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July 23, 2020

Annual 2020: Is U.S. ready to combat foreign digital threats as Nov. elections approach?

American democracy is not inevitable and may be more fragile now than ever, say the panelists of the upcoming American Bar Association program, “Hacking Democracy: Elections and Beyond,” taking place at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, July 29, during the 2020 ABA Virtual Annual Meeting.

As the presidential election nears and our nation copes with both the COVID-19 pandemic and inflamed racial tensions, foreign adversaries are exploiting the lack of public trust in American institutions and processes, from elections to the justice system, the panelists say, pointing to efforts like disinformation strategies based on hack-and-leak and deep fake videos.

Exploring these digital threats to democracy, the panel of cybersecurity experts include:

  • Harvey Rishikof, director of policy and cybersecurity research at the University of Maryland Applied Research Laboratory for Intelligence and Security
  • Suzanne Spaulding, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and former undersecretary for the Department of Homeland Security
  • Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, Supreme Court of California
  • James McPherson, undersecretary of the U.S. Army

After opening remarks from ABA President Judy Perry Martinez, the panelists will discuss U.S. readiness to counteract foreign attacks and the way forward to protect our national security.

Spaulding will outline the threat landscape and how it could impact the upcoming elections. Her  CSIS report,  “Countering Adversary Threats to Democratic Institutions,” spells out Russia’s efforts to paint democracy as corrupt, hypocritical and chaotic. The goal of Russian President Vladimir Putin is to weaken the United States by amplifying division and distrust among its citizens, she says, emphasizing why U.S. civic literacy is so vital to counteract the efforts.

Justice Cuéllar will discuss threats to the U.S. courts and the American system of justice, and ways to secure the court system, using California as an example of recent efforts.

Undersecretary McPherson will discuss what the Army is doing to address many of these issues, including the role of the military in the civilian arena. 

The program is sponsored by the ABA Cybersecurity Legal Task Force, ABA Standing Committee on Law and National Security and ABA Division for Public Education.