, but cannot practically be prosecuted).
  4. Inquiries can require witness attendance, cross-examination and the production of documents. The unwillingness of individuals – like Dominic Cummings – and organisations – like Facebook- to co-operate with investigations to date can be overcome using these special investigatory powers which other bodies lack.
  5. Only an inquiry will be able to do these things publicly. There would be clear transparency benefits. As well as having a narrow focus on commission of offences, Police, National Crime Agency and Electoral investigations are inevitably be conducted in private. By contrast, an inquiry allows core participants to engage in the Inquiry and, where permitted by the Chair, to cross-examine witnesses in public and to examine documents, and for the media to report fully on the steps taken in the investigation.
  6. The process of the inquiry and action on its recommendations for changes in the law could help address the threat to democracy and restore trust and confidence in the machinery needed to guard against it, especially because of its functional independence.
  7. That functional independence could address concerns about the role of senior public figures. For instance, a number of senior politicians, including those who sat on the Vote Leave Board and/or the Vote Leave Campaign Committee. To date, only Mr Cummings has been asked about his role and he flatly refused to be questioned about it publicly (by the DCMS Committee). Only an inquiry will be able to put questions to them and require answers.
  8. An inquiry would not be starting from scratch. It would draw on the expertise of the Electoral Commissioner and Information Commissioner  and build on the evidence gathering those bodies have undertaken so far along with that of the DCMS Committee.
  9. An inquiry would be able to draw lessons from events and prevent events from re-occurring by making recommendations, including for law reform. The recommendations already made by the Electoral Commission, Information Commissioner  and DCMS Committee could be considered and endorsed if appropriate, but the main purpose of the inquiry would be to make evidence-based recommendations based on its own investigation, not to duplicate the work of others.
  10. Inquiries are powerful things. Bringing the truth to light publicly can facilitate catharsis and assist in improving and rebuilding public confidence in the integrity of democratic processes and healing divisions (including those arising from one country having interfered in the domestic affairs and democratic processed of another country). An inquiry would allow an acknowledgement of what went wrong and ensure that the record is set straight. And if information about the commission of crimes came to light as a result of an inquiry, this could be separately dealt with by the police prosecutors – as happened after the phone hacking inquiry.

Only an inquiry will do!

Where we are: our case for a public inquiry forges ahead

22/12/2018 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Where we are: our case for a public inquiry forges ahead”

An end-of-year note from our Director, Kyle Taylor

I wanted to update you on our legal challenge to the Prime Minister’s refusal to hold a public inquiry into irregular and unlawful conduct during the EU referendum.

Our judicial review application has been submitted and a judge will soon be considering whether to grant permission for our case to go to the next stage: a full judicial review hearing where we will get to set out our case in full.

Our legal team, including leading public law barrister, Michael Fordham QC has set out a compelling case as to why it is unlawful for the Prime Minister’s not to properly consider holding a public inquiry. The Prime Minister’s approach so far has been to evade our reasonable questions and raise procedural arguments to avoid dealing with the substance of our case.  We are confident the Court will see the force in our arguments and will allow our case to proceed so that these issues, which are of such importance to us all, can be properly argued in Court.

The Government is trying to avoid public scrutiny of the EU referendum campaign. Demand an inquiry with us now.

As the Government forges on with attempting to secure a Brexit deal amongst ever increasing gridlock and vitriol in Parliament, more voices are questioning how our democratic processes can be trusted until there is a proper investigation into the implications of the cheating and overspending which so compromised the EU Referendum.

We know that an inquiry now cannot change the referendum result but we need to show that cheating is not welcome in our democracy.  We want an inquiry to properly and publicly consider what went wrong, to identify lessons for the future and to hold those responsible to account.  Without this, what is to stop others from similarly corrupting our democratic process in the future?

Please share our call for a public inquiry into the EU referendum.

Our legal arguments are sound and we have good prospects of taking our case to the next stage.  We need you to share our case with everyone you know and keep up the fight to demand justice and fairness in our democratic processes.

More to come.

Kyle

Kyle Taylor

Director, Fair Vote UK

PS – Please share our CrowdJustice page on Facebook and twitter.

Facebook moves to make UK political ads ‘transparent’

17/10/2018 Posted by News, Press Releases 0 thoughts on “Facebook moves to make UK political ads ‘transparent’”

From today, Facebook will be rolling out a tool that will attempt to make political adverts transparent.

Following revelations brought forward by Chris Wylie, Cambridge Analytica whistleblower and Brexit whistleblower, Shahmir Sanni, Facebook has slowly introduced measures to prevent fake news and foreign intervention into elections.

Kyle Taylor, Director of Fair Vote UK, said: “Facebook didn’t really want to introduce transparency, they were well aware of these issues for quite some time. It’s a shame that the Europe has suffered three democratic processes, that we know of, to have been affected by the lack of transparency in political advertising – the Brexit referendum, the referendum on the 8th Amendment in Ireland and our recent General Election. While this is a start, self-regulation is not enough to ensure proper behaviour. This needs to be part of electoral law with adequate deterrents to guarantee these giant corporations don’t hijack our democracy again.”

Hillary Clinton joins Damian Collins and Tom Watson in calling for the public inquiry into the EU Referendum that Fair Vote UK is fighting to make a reality

09/10/2018 Posted by News, Press Releases 0 thoughts on “Hillary Clinton joins Damian Collins and Tom Watson in calling for the public inquiry into the EU Referendum that Fair Vote UK is fighting to make a reality”

Hillary Clinton has joined Damian Collins MP and Tom Watson MP in calling for an inquiry into misconduct during the Brexit referendum, saying that democracy is in crisis and that Conservative party is failing democracy.

Fair Vote UK are pursuing a judicial review claim for a public inquiry into Brexit because of rampant irregularities including illegal activity, Russian interference and data hacking.

Fair Vote UK and Bindmans LLP have sent a pre-action letter to the government raising concerns over the decision not to hold a full public inquiry, which has attracted support from Labour’s Deputy Leader Tom Watson MP and chair of the DCMS committee Conservative MP Damian Collins

So far Fair Vote UK has raised over £30,000 to pursue the judicial review. Fair Vote UK are appealing for donations for the legal challenge through the Crowd Justice website. 100% of funds raised goes directly to the legal costs.

Kyle Taylor, Director of Fair Vote UK, said: “Hillary Clinton has joined an ever increasing chorus of voices calling for an urgent inquiry into what on earth happened during the Brexit referendum. Clinton rightly sees the failure of our Government to conduct an investigation into what happened as a total abdication of their responsibility as protectors of and believers in democracy. ”

Shahmir Sanni, the Brexit whistleblower, said: “It is astounding that the Government has thus far refused to carry out a full public inquiry into what happened during the Brexit referendum, if it hadn’t been for the evidence I brought forward we might not even know that Vote Leave broke electoral law in the pursuit of their goals. The suggestion that an inquiry is an attempt to undermine Brexit is ridiculous and to be honest, an irrelevant accusation. It is about one thing and one thing only, democracy. I urge the people of the UK who care about protecting their rights as citizens to determine the future of their country to back Fair Vote’s judicial review.”

Fair Vote UK launches Judicial Review to challenge May’s government over refusal to hold a public inquiry into the Brexit referendum

30/09/2018 Posted by News, Press Releases 0 thoughts on “Fair Vote UK launches Judicial Review to challenge May’s government over refusal to hold a public inquiry into the Brexit referendum”
On Monday, Fair Vote UK and Bindmans LLP sent a letter to the government to challenge Theresa May’s decision not to hold a public inquiry into the referendum. Over the weekend, Fair Vote received endorsements from a cross-party coalition of MPs who are urging the Prime Minister to hold a public inquiry and protect our democracy. You can read these endorsements in our press release below.

Fair Vote UK and Bindmans LLP have been crowdfunding for a judicial review to challenge the government’s refusal to hold an inquiry into illegal activity during the Brexit referendum.

The government rejected earlier calls for an inquiry claiming that it was an attempt to subvert or disrupt ongoing negotiations with the EU. Fair Vote UK and Bindmans LLP called this irrational as an inquiry would have no bearing on negotiations or the outcome. “By not holding an inquiry the UK makes it a certainty that future elections will be tainted in the same way.” said Kyle Taylor, Fair Vote UK.

