Canada to lead global effort to counter election interference


The government of Canada, alongside Microsoft and the Alliance for Securing Democracy, will lead a global effort to counter the use of cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns to disrupt elections, officials announced Tuesday. 

Dominic LeBlanc, president of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, said that his nation would become one of the leads on countering election interference as part of the 2018 Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace.

“Canada’s leadership in the Paris Call will help build global expertise and understanding about the best way to combat online disinformation and malicious cyber activities in the context of election interference,” LeBlanc said in a statement. 

The 2018 agreementwhich is backed by almost 80 countries, 29 local governments and more than 600 private sector groups — called for the world to tackle cyber threats ranging from cracking down on intellectual property theft to strengthening international cyber standards to protecting elections.

The agreement was launched by French President Emmanuel Macron, with other governments participating including the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Japan and Mexico. The United States as a whole did not sign on, though Colorado, Virginia and Washington have backed it. 

As part of the effort, the government of Canada and other groups involved will put together best practices to help governments counter election interference, and participate in events aimed at increasing the ability of the international community to address election threats. 

Microsoft and the Alliance for Securing Democracy will co-lead the effort to secure elections alongside Canada.

Microsoft President Brad Smith on Tuesday described election security as “one of the most important issues of our time.”

“We believe fervently in the future of technology, but we also believe that democracy is even more important than technology, and therefore we have to use technology and come together to safeguard democracy’s future,” Smith said during a press call. 

Laura Rosenberger, the director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, said in a statement that it would take a “whole of society approach” to counter threats to elections, describing Canada as a “standard bearer” in this fight. 

Election interference concerns have been in the spotlight since Russian agents interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election by launching a disinformation campaign on social media and targeting election infrastructure, according to the U.S. intelligence community and former special counsel Robert Mueller. 

Overall global cyber incidents have spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic, with agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization being targeted by hackers. U.S. federal agencies warned this month that Chinese government-backed hackers were targeting health care groups researching COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. 

Microsoft’s Smith was among world leaders to sign on to a separate letter on Tuesday pushing for greater international cooperation to stop cyberattacks on health care groups tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other signatories of the letter included former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev, and former leaders of Mexico, Brazil, Ireland, Columbia, Chile, Uruguay, Slovenia and Denmark.   

“We call on governments to work together, and to join forces with civil society and the private sector, to ensure that medical facilities are respected and protected, and to hold perpetrators accountable,” the officials wrote. “Above all, governments should take action and stop cyberattacks on hospitals and medical facilities. The time to act is now.”

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