With less than 12 months until the latest possible date upon which the next UK general election can be held – 28 January 2025 – the government’s Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy (JCNSS) has launched a call for evidence ahead of an inquiry into securing the democratic process against cyber, physical and other threats.
Three years ago, the Integrated review stated that protecting democracy was any government’s first duty, a stance reiterated in 2023, when Westminster promised fresh action on this issue both in the UK and overseas, acknowledging that democratic resilience was “an area of vulnerability”.
With the UK’s general election now imminent, and the November 2024 US presidential election also increasing focus on the issue, momentum – and concern – is now building, particularly in light of the ever-widening scope of the cyber threat landscape.
“The JCNSS report on ransomware published in December 2023 identified cyber attacks as a major risk in the run-up to elections in the US and UK in 2024,” the committee said.
“The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre [NCSC] has said that the UK government ‘is almost certain that Russian actors sought to interfere in the 2019 general elections’, and that we can now ‘expect to see the integrity of our systems tested again’.
“The 2023 National Security Act contained new provisions that aim to protect the UK from ‘threats to national security, from espionage, sabotage and persons acting for foreign powers’. The Foreign Influence Registration Scheme, part of the National Security Act, seeks to facilitate ‘transparency of foreign influence in UK politics’.”
In light of this, the JCNSS is inviting evidence on a number of questions to be submitted over the next month, with oral evidence hearings expected to begin later in the spring.
The inquiry is seeking to explore the following:
- The actual and perceived threats to the UK’s democracy, and where those threats originate from;
- The objectives, working methods and resources of the Defending Democracy Taskforce and what it has achieved in the past year;
- What more the Taskforce could do before the next election to protect political parties, elected officials, and electoral infrastructure;
- How the Taskforce informs the decisions of the National Security Council, the N National Security Risk Assessment process and wider Government activity to counter state threats;
- How secure and resilient UK elections are against foreign interference;
- The role played by bodies such as the NCSC, Ofcom and the Electoral Commission when it comes to countering foreign interference, and whether they are properly equipped to do so;
- The role that generative AI and other emerging technologies might play in the upcoming elections;
- Strategies to improve public awareness of and resilience against disinformation, fraud and technological interference such as that generated by AI, or deepfakes;
- The effectiveness of the UK’s legislative framework for defending democracy, including the new powers under the National Security Act 2023;
- The effectiveness of the Foreign Influence Registration scheme and how it strengthens the resilience of the political system;
- How threats to democracy might evolve in the medium- to long-term, and how prepared the UK is to deal with this;
- How the UK supports democracy abroad and how it can work with non-governmental organisations to contribute more widely;
- How the UK can work better with its allies to tackle interference from hostile states and uphold democratic values.
The deadline for evidence submissions is Monday 18 March 2024.
Read more about cyber risks to UK politics
- Russian hacking group Star Blizzard was part of a Russian intelligence operation aimed at interfering with UK politics and the democratic process, says government.
- The prospect of rogue nation state-aligned attackers bringing down the UK’s critical infrastructure is keeping the NCSC up at night.
- An unknown threat actor who attacked the UK’s Electoral Commission had access to data on millions of UK voters for over a year, the watchdog has revealed.