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British MPs call for 'urgent' new laws to protect elections from online interference

The UK's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee is calling for tougher checks on online donations

The ToTok app offers free calling and messaging services without a subscription. Getty.
The ToTok app offers free calling and messaging services without a subscription. Getty.

British MPs are calling for "urgent" new laws to protect the integrity of elections from online interference.

It comes amid concerns surrounding foreign influence and party funding issues stemming from the European elections.

The UK's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee is calling for tougher checks on online donations, clearer records on digital spending and information about who is behind adverts.

Damian Collins, chair of the DCMS Committee said: "We know that our electoral laws are not fit for purpose.

"Political campaigns are fought online, not through the letterbox, and our laws need to be brought up to date with the digital age.

"We've repeatedly highlighted threats to our electoral system and it's essential that public confidence is restored."

The committee made the criticism in a report responding to the government’s online harms white paper.

Concerns were highlighted after a row over party funding in the European Parliament elections earlier this year.

It said: “There was no acknowledgement of the risks of foreign investment in elections, for example via digital payments, or of the role and power of unpaid campaigns and Facebook groups that influence elections and referendums (both inside and outside the designated period).

"The steps taken voluntarily, for example, by Facebook to identify political advertising and those associated with it have been very limited and do not adequately meet public concerns.”

Following the European elections, the UK Electoral Commission visited the offices of The Brexit Party to review how it receives funding after it was accused of receiving a large amount of money via small "undeclared, untraceable payments" online.

Under UK law, donations of £500 (Dh2,320) or above must be made by someone who is listed on the electoral register or a company registered in the UK.

Amounts below that do not have to be declared leading to concerns that they could come from foreign sources and the system could be abused.

A spokesman for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: "The government agrees we need robust safeguards against hostile states, foreign lobbyists and shadowy third parties in place for the digital age.

"We have already pledged to publish a consultation paper on electoral integrity — it is an important convention that the laws affecting political parties should not be changed by governments without proper consultation and discussions with political parties."

Updated: July 2, 2019 05:02 PM

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