Fair Vote UK and Bindmans LLP have sent a pre-action letter to the government raising concerns over the decision not to hold a full public inquiry, which has attracted support from Labour’s Deputy Leader Tom Watson MP and chair of the DCMS committee Conservative MP Damian Collins.

So far Fair Vote UK has raised over £30,000 to pursue the judicial review but needs an additional £70,000 to take the legal action to the next stage.

Fair Vote UK are appealing for donations for the legal challenge through the Crowd Justice website.

Tom Watson MP, Deputy Leader, Labour Party, said: “Mueller has shown that we need to follow the money – and the lies – to get to the truth about how votes are unfairly won. Given what we know about law-breaking, Russian involvement and massive data abuse issues, it is essential that we have a full public inquiry into what happened in the referendum.  We need to know what went wrong so we can fix it and safeguard our democracy. Fair Vote’s judicial review is timely and important and I hope it will force a Government rethink.”

Shahmir Sanni, the Brexit whistleblower, said: “It is astounding that the Government has thus far refused to carry out a full public inquiry into what happened during the Brexit referendum, if it hadn’t been for the evidence I brought forward we might not even know that Vote Leave broke electoral law in the pursuit of their goals. The suggestion that an inquiry is an attempt to undermine Brexit is ridiculous and to be honest, an irrelevant accusation. It is about one thing and one thing only, democracy. I urge the people of the UK who care about protecting their rights as citizens to determine the future of their country to back Fair Vote’s judicial review.”

Alistair Carmichael MP, Liberal Democrats, said: “It’s very worrying that Theresa May has refused to conduct a full public inquiry into what we know was illegal activity during the referendum, we must protect the sanctity of our democracy and make sure this doesn’t happen again. I back Fair Vote’s call for a public inquiry and hope we finally get the answers we as citizens need.”

Catherine West MP, Labour, said: “I strongly support this call for a Public Inquiry into irregularities in the Vote Leave Campaign. We need to be sure that our democratic processes are fair and not subject to dodgy donations or authoritarian foreign governments who seek to influence and undermine domestic policy. With new technology rapidly changing election practice, it is crucial that the Electoral Commission is sufficiently robust to manage elections and provides full confidence that our democracy is not being undermined.”

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, Labour, said: “I fully support Fair Vote’s call for a public inquiry into the irregularities in the EU Referendum and their demand for a Judicial Review into the Prime Minister’s refusal to set up such an inquiry. The irregularities and outside interference should result in the Referendum being declared null and void. I will be raising this in the House of Lords on 22nd. October.”

Kyle Taylor, Director of Fair Vote UK, said: “The UK urgently needs its own Mueller investigation. The Government’s decision not to hold a full public inquiry into the Brexit referendum is unlawful and we are challenging it. We know that Vote Leave cheated and overspent by a considerable amount. Not to mention opaque donors, suspicions of Russian interference and data companies using questionable tactics. All this has led to such significant public concern that only a Public Inquiry headed by a judge with formal powers to compel witnesses can find out what truly happened.”

ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS

Fair Vote UK  was set up to tackle the issue of data misuse, voter manipulation and lack of transparency in elections head-on. We are committed to ensuring the institutions that protect our democratic processes are fit for purpose in a digital age.

Fair Vote UK took the decision to publish the whistleblower evidence for everyone to see. The evidence we have so far can be seen on our website, because the public deserve to know the truth about what’s happening in our democracy.

Electoral Commission may have made a mistake but Vote Leave still broke the law

14/09/2018 Posted by News, Press Releases 0 thoughts on “Electoral Commission may have made a mistake but Vote Leave still broke the law”

The High Court has ruled that the Electoral Commission (EC) misunderstood the law regarding donations. Vote Leave in light of this ruling now claim they only gave the donation because the EC said it was permissible in an email correspondence, wilfully  ignoring the clear stipulation in the same email that coordination would make any donation unlawful. Coordination is exactly what the EC found Vote Leave and BeLeave guilty of.

Kyle Taylor, Director of Fair Vote UK, said “We’ve said from the very beginning of this whole sorry affair that the Electoral Commission needs more powers and deep reform and we welcome Matthew Elliott’s consensus on this matter.

The key thing to remember here is that this ruling by the High Court does not in any way invalidate the ruling the EC reached, the EC did not at any point advise Vote Leave that they could break Common Plan Expenditure rules, meaning Vote Leave still broke the law. This crucial fact seems to be missing in the reactions to the High Court ruling.

The EC clearly states on their website following their investigation that they found overwhelming evidence of a common plan. In the emails from the EC that Matthew Elliott has published on Brexit Central it is clear that any donation would be considered unlawful if made under a common plan.

The EC’s misleading advice around spending laws indicates we must have comprehensive reform to make our laws clearer and more democratic but this ruling does not change the simple fact that Vote Leave and BeLeave engaged in illegal campaign coordination. As much as Matthew Elliott tries to obfuscate the truth, we cannot ignore that Vote Leave and BeLeave are responsible for breaking the law.

The Electoral Commission is the most important election regulator in this country. We must ensure that it is operating properly and that our laws reflect the realities of modern campaigning. The fact that yet more is coming to light regarding errors made in the Brexit referendum should give decision-makers pause for thought.

Matthew Elliott and other Brexiteers are using this ruling to once again deny responsibility for their own crimes. They have spent the past few months denigrating one of the fundamental institutions of our democracy, the Electoral Commission and are now being purposefully deceptive to cast even more doubt on our democratic process.

While Vote Leave will claim they were given misleading advice and therefore cannot be held accountable, we mustn’t forget that ignorance of the law is not and has never been a get out jail free card.”

NOTES TO EDITORS

https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/i-am-a/journalist/electoral-commission-media-centre/news-releases-donations/vote-leave-fined-and-referred-to-the-police-for-breaking-electoral-law

Fair Vote UK’s proposed Electoral Commission reforms: https://dev-ltbc.pantheonsite.io/home/electoral-reform/

Fair Vote UK launch class-action suit against Facebook

30/07/2018 Posted by News, Press Releases 0 thoughts on “Fair Vote UK launch class-action suit against Facebook”

Fair Vote UK launch class-action suit against Facebook with Bindmans LLP in wake of DCMS committee’s interim report on “fake news.”

In early July the ICO reported that Facebook had violated the Data Protection Act. Today, in the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee’s interim report on disinformation and “fake news” – leaked by Dominic Cummings of Vote Leave – the chair Damian Collins MP made it clear that Facebook had made it incredibly easy for user data to be harvested without their consent. It is clear something must be done.

In an effort to seek remedy for those whose personal and private information was taken without their consent, Kyle Taylor, Director of Fair Vote UK and victim of these activities, is – with Bindmans LLP – preparing a class-action lawsuit against Facebook.

Tamsin Allen of Bindmans LLP, said ‘We agree with Damian Collins MP that “data crimes are real crimes, with real victims”.  Accordingly, this week, we are taking the first formal steps in proceedings against Facebook for breaches on a vast scale of the agreement between the company and its users, and breaches of UK personal data rules.  Whilst Facebook has now informed those affected, the lack of protection provided by the company over the victim’s data has become woefully apparent during the Committee’s investigation’.

Kyle Taylor, Director of Fair Vote UK and one of the Claimants in the Facebook claim said ‘It is now abundantly clear the status quo with regard to how we hold internet giants to account does not work. The solution is urgent reform to properly regulate and oversee companies like Facebook. Because the breaches took place before the GDPR came into effect, the fines are simply not great enough to deter this behaviour. As such, we are hoping as many of the nearly 1.1 million people who had their data used without their consent will join our claim to hit Facebook where it counts – their bottom line.”

Any individual whose data was taken without their consent could be eligible to join the claim. Possible victims can visit Fair Vote UK’s site at https://our.fairvote.uk/page/s/FB-case and check whether their data was taken then submit their details to join. There are an estimated 1.1 million people in the UK who could be eligible.

 

ENDS

Now’s the time for a public inquiry into Brexit cheating

23/07/2018 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Now’s the time for a public inquiry into Brexit cheating”

This weekend, we launched our crowdfunder to call for a full public inquiry into the EU referendum and the response has been overwhelming.

As you know, this case matters because our democracy is being attacked and we can’t allow these cheaters and law-breakers to get away with it.

With your support we’ve made good progress towards our goal of £50,000. But we still have a way to go.

 

Will you help give us a big push to spread the word?

 

If you haven’t donated yet, please do so here. Every little bit helps.

If you have donated please can you share on social media or emails to your friends and family. Here is the link: https:/www.crowdjustice.com/ case/eu-referendum-result/

Electoral Commission finds Vote Leave broke the law, Fair Vote UK calls for immediate action.

17/07/2018 Posted by News, Press Releases 0 thoughts on “Electoral Commission finds Vote Leave broke the law, Fair Vote UK calls for immediate action.”

In light of the Electoral Commission’s report on Vote Leave, BeLeave and Veterans for Britain, confirming Shahmir Sanni’s whistleblower evidence of overspend and illegal campaign coordination, it is more clear than ever that the EU referendum was won by cheating and law-breaking. We must have a fair vote and Parliament must act now to ensure our future elections are not marred by cheating and corruption.

Kyle Taylor, Director of Fair Vote UK said: “The Electoral Commission has uncovered far more law-breaking than even we had believed occurred. The Government needs to take urgent action to deal with the fact the referendum is now illegitimate. We need to wake up and start fighting for our democracy.

These problems will not solve themselves. Until there are adequate deterrents against cheating, bad actors will continue to take advantage of our democracy and break the law. This is unacceptable. Elections and referenda have serious consequences and cheating in these campaigns must be punished.

When the Electoral Commission suspects wrongdoing in elections, these allegations should be promptly and thoroughly investigated by the police. The cap on fines should be lifted. Currently, fines given by the Electoral Commission are small enough that they are just the cost of doing business. We must build a system that holds people accountable for their actions.

Parliament must act immediately to implement common sense electoral reforms. The Electoral Commission found that Vote Leave, BeLeave, and Veterans for Britain misreported their campaign spending. Campaigns should be reporting their spending online, as MPs do with the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. In referenda, the designated campaign should no longer be allowed to donate money to other groups. Perhaps most importantly, we should regulate paid political digital advertising in the election period with a Digital Bill of Rights for Democracy.”

We must have laws which reflect our current realities. The Electoral Commission’s report makes clear that our current system is not fit to purpose. With such monumental decisions such as Brexit at stake, we cannot stand by and allow our democratic processes to be denigrated and our votes cheated. Parliament must act and we must have fair votes for all.”

British citizens are preparing a damages claim against Facebook

11/07/2018 Posted by News, Press Releases 0 thoughts on “British citizens are preparing a damages claim against Facebook”

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has today published a scathing report into how British Citizens’ data and privacy has been violated.

 

Kyle Taylor, Director of Fair Vote UK, said “Under new GDPR laws, the ICO could fine Facebook for £479 million. Unfortunately, because they had to follow old data protection laws, they were only able to fine them the maximum of £500,000. This is unacceptable. Facebook must be held accountable for their violations of British citizens’ data. Fair Vote UK is preparing a class action claim against Facebook, which already has 84 claimants. All 1.1 million British citizens impacted by the Cambridge Analytica data breach can join the claim. People can check if they were impacted and join the claim on our website.

 

When it comes down to our democracy we should not be negotiating with private companies. Until now, Facebook has been allowed to make their own rules. It is time for Parliament to fulfil their legislative duties and regulate data barons like Facebook.”

 

With regard to the ICO’s call for a pause of digital political ads: “The ICO has called for an ‘ethical pause’ on digital advertising until regulation is brought in that will robustly protect fairness in our democratic processes. This is exactly what Fair Vote UK has been calling for since whistleblowers revealed damning evidence about how UK democracy was manipulated using voter microtargeting and misuse and abuse of data. It is shocking that even the ICO cannot implement the recommendations it sees fit but instead relies on political will that seems to be sadly lacking in order to restore trust in democratic processes.”

 

And on SCL Group, Cambridge Analytica and AIQ: “Furthermore, criminal proceedings for SCL Group mean those who committed these offenses may now be brought to justice. Similarly, a notice to Aggregate IQ to stop processing British citizens’ data raises further concern that such data may still be held overseas. While this is a start, there is still more to be done to hold these companies to account.

 

The Information Commissioner herself said that citizens have little idea of what is happening behind the scenes about how the average voters’ data is being used and also how personal data may have impacted the outcome of the Brexit referendum in ways that broke electoral law. These issues are of great concern and need to be dealt with urgently – especially in light of recent resignations and cabinet unrest – before we consider having another poll of any sort – whether it is another referendum or a general election.”

Letter to the Prime Minister

05/07/2018 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Letter to the Prime Minister”

According to Vote Leave, Electoral Commission set to rule that they broke electoral law

04/07/2018 Posted by News, Press Releases 0 thoughts on “According to Vote Leave, Electoral Commission set to rule that they broke electoral law”

Electoral Commission is set to say Vote Leave cheated in the Brexit referendum and broke electoral law, according to Vote Leave themselves.

Christopher Wylie said: ‘If sanctions are issued against Vote Leave or their affiliates, this means the law was broken. This means that cheating occurred in the referendum. The law demands our elections are free and fair. Electoral crimes are real crimes. In any other arena, if players are caught cheating, they get disqualified. For something as important as an irrevocable change to Britain’s constitutional law, how can we tolerate a vote tainted with cheating?’

Shahmir Sanni said: ‘If this is true, the evidence that I brought forward in March has been confirmed. Vote Leave used BeLeave to break electoral law. This means criminal offences occurred and it is imperative that we take this seriously. We must ask why cabinet ministers denied anything was wrong and why Number 10 sought to discredit the evidence that was brought forward. We must question why we are putting the law second and party politics first. I’m waiting for the report, but just for clarity, I told you so.’

Kyle Taylor, Director of The Fair Vote Project, said: ‘This looks like an attempt to intimidate the EC before it has reached its final decision.

They say they’ll challenge the findings in court – fine. When the court agrees with the EC will they then admit they broke the law and accept their punishment?

Facts are facts. Whether they like it or not the fact is they cheated. Just because you don’t like the fact doesn’t make it any less true. I don’t like that only eating ice cream and only drinking beer is unhealthy. That doesn’t make it any less true. The fact is, they cheated.

This is an important moment that should lead to change. We believe Parliament should transfer the Electoral Commission’s investigative and prosecutorial powers to the police. ​We believe the Electoral Commission works best as a regulator and policy body. When there are grounds to suspect electoral offences have been committed, it should refer wrongdoing to the police with a recommendation that it is investigated promptly by either specialist fraud officers or specialist electoral offence officers’

Electoral Commission urges Parliament to act

26/06/2018 Posted by News, Press Releases 0 thoughts on “Electoral Commission urges Parliament to act”

Electoral Commission agree that our democracy is under threat, ask for urgent reform

For the last four months The Fair Vote Project have been campaigning for necessary Electoral Commission (EC) reform to protect our democracy after whistleblower evidence came to light suggesting cheating in the Brexit referendum. On Monday the EC, themselves, announced that ‘urgent’ reforms were needed because our democracy “may be under threat” by the very campaigns that fought for Brexit.

Kyle Taylor, Director of The Fair Vote Project, said: ‘After the recent revelations about alleged cheating in the Brexit referendum and the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it’s more clear than ever that our electoral system is not fit to purpose.

We applaud yesterday’s announcement by the Electoral Commission – the authority on UK elections – demanding their powers be strengthened. Civil society and our election watchdog not only agree that reform is needed but also on what reform should be. Now, Parliament must respond and implement these reforms to protect our democracy. Until these reforms are instituted, our democratic systems will remain vulnerable to cheating. We cannot in good conscience have another election without ensuring our polls are free and fair.”

Timeline of Leave.EU

21/06/2018 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “
Timeline of Leave.EU

We have seen a number of important revelations come to light recently about Nigel Farage, Arron Banks, Andy Wigmore, and their various businesses and organisations including Leave.EU, Eldon Insurance, Big Data Dolphins, and others. With so many different stories coming to light, it can be difficult to keep track. We decided to compile a comprehensive timeline of the events we think are significant. 

Take a look and let us know what you think. 

23 June 2016: EU Referendum

8 November 2016: Trump is elected.

9 June 2018: News breaks that Banks met with Russians, including Ambassador Yakovenko and various Russian businessmen, many more times than he has previously revealed. The information came to light due to emails given to The Times and The Guardian. Banks changes his mind and says he will testify to DCMS.

Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore appear before the DCMS committee

13/06/2018 Posted by News, Press Releases 0 thoughts on “Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore appear before the DCMS committee”

The Fair Vote Project was set up in response to evidence brought forward by pro-Brexit whistleblowers relating to the misuse of data and alleged overspending in the recent Brexit referendum. The Fair Vote Project does not have a position on Brexit. It is a pro-democracy group motivated by ensuring that votes are fair and in order to be sure of this, in light of recent allegations, it is calling for immediate electoral commission reform.

The Fair Vote Project and its Director, Kyle Taylor, are defendants in a Mississippi, USA lawsuit against Eldon Insurance and Big Data Dolphins, companies registered in the UK with clear and self-declared links to Mississippi, USA. Based on testimony given by Brittany Kaiser and interview recordings given by Andy Wigmore, evidence suggests that British citizens’ data is being stored and used for political and commercial purposes at a state university.

The claim of this suit does not mean that Eldon Insurance and Big Data Dolphins did necessarily transfer UK data to Mississippi to use for political gain, it is simply an attempt to find out if they did.

Kyle Taylor, Director of The Fair Vote Project, said “The Fair Vote Project has said from the beginning that some things are bigger than Brexit, like preserving our democratic principles.

We sought the claim in Mississippi based on verbal accounts given by Kaiser and Wigmore. If the preservation order wasn’t being fought by Eldon Insurance and Big Data Dolphins then the matter could have been cleared up already. We have not said that what Kaiser and Wigmore stated happened for certain, we are simply trying to find out. If there was no wrongdoing why fight the case so vehemently?

Our motivation is clear – in the past few months, troubling evidence has been brought forward that suggests our democracy is not functioning freely and fairly. The Fair Vote Project is seeking to strengthen our democratic processes, hold those who may have cheated in our elections to account and ultimately make sure UK democracy is fit for the digital age.”

Shocking Revelations in Mississippi

05/06/2018 Posted by News, Press Releases 0 thoughts on “Shocking Revelations in Mississippi”

Mississippi court case reveals Eldon Insurance and Big Data Dolphins used insurance data of millions of UK citizens to conduct data modeling learned from Cambridge Analytica

The Fair Vote Project’s suit against Eldon Insurance and Big Data Dolphins in Mississippi, USA is set to enter a second day following extended testimony in what turned out to be a day full of revelations.

The case was separated into two hearings – the first to determine jurisdiction and the second to hear the motion to preserve data. Yesterday’s jurisdictional hearing went on for a grueling five hours of intense testimony, much longer than anticipated. One of the main witnesses called, Vanessa Sena, Project Manager for the Mississippi project at Eldon Insurance, was questioned for hours about the relationship Eldon Insurance and Big Data Dolphins had, has, and will have with the University of Mississippi.

The defendants attempted to suggest they did not have a significant enough relationship with the University to be under their jurisdiction for this legal matter despite having a signed lease agreement for thousands of square feet of office space in the University’s “Insight Park,” years of well-documented meetings and the release of 2017 audio interviews with Andy Wigmore, a once director of Eldon Insurance, boasting about already conducting Cambridge Analytica-style data experiments in Mississippi with British Eldon Insurance data.

Eldon Insurance Project Manager Victoria Sena’s main defense against these evidenced allegations was to say that Andy Wigmore is a “PR guy” who was attempting to hype the abilities of the Eldon and Big Data Dolphins. This claim was contradicted when she then suggested that Big Data Dolphins was undertaking data modelling learned from meetings with Cambridge Analytica in the UK, not Mississippi, exactly like Wigmore described in the tapes. If true, millions of UK citizens could be currently having information about their lifestyle, their credit check and other information taken for insurance purposes used in sophisticated data modelling projects planned for political gains.

The Fair Vote Project immediately made the ICO and DCMS Select Committee aware of this claim in its ongoing effort to protect British citizens’ and residents’ data from misuse.

Kyle Taylor, lead plaintiff and Director of the The Fair Vote Project, said “it was a surprising first day of testimony. To hear Eldon and Big Data Dolphin’s primary defense be that Andy Wigmore was simply a PR guy is not enough against the myriad evidence and is a desperate attempt to grasp at straws. Wigmore was a listed director until he resigned less than two weeks after Brittany Kaiser gave testimony that these companies were involved in offshoring UK citizens’ data to Mississippi.

Perhaps the most shocking revelation was that these companies may be currently misusing personal data in the UK. People should have the right to know how their data is being used and to refuse if it’s not something they want to be a part of. I’m sure many people in the UK would not be comfortable with their insurance data being used to build Cambridge Analytica-style personality models.

I look forward to giving my own testimony as we work to hold these companies to account and defend the rights of citizens in controlling their own personal data and preserve the sanctity of our democratic processes.”

BREAKING: ICO show support for The Fair Vote Project data protection case and DCMS select committee publishes tapes vital to the claim

05/06/2018 Posted by News, Press Releases 0 thoughts on “BREAKING: ICO show support for The Fair Vote Project data protection case and DCMS select committee publishes tapes vital to the claim”

Brittany Kaiser, former Cambridge Analytica employee, said while giving testimony to the DCMS select committee that Cambridge Analytica, Eldon Insurance and Big Data Dolphins were storing and using British citizen’s data at a facility in Mississippi at Ole Miss University.

 

In response to this revelation, The Fair Vote Project immediately sought legal counsel in Mississippi and pursued a preservation order over this data so that the companies in question could not tamper with it.

 

The Fair Vote Project was recently granted a temporary injunction and prepares tomorrow to testify in Mississippi in the hope of being granted a permanent injunction. If this injunction is obtained, it could set a precedent and open the door to other cases where individuals can seek to repatriate illegally held data.

 

The Information Commissioner’s Office has said it strongly supports The Fair Vote Project in its pursuit of this data and that the ICO itself would like to investigate the data in question:

 

“Preservation and access to this data is of significant importance to the ICO’s current investigation. For this reason, and in light of potential uncertainty as to whether the data will remain preserved beyond the hearing on 5 June 2018, the ICO lends its support to Fair Vote Project’s claim for permanent injunctive relief.”

 

Dr. Emma Briant, the academic who has brought forward audio recordings of Andy Wigmore (Director of Communications for Leave.EU) suggesting UK citizens’ data was illegally stored in Mississippi, will be giving evidence tomorrow as well. In advance of tomorrow’s session, Damian Collins and the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee have published Dr. Briant’s primary evidence for all to see as a result only of The Fair Vote Project’s efforts in Mississippi.

 

Kyle Taylor, Director of the The Fair Vote Project, said “I’m glad to be in Mississippi to testify in this landmark case which could set a new precedent in data protection law. We welcome the support from the ICO and hope to be able to aid them in their investigation into use of personal data and analytics by political campaigns which is unprecedented in its scale. With the ICO’s support and the new evidence released for our case by the DCMS Committee, it is more important than ever that a permanent injunction is obtained and Eldon Insurance is properly and thoroughly investigated.”

 

The Fair Vote Project was set up to tackle the issue of data misuse, voter manipulation and lack of transparency in elections head-on. We are committed to ensuring the institutions that protect our democratic processes are fit for purpose in a digital age.

 

The Fair Vote Project took the decision to publish the whistleblower evidence for everyone to see. The evidence we have so far can be seen on our website, because the public deserve to know the truth about what’s happening in our democracy.

 

See Dr. Briant’s audio recordings here

5 Questions for Alexander Nix

30/05/2018 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “5 Questions for Alexander Nix”

Next Wednesday, Alexander Nix will finally appear in front of the DCMS select committee investigating fake news and its impact on our elections. The former Cambridge Analytica CEO has avoided answering publicly for the allegations against his now-defunct company — until now.

The Fair Vote Project has been instrumental in holding Cambridge Analytica and Mr Nix to account. In the wake of the data harvesting scandal, we are preparing a damages claim against Facebook to bring justice to the 1.1 million UK Facebook users affected. We are also calling for broader Electoral Commission reforms and a digital bill of rights to protect users against the predatory practices of companies like Cambridge Analytica who see us as no more than data sets to be manipulated.

Mr Nix’s appearance presents an extraordinary opportunity for the DCMS select committee to gain further insight into the ways in which Cambridge Analytica and SCL Elections have been involved in misuse of data and election manipulating.

The Fair Vote Project has five main questions that should be asked:

  1. What is Emerdata and what is it’s purpose?
    When Cambridge Analytica and SCL Elections announced they were filing for bankruptcy and closing their doors, many were quick to point out that several high level executives and investors from CA and SCL had already formed a new company — Emerdata. Not much is known about this entity so it is vital that DCMS gets to the bottom of who they are and what they’re doing. Can we really allow this company to continue on with business as usual under a different name?
  2. What was the exact relationship between Cambridge Analytica and Leave.EU?
    The Electoral Commission has just released their findings on Leave.EU, fining them £70,000 and referring Chief Executive Liz Bilney to the Met police for criminal investigations. While the EC did not find evidence of collaboration between Cambridge Analytica and Leave.EU, Mr Nix, Arron Banks, and Andy Wigmore have all spoken in the past about the work CA did for Leave.EU. We must understand exactly how CA was involved in Leave.EU’s work to determine how it may have influenced the turnout of the election.
  3. What type of data does Cambridge Analytica/SCL Elections hold on UK citizens and where is it held?
    Nix and CA were proud to boast about the ‘5,000 data points’ they had about every US citizen during the 2016 presidential election. But they’ve never been forthcoming about what exactly these data points were or how they received this information. In light of the news of the harvested Facebook data, this boast is particularly troubling. CA and SCL Elections both had headquarters in London and have done work in the UK in the past. What kind of data did they have on UK citizens?
  4. Can hyper-specific data targeting really impact elections?
    Up until recently, CA and Mr Nix especially have spoken at length about how influential CA’s unique brand of behavioural analysis and targeting can be on elections. However, in the aftermath of the data harvesting scandal, they’ve backtracked and insist that ultimately, candidates win elections, not data. Mr Nix must answer for how impactful this targeting may be, for the sake of our future democracy.
  5. Is CA cooperating fully with authorities in the UK as well as the US and other countries potentially affected to share materials and data vital to the investigations into CA’s role in using people’s data without permission?
    When CA/SCL declared bankruptcy, many worried they would use this as an opportunity to destroy potential evidence. The DCMS select committee must ensure that Mr Nix and CA are willing to comply with the active investigations going on.

What would you ask Alexander Nix? Let us know: our.fairvote.uk/nix

Mark Zuckerberg Disappoints

23/05/2018 Posted by News, Press Releases 0 thoughts on “Mark Zuckerberg Disappoints”

Mark Zuckerberg evades answering questions at yesterday’s disappointing hearing

Mark Zuckerberg appeared before the European Parliament yesterday to answer questions regarding the misuse of Facebook data by companies who have sought to influence elections around the world. His questioning came the day we heard that anti-abortion apps, Save the 8th and LoveBoth, being used to promote their cause in the Irish referendum on the 8th Amendment are collecting data and passing it on to Conservative groups in the USA, pro-Brexit groups and the Conservative party in UK.

It is unlikely that users are aware of the manner in which their data is being collected and who it is being given to. Trackers contained inside the apps have Facebook analytics which Facebook says can produce deep demographic analysis.

Kyle Taylor, Director of The Fair Vote Project, said “Zuckerberg was not held accountable at all, he was permitted to respond to questions in one go with no follow up questioning from MEPs’. Apparently this is what it looks like to be held to account for crimes against democracy. It seems totally without merit to ask him one hundred questions if he can just pick and choose the ones he wants to answer and avoid the more incriminating questions.

This painfully slow process illustrates just how weak our democratic institutions are at protecting and preserving our democracy and how big money is running roughshod over citizens’ right to self-determination – and it is quite literally happening again as we speak in Ireland and absolutely nothing has been done about it.

Zuckerberg claims to be trying to fix the problems that have recently come to light about misuse of Facebook data but suspicious apps like Save the 8th and LoveBoth continue to use Facebook products to abuse the current system.

When will our leaders around the world stand up to these self-styled data barons and give us back our democracy?”

Sign our petition for a Digital Bill of Rights to demand better protections for individuals online.

Fair Vote Project’s temporary injunction EXTENDED

21/05/2018 Posted by News, Press Releases 0 thoughts on “Fair Vote Project’s temporary injunction EXTENDED”

The Fair Vote Project obtains an extension of preservation order of British citizens’ data possibly being held in Mississippi

 

A former senior Cambridge Analytica employee told MPs’ that she believed prominent figures who backed Leave misused private data from Eldon Insurance Services Ltd and UKIP to influence the outcome of the Brexit referendum.

 

Brittany Kaiser said during her testimony that Arron Banks, who owns Eldon, and Andy Wigmore had said they wished to create “their own Cambridge Analytica” at the University of Mississippi using her proposals.

This alleged misused data is possibly being stored on a server at the University of Mississippi. Keeping U.K. data outside of the EEA without consent or proper protections is a violation of the Data Protection Act.

 

Hinds County Chancery Court Judge Dewayne Thomas last Friday extended a temporary injunction against Eldon Insurance Services Ltd and Big Data Dolphins Ltd, meaning they cannot destroy, alter or transfer any data currently being held.

 

How did Eldon and Big Data Dolphins come to lease server space in Mississippi?

 

Phil Bryant, Mississippi Governor, fostered a relationship with Arron Banks and Nigel Farage. Bryant says that he was informed that Eldon needed somewhere to undertake research and so he connected them with the University of Mississippi.

 

The Information Commissioner’s Office and the DCMS select committee are aware of the preservation order and the ongoing legal process.

 

Eldon, a UK-based company, was present during the hearing.

 

Kyle Taylor, Director of The Fair Vote Project, said “Eldon Insurance appear to have sent a representative to the hearing – what is there on that server that is so important that someone travelled all the way from Bristol to Mississippi to try and stop us from obtaining an extended preservation order?

 

If there’s nothing to see here as their lawyers claim why all the fuss to stop us from accessing this server to make sure?

 

The Judge’s decision to grant us an extension shows that he believes there is reasonable grounds to suspect British citizens’ data is indeed being held unlawfully in Mississippi.

 

We need to know for certain if this is the case and what it is was used for – Kaiser’s testimony seems to point to the strong possibility that the data was used in ways that are anti-democratic and that may cast doubt over the Brexit referendum result but also the ability of our democracy to function freely and fairly in the digital age.”

This story is just developing. Make sure you join us to receive updates as we learn more about what exactly Cambridge Analytica and Leave.EU did.

Temporary Injunction Granted re: Leave.EU

18/05/2018 Posted by News, Press Releases 0 thoughts on “Temporary Injunction Granted re: Leave.EU”

The Fair Vote Project has successfully obtained an order to prevent evidence being deleted that links Cambridge Analytica to the Leave campaign.

A former senior Cambridge Analytica employee told MPs’ that she believed CA and Leave.EU took data from UKIP and combined it with user data from a series of US-based companies with the expressed purpose of manipulating the outcome of the Brexit referendum. The amount of British citizens who had their data stolen is currently unknown.

Keeping U.K. data outside of the EEA without consent or proper protections is a violation of the Data Protection Act.

A temporary injunction order has been obtained by The Fair Vote Project in the United States to ensure that evidence of wrongdoing – if there is any – is preserved and that the relevant authorities can investigate. Eldon Insurance and Big Data Dolphins have been served summons.

Alexander Nix and Cambridge Analytica have continually denied ever working on the Leave campaign despite Arron Banks tweeting that he was proud to have worked with the company and making reference to a large social media machine deployed during the campaign.

Whistleblower testimony and the injunction obtained by The Fair Vote Project may finally prove once and for all that CA was intimately working on the Brexit referendum despite Cambridge Analytica’s obfuscation.

Kyle Taylor, Director of The Fair Vote Project, said:

“Cambridge Analytica has done nothing but try to pull wool over our eyes. Without this injunction I have no doubt they and their co-horts would have sought to destroy any evidence linking them to at least one of the Leave campaigns. We have no idea how much UK citizens’ data may have been transferred to the US, but it could be millions. This could have proven the decisive factor in the outcome of the referendum.”

This story is just developing. Make sure you join us to receive updates as we learn more about what exactly Cambridge Analytica and Leave.EU did.

Mark Zuckerberg Ignores Summons

18/05/2018 Posted by News, Press Releases 0 thoughts on “Mark Zuckerberg Ignores Summons”

Mark Zuckerberg will not answer MPs’ questions despite being issued with a formal summons

Facebook today announced that Mark Zuckerberg will not be appearing before MPs following the Electoral Commission’s appearance in front of the DCMS select committee today. Jeff Silvester, Chief Operating Officer of AIQ, the Canadian data company faced with allegations of illegal campaign coordination in the referendum with Vote Leave, BeLeave and several other campaign groups is set to appear before the committee tomorrow.

Facebook failed to answer some of the DCMS select committee’s key questions of how UK Facebook users were manipulated and influenced in the 2016 referendum. Some of the most important questions, such as from where AIQ received their data for who to target or how much overlap there was between the ads AIQ made for Vote Leave, BeLeave, Veterans for Britain and the DUP Vote to Leave went unanswered. Hopefully Mr Silvester will shed some much needed clarification on these vital inquiries.

Kyle Taylor, Director of The Fair Vote Project, said “No one is shocked that Zuckerberg has refused to stand before Parliament to explain the potentially illegal conduct of his company, conduct that may have allowed others to heavily manipulate voters during the Brexit referendum and thereby making a mockery of our democratic processes. And once again, shows how little respect Facebook has for the countries they operate in and the citizens’ data they use to profit from. It has been nearly two years since the referendum. The fact that Facebook still cannot provide the DCMS select committee with exactly what ads UK Facebook users saw leading up to the referendum is disgraceful. Elections have long lasting consequences and if Facebook and other social media companies can not quickly and efficiently pinpoint when their advertisers are breaking local electoral laws or spreading misinformation, we must ensure that regulatory bodies like the Electoral Commission have the power to intervene in a meaningful way.

The Electoral Commission’s testimony today to the DCMS select committee said that if reform was to happen it needs to be wholesale to be effective, this is something we are backing. Their suggestions for reform match what The Fair Vote Project is calling for: namely, fines that fit the crime rather than the current cap that is seen by many to simply be the cost of doing business, greater enforcement powers, ideally prosecutorial powers and a better way of reporting spending. The Fair Vote Project believes a report-as-you-spend system should be put in place to ensure transparency and fairness in real time.

It’s been months since the revelations from whistleblowers were made public and yet nothing has changed, cheating can still happen in elections and referenda – as we see happening in Ireland right now. There needs to be immediate, wholesale reform of the institutions entrusted to make sure our elections are free and fair so that we no longer need to rely on whether or not Facebook deigns to get its house in order or turn up for questioning.”

The Fair Vote Project was set up to tackle this issue head-on. Our whistleblower secure channels are open to anyone who has evidence of cheating by any party in the referendum. We are committed to securing a fair vote and ensuring the Electoral Commission is fit for purpose in a digital age.

The Fair Vote Project has taken the decision to publish the whistleblower evidence for everyone to see. The evidence we have so far can be seen on our website, because the public deserve to know the truth about what’s happening in our democracy.

Cambridge Analytica: Then and Now

18/05/2018 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Cambridge Analytica: Then and Now”

In recent weeks, we’ve seen a barrage of information come to light about the now disgraced and shut down SCL Elections/Cambridge Analytica. As evidence of SCL/CA’s roles in misusing data to manipulate elections around the world has come to light, it’s been enlightening to see the way they talk about who they are and what they’ve done.

Now, Cambridge Analytica insists that they are a standard data analytics and market research company, using traditional tools to assist candidates and campaigns. But this has not always been the case.

The Fair Vote Project looked at captures of Cambridge Analytica’s website from 2016 as well as an article written by Alexander Nix himself in February 2016 and compared them to CA’s recent press releases and their webpage CambridgeFacts.com which attempted to “set the record straight” on what exactly CA did.

Connection between SCL and CA

We know that SCL Elections and Cambridge Analytica are related entities but the exact relationship  is unclear. This is increasingly important as the authorities work out exactly how SCL and Cambridge Analytica may have misused Facebook data collected through Aleksandr Kogan’s GSR app or misused other data from other sources.

Then

2 February 2016: Alexander Nix claims SCL Group is what CA is known as in Europe, suggesting they are entirely the same entity. People who worked with them at the time, namely Aleksandr Kogan and Jeff Silvester, co-founder of AIQ, publicly claimed that they knew that CA and SCL were related but did not know exactly how.

Now

April 2018: Cambridge Analytica says SCL was the "precursor" to CA.
29 March 2018: CA claims SCL is an associated entity

These may seem like small quibbles. But it’s vital that we understand the connection between CA and SCL, as the companies could be hiding information about having access to and responsibility for intellectual property and data.

For example, Dr Kogan said in Parliament that he “never had a contract with Cambridge Analytica,”  only SCL Elections. However, CA’s information site CambridgeFacts.com now says that:

April 2018: Cambridge Analytica says they licensed data from Dr Kogan, even though Dr Kogan insists he never had contact with CA, only SCL.

Dr Kogan himself wasn’t clear on the distinction between SCL Elections and Cambridge Analytica. With such unclear definitions of the boundaries between companies, it is uncertain which company is responsible for and in possession of data and information relating to people from the UK as well as people from all over the world.

With their recent bankruptcy filings, it’s clear that SCL and CA are inextricably linked. What does this mean for the intellectual property and data that may have been shared between the companies? What are they hiding?

CA’s Impact on Elections

Then

In February 2016, CA published the following on their website concerning their work for the Ted Cruz campaign in the primaries:

2 February 2016: CA promoting that the 2016 race is a battle between big data companies.

In Alexander Nix’s own article from the same time, he explicitly attributes Ted Cruz’s success (and Donald Trump’s failure) to data analytics:

2 February 2016: Nix attributing Cruz's success to his superior data analytics game. Cambridge Analytica worked for Trump in the general election.....and the rest is history.

CA’s own website from late 2016/early 2017 heavily promotes the importance of behavioural and psychological testing:

January 2017: CA publicised their claim that they had 5,000 data points per person far and wide after they helped Trump win the election. They've never been transparent about what exactly these 5,000 data points are or where they got this information.
January 2017: CA promoting behavioral microtargeting.

Now

In recent months, CA has majorly backtracked on the influence they had in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election and what exactly they did to win:

29 March 2018: CA downplaying their impact in 2016 election.
10 April 2018: An early version of CA's PR site CambridgeFacts insists on the disappointment of the Facebook data CA got from Dr Kogan's GSR app. They also downplay the importance of market psychology, something they have been promoting as the future of marketing and campaigning for years.

Throughout the 2016 campaign and in 2017, CA emphasised their state of the art technology and use of behavioural and psychological targeting. But on CambridgeFacts, CA scales back, insisting they used the same tactics as Obama and Clinton.

April 2018: CA downplays their uses of advanced microtargeting, insisting they did not use "personalilty models" despite what they touted during and after the election.

CA and Leave.EU

CA has insisted multiple times that they did not do any work on the 2016 referendum. Leave.EU has also picked up this line in recent months. This is markedly different to what both organisations said in 2016 and 2017.

The sharp change in both organisations’ statements is suspicious. While Facebook and the Electoral Commission found no evidence of activity between the two but neither examination was exhaustive. Why won’t Cambridge Analytica and Leave.EU own up to the work they did together?

With Leave.EU found to be in serious breach of electoral law, it’s vital we understand just what they did so it never happens again.

Then

2 February 2016: Nix saying CA was working with Leave.EU.
3 March 2017: Arron Banks confirming Leave.EU worked with Cambridge Analytica.

Now

April 2018: CA denying they did any work in EU referendum, a very different message from February 2016.
27 Feb 2018: Arron Banks begins backtracking on working with CA, saying Leave.EU declined CA's offer because it was illegal.

Cambridge Analytica has proven time and again to be dishonest and untrustworthy. With SCL and Cambridge Analytica shutting down and declaring bankruptcy, it’s more important than ever to understand the inner workings of the organisation.

