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JCNSS launches inquiry on Defending Democracy with UK election expected this year

1 February 2024

With record numbers expected to go to the polls around the world this year in elections expected in over 70 countries including the UK, today Parliament’s Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy is launching a new inquiry into Defending Democracy.  

In 2021 the UK’s Integrated Review stated that protecting democracy was the “first duty of any Government”. In 2023 the Government reiterated this position, promising “new action” on defending democracy at home and abroad as it acknowledged that democratic resilience had come into focus as an “area of vulnerability for the UK”.  In November 2022 the Government launched its Defending Democracy Taskforce, sitting under the National Security Council. 

The Defending Democracy Taskforce’s stated aim is to “protect the democratic integrity of the UK” as an “enduring government function with particular focus on foreign interference”, working with local councils, police forces and global tech companies to: 

  • ensure that electoral processes and infrastructure are secure and resilient 
  • ensure elected officials are protected “at all levels” from physical, cyber, and additional threats
  • counter disinformation efforts aimed at “disrupting our national conversation and skewing our democratic processes”

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 UK’s National Cyber Security Centre 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”.  

The Committee is now inviting evidence on any or all of the following questions, to be submitted by Monday 18 March with oral evidence hearings in Parliament expected to begin in Spring.  

  • What are the actual and perceived threats to the UK’s democracy, and from where do those threats originate? 
  • What are the objectives, working methods and resources of the Defending Democracy Taskforce? What has it achieved since its creation in November 2022? 
  • Is there more that the Defending Democracy Taskforce could do before upcoming elections to protect political parties, elected officials and core electoral infrastructure? 
  • How does the Defending Democracy Taskforce inform the decisions of the National Security Council, the National Security Risk Assessment process and wider Government activity to counter state threats? 
  • How secure and resilient are elections across the UK, when it comes to foreign interference? 
  • What is the role of independent bodies such as the National Cyber Security Centre, Ofcom and the Electoral Commission when it comes to foreign interference and are they sufficiently empowered and resourced to undertake that role?
  • What role are emerging technologies, such as generative AI, expected to play in upcoming elections?
  • What can be done to improve public awareness of disinformation, fraud and technological interference such as that through AI or deep fakes?
  • How effective is the UK’s legislative framework for defending democracy, including the new powers under the National Security Act 2023?
  • How does the Foreign Influence Registration scheme strengthen the resilience of the UK political system against covert foreign influence?
  • How will threats to UK democracy evolve in the medium and long term, and how prepared is the UK for addressing these threats?
  • What does the UK do to support democracy abroad and how should the Government work with non-governmental organisations to contribute to defending democracy?
  • How can the UK work better with other democracies to tackle foreign interference and uphold democratic values?

The Committee will also accept confidential submissions on request. Please read this guidance for advice on submitting evidence to the Committee. /ENDS

Further information

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