chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.

Former AG Holder warns of election security threats

October 5, 2020

Possible threats