As much as they are trying to backtrack now, we have seen the impact of their work. They have promoted their ability to target and change minds and behaviours. With this type of power and influence, we must ensure that we are properly protected against manipulative tactics.

The same people at the helm of SCL and CA have started a new company: Emerdata. What is going to stop them from doing it all over again?

DCMS select committee summons Nix and Cummings

10/05/2018 Posted by News, Press Releases 0 thoughts on “DCMS select committee summons Nix and Cummings”

DCMS select committee issues formal summons to Cambridge Analytica’s Alexander Nix and Vote Leave’s Dominic Cummings to appear before them

DCMS select committee has today issued a formal summons to Alexander Nix and Dominic Cummings to give evidence as part of their inquiry into fake news and the spread of disinformation. It is extremely rare for an individual to ignore a formal summons.

In the letter sent to Nix, the committee said that they wished to ‘examine apparent inconsistencies’ in evidence he gave and other evidence they have received.

This action taken by the committee represents an escalation and suggests that they will not rest until they have had their questions answered.

Kyle Taylor, Director of The Fair Vote Project, said “It is deplorable that Nix has evaded facing UK MPs’ on matters that relate directly to our democratic processes and it is appalling how disempowered Parliament is when it comes to investigating alleged crimes against democracy.

Cambridge Analytica was forced to close after news broke that they had been involved in manipulating voters during elections around the world but there is still so much we don’t know about what they got up to and we have no assurances that it won’t happen again. It does not feel as if anyone has been punished for these alleged interferences in elections that have changed the fates of countries globally, including most recently suggestions that similar happened in our own Brexit referendum.

While it is admirable how fiercely Damian Collins is fighting to get those involved to give evidence, it is worrying that he is so limited in the powers available to him to get to the bottom of this. We must act soon to empower our regulatory bodies and update legislation around digital advertising during elections so that we can instil faith in our democratic processes, make sure that they truly are democratic and be sure this type of meddling doesn’t happen again.”

The Fair Vote Project was set up to tackle the issue of data misuse, voter manipulation and lack of transparency in elections head-on. We are committed to ensuring the institutions that protect our democratic processes are fit for purpose in a digital age.

The People v Facebook

10/05/2018 Posted by News, Press Releases 0 thoughts on “The People v Facebook”

The Fair Vote Project prepares a class-action claim against Facebook over its misuse of data that may have been used to manipulate UK and global elections

The Fair Vote Project has been contacted by some of the 1.1 million people whose Facebook data was harvested by the “This Is Digital Life” app created by Aleksandr Kogan and subsequently passed on to Cambridge Analytica, at which point it is unclear how this data may have been used and potentially misused.

All individuals and companies involved have deliberately obfuscated on the question of how exactly this data has been used though evidence brought forward by whistleblowers suggests it was used to manipulate voters.

Some people may have consented to having their data taken but most did not, as the app “scraped” the data of Facebook friends of those who downloaded the app without their knowledge.

The Fair Vote Project is preparing a damages claim for breaches of the data protection act and they will be running adverts on Facebook asking users who had their data taken to join the class action claim. If successful, Facebook could face damages in the billions of pounds.

Kyle Taylor, Director of The Fair Vote Project said “A few weeks ago, I found out that I was one of the 1,079,031 people in the UK whose data was harvested by Aleksandr Kogan’s This Is Your Digital Life app, and subsequently passed on to Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook had no right to give away this data. If your data was taken in this way, you could be a claimant. Facebook is the data controller of the data you have on Facebook and they effectively allowed it to be transferred to a third party without your knowledge or consent. This is wrong and shouldn’t go unpunished.

The implications of this data being handed to third parties are in no way minor and may have changed the course of elections around the world.

We also very worryingly still do not know the extent of data taken or exactly what is was used for. There is absolutely no indication that Facebook has taken this issue seriously, as we see – right now – voter manipulation has been happening in Ireland using Facebook, which they just recently have taken action regarding. It’s quite late in the game for them to finally apply the measures we know we needed since the revelations brought forward by whistleblowers.

If Facebook won’t take it seriously and if governments aren’t moving quickly enough then it’s up to us to hold these companies to account.”

PS – The Fair Vote Project is working with Bindmans LLP to gather claimants. Every pound we raise will be used to find more claimants and cover legal costs. We are using digital ads to find claimants. If you have seen one of these ads, you fit one of the following categories: you studied policy studies, political science, public policy, or you have expressed interest in activism, civil service, electoral reform, equal opportunity, feminism and equality, government, local government, policy, political science, public policy, public sector, social equality, social movements, or voting.

Electoral Procedures in Local Elections

08/05/2018 Posted by News, Press Releases 0 thoughts on “Electoral Procedures in Local Elections”

Another election happens and yet still no regulation

Yesterday, voters in large parts of the country voted for the local councillors who will represent them for the next four years. We are in the process of finding out which campaigns were successful and which candidates will work in our boroughs and wards doing the vital tasks of local government . But if you want to know how these candidates ran their campaigns and how they spent their money, you will sadly be disappointed.

This system does not make sense. For one, it’s difficult and confusing for candidates and campaigners who have to sort through months of receipts after the fact and print out their compiled reports into ungainly paper copies.

In most cases, council-level returning officers are in charge of monitoring campaign spending, campaigns don’t send in their spending reports until over a month after the election and most of these reports will not be thoroughly examined to ensure their compliance with the law.

Kyle Taylor, Director of The Fair Vote Project said “We at The Fair Vote Project have devised an effective way this can be improved by centralising and digitising the expenditure reporting process. Modeled after the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which was created in response to the parliamentary expenses scandal, an online reporting system would streamline and simplify the process and bring more transparency into elections by allowing the public to see exactly how campaigns are spending their money in real time.

Campaigns would report their expenses in real-time to an emboldened and more centralised Electoral Commission who would ensure that spending was compliant with electoral rules. This was the first election since evidence suggesting cheating in the EU referendum became public. These allegations illustrated well how ineffectual the current system of campaign spending reporting is and we urgently need to update our laws so that we can instil faith in our democratic processes.”

Cambridge Analytica Shuts Down — What Now?

08/05/2018 Posted by News, Press Releases 0 thoughts on “Cambridge Analytica Shuts Down — What Now?”

Cambridge Analytica closes its doors but a new company already exists. Time to stop this once and for all with a digital bill of rights enshrined in law

Nigel Oakes, founder of SCL Elections, announced that SCL and Cambridge Analytica will be shutting their doors and filing insolvency proceedings. The Fair Vote Project asks does this mean data they hold could be destroyed and can we be certain that they will be held to account?

In the six weeks since whistleblower Christopher Wiley – supported by The Fair Vote Project – came forward with evidence of Cambridge Analytica’s widespread misuse of Facebook data, evidence has continued to grow about the ways SCL, Cambridge Analytica, and partner companies such as AIQ, have been using misappropriated data to create sophisticated and highly personalised microtargeting tools which have been used in elections all around the world. Investigations into Cambridge Analytica’s activities are ongoing in several countries, including the U.K.

Kyle Taylor, Founder and Director of The Fair Vote Project, said: “The Fair Vote Project has been working tirelessly across this data issue and its implications. While this is a welcome development, it is essential that governments and media outlets do not stop here. The real story is this:  While SCL and Cambridge Analytica are shutting their doors, some of the key players involved have already moved on to a new company: Emerdata. Current CA CEO Julian Wheatland and Chief Data Officer Dr Alexander Tayler are both listed as Directors of Emerdata, and disgraced former CEO Alexander Nix was the founding CEO. Rebekah and Jennifer Mercer, daughters of billionaire Robert Mercer, one of the creators of Cambridge Analytica, are on the board.

This is exactly what you’d expect from individuals and entities like these – dump the organisation (and responsibilities, note CA have filed for insolvency) and spring up under a new name doing the same morally corrupt work. That’s why The Fair Vote Project are demanding consequential reform to the Electoral Commission and aim to enshrine a digital bill of rights for our democracy to make sure these entities – whatever they’re named – are never able to infiltrate our elections again.

Without proper laws and systems in place to prevent the misuse of data and the circumvention of traditional law online, companies like Cambridge Analytica can continue to spread misinformation in elections worldwide.  Recent news about Facebook’s failure to stem the spread of fake news in the Irish referendum only further illustrates that this problem will not go away with the closing down of Cambridge Analytica and SCL. We cannot trust companies like Facebook to “self-regulate.” It’s time government’s did their job and intervene immediately to ensure people in the U.K. and around the world are safe from predatory practices.

The future of democracies everywhere hinge on our ability to create strong protections for digital information. The Fair Vote Project’s proposed digital bill aims to permanently protect our democratic institutions from this malfeasance because the type of work Cambridge Analytica has engaged in will continue until we stand up for our very way of life.”

 

The Fair Vote Project was set up to tackle the issue of data misuse, voter manipulation and lack of transparency in elections head-on. We are committed to ensuring the institutions that protect our democratic processes are fit for purpose in a digital age.

Digital Crisis In the Irish Referendum

08/05/2018 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Digital Crisis In the Irish Referendum”

The Fair Vote Project has learned an investigation carried out by Claire Provost and Lara Whyte at openDemocracy 50.50 suggests that foreign and ‘alt-right’ activists are using social media to target Irish voters during the upcoming referendum on the 8th amendment – an amendment that restricts abortion under most circumstances.

It is against Irish law for foreign actors to donate to Irish campaigning groups however this law does not apply to digital adverts of a political nature on social media platforms – this loophole could allow foreign citizens and groups to influence elections by targeting voters.

openDemocracy 50.50 said it had “analysed newly-released data compiled by the Transparent Referendum Initiative (TRI) which show that 145 groups and individuals have bought more than 350 Facebook ads about the referendum. Most of the advertisers appear to be based in Ireland but there are also foreign organisations on the list. Several of the Irish advertisers, including both anti-abortion and pro-choice groups, also have significant international connections.”

The Fair Vote Project has been focussing on similar issues in the United Kingdom and believes it is imperative to both draw attention to this issue and advise on urgent action that can be taken: An immediate suspension of digital political advertising across social media platforms until new legislation is updated so that it can effectively regulate the use of data and targeting during elections and prevent foreign meddling in the democratic processes of other nations that are meant to be sovereign.

On the list uncovered by openDemocracy 50.50 most foreign groups are based in the United States and Canada. One group based in Virginia called the Radiance Foundation is known for creating highly shareable social media content and using language similar to Black Lives Matter to attack black women who have abortions.

Peers must back Amendment 50

08/05/2018 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Peers must back Amendment 50”

Kyle Taylor, Director of The Fair Vote Project, explains why the House of Lords needs to vote to back Amendment 50.

The Brexit arguments over whether there should be a second referendum are divisive and it’s clear there are a range of views that are all completely legitimate.  The democracy argument, however, is simple, straightforward and unifying: If there was widespread cheating in the referendum – which all of the whistleblower evidence points to – then there is no question.  We cannot take a decision of this magnitude predicated on what seems increasingly likely to have been a manipulated vote.

The Westminster establishment are worried about causing more division in the short-term without looking at the broader implications of ignoring the facts: our democracy was cheated.  If it happened once it can (and probably will) happen again.

Peers need to stop overcomplicating this issue.  It’s about cheating and democratic integrity. Send a referendum amendment back to the commons and force the debate on the issue of our time. From there, let’s start working on ensuring the rules are stronger and better enforced.  Because whatever the question, our vote should be fair.

Our Platform of Electoral Reforms

24/04/2018 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Our Platform of Electoral Reforms”

The Fair Vote Project has spent the past few weeks spreading the evidence released by whistleblowers which suggest cheating in the referendum. We must ensure this does not happen again.

The Fair Vote Project has developed a simple four-part platform of necessary electoral reforms to strengthen and protect our democracy:

 

These reforms are vital and attainable. We must demand our Members of Parliaments act to create fair laws to protect our rights of democracy and sovereignty. Contact your MP and let them know where you stand.

Share our platform on twitter and Facebook to take a stand for electoral reform.

Full legal opinion submitted to Electoral Commission released

13/04/2018 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Full legal opinion submitted to Electoral Commission released”

In keeping with our commitment to unmediated access to source material and evidence, we have taken the decision to publish the full opinion submitted to the Electoral Commission regarding evidence that suggests cheating by Vote Leave in the EU Referendum.  As it is a thorough document, we’ve had a helpful guide/explainer written (below) to assist you digesting it.

Statement from Tamsin Allen, Partner, Bindmans LLP:

This document contains the views of independent counsel who were instructed to advise on whether the statements and evidence provided to them, and to the Electoral Commission, reveals a prima facie case that electoral offences were committed by Vote Leave during the referendum campaign.

Paragraphs 43 – 103 describes the events from February 2016 to June 2016 from the perspective of two insiders in Vote Leave and Mr Wylie.  Those people produce evidence to show the creation of the campaign group BeLeave and the close way in which the two groups worked together in the same office and with oversight from senior Vote Leave officials. They then describe the events in the last weeks of the Referendum and the way in which a huge donation was made, ostensibly to BeLeave, but actually directly to Aggregate IQ for its digital services.  

This represents the most comprehensive account yet released and refers in detail to the evidence that has been produced.

Paragraph 104-129 explain events just after the Referendum when it appears that senior Vote Leave officials took steps to instruct the young BeLeave volunteers about what they should do, and altered a shared Google drive in a way which has not yet been explained.  

Counsel then analyse the facts and conclude, at paragraph 167, that there is powerful evidence, including contemporaneous correspondence…that Vote Leave and BeLeave were intimately linked for the entirety of the relevant period; that there are good grounds to infer that Vote Leave was involved in the decision by which the AIQ payments were made and aware of the scope and that the payments supported its own campaign; there is good reason to doubt the account given by Mr Grimes of the payments and, at paragraph 175, it is strongly arguable that the AIQ payments fell within the definition of common plan expenses and should have been reported by Vote Leave.

This detailed analysis of the evidence, is what gives rise to the conclusions that there is strong evidence to indicate that Vote leave has committed offences under PPERA (paragraph 176), that, in the absence of cogent evidence in defence of these allegations there would be realistic prospects of conviction on those offences (para 178) and that there are reasonable grounds to suspect these offences were committed with the knowledge, assistance and agreement of Mr Cummings, and grounds to investigate whether Mr Parkinson and Ms Watson are also guilty of such conspiracy offences. It also deals with the powers of the Electoral Commission and refers to its agreement to liaise with police and prosecutors at an early stage.

See the full opinion below, or download a copy for yourself.

New whistleblower evidence released

12/04/2018 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “New whistleblower evidence released”

New material provided by a third whistleblower and published by The Fair Vote Project makes clear just how intimate the relationship between Vote Leave and BeLeave was as well as how Vote Leave came to know of AggregateIQ (AIQ), answering a key question that had yet to be answered.

Statement from the legal representative of the third whistleblower – Tamsin Allen, Partner, Bindmans LLP, to frame their relevance:

“I represent Mark Gettleson, who was one of the three people to volunteer evidence and documents to the Electoral Commission.  Mr Gettleson worked for the Vote Leave campaign providing website and communications services between February and April 2016 and created the BeLeave campaign concept and website for Vote Leave.  He also introduced Aggregate IQ to the Vote Leave campaign. His evidence demonstrates how closely linked the Vote Leave and BeLeave campaigns were during the period he worked there, and leading counsel relied on this evidence in coming to conclusions that there are grounds to suspect overspending offences in the referendum. Mr Gettleson had hoped to remain anonymous, but is aware that the publication of the full Opinion will lead some to identify him, despite his name not being recorded.  He has made the decision in the public interest to release relevant emails sent during the period when he was working for the Vote Leave campaign (which will also identify him). He does not propose to give media interviews and asks that his personal privacy is respected.”

Senior QC’s opinion on whistleblower evidence submitted to Electoral Commission

26/03/2018 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Senior QC’s opinion on whistleblower evidence submitted to Electoral Commission”
Today, counsel for whistleblowers Christopher Wylie and Shahmir Sanni outlined their legal position regarding the evidence suggesting cheating in the Brexit referendum. (more…)

Good morning, London!

26/03/2018 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Good morning, London!”

We greeted commuters on a sunny London morning on Westminster Bridge and London Bridge to share news of the whistleblower evidence released over the weekend. Curious passersby were directed to see the evidence for themselves, some stopping to do it on their mobiles – instant gratification.