Threat Management, Threat Intelligence, Network Security

Election integrity commission holds first meeting amid privacy, security, suppression concerns

With privacy and data security concerns running high and a number of lawsuits pending, President Donald Trump charged the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity, that he created via Executive Order, to “fairly and objectively follow the facts wherever they may lead,” but cast shade on states that have thus far have indicated they wouldn't comply with the commission's request for information on voters.

“One has to wonder what they're worried about,” Trump said in remarks to the commission as it prepared to hold its first meeting Wednesday. “There's something. There always is.”

The commission, led by Vice Chairman Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State, and the chairman, Vice President Mike Pence, had beseeched states to hand over a wide range of voter data, including names, partial Social Security numbers, party affiliation and felony status, and most balked, refusing to comply with all or part of the request, expressing trepidation that voter data would be at risk for exposure and compromise.  Possibly with good cause as the commission last week published the contact information of people commenting online on its overall initiative and expressing concern over the privacy of their data as the commission probes unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud that many believe were conjured by the White House to explain why Hilary Clinton walked away from the 2016 presidential election with nearly three million more votes than Donald Trump and to use as a launching point for voter suppression.

The commission's probe has already had an effect – with some voters worried about the massive data collection effort and how that data might be used and the likelihood of a cyberattack in upcoming elections.

“The public intimidation effort waged by Kobach and Trump personally against those who denounced the committee's voter suppression ambitions—including the more than 20 states that have courageously refused to hand over voter rolls—is already having a dangerous effect: voters across the country are now unregistering to vote,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, an online racial justice organization. “Before they've adopted a single policy, this commission has already suppressed the vote of thousands of Americans.”

Opponents assailed the commission's current mission, saying that resources instead should be put where they are most needed – to safeguard against cyberattacks by nation-states and modernize voting technology.

“Our elections face serious concerns including attempted foreign cyber intrusions, partisan motivated voter suppression, and the desperate need for modernization of our election administration and voting technology. Voters should demand a true bipartisan effort to tackle these problems,” Trevor Potter, president of Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and a former Republican chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC), said, contending the “commission has no meaningful bipartisan credentials” and that false charges of voter fraud that launched it have been “repeatedly disproven” already. “Rather than address these pressing issues in a bipartisan manner, this presidential commission already seems to be blindly focused on manufacturing evidence to support its own foregone conclusions to further partisan objectives.”

So far, the evidence substantiates claims that cyberattacks are a bigger threat, with intruders attempting to breach the election systems of at least 21 states and forensic analysis of the intrusions at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and other Democratic interests were the work of Russian operatives. Indeed, hackers made almost 150,000 attempts to break into the voter registration system in South Carolina, a non-competitive state, on Election Day in 2016, which could be an indicator that swing states were even more widely targeted.

Faced legal challenges. EPIC and ACLU. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), filed for a restraining order in a federal court in the District of Columbia, seeking to bar the commission from gathering data, prompting the commission to temporarily halt its efforts. And the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has launched a lawsuit against the commission, questioning the transparency of its workings. 

And the Congressional Black Caucus and other lawmakers have introduced the Anti-Voter Suppression Act aimed at rolling back Trump's executive order. 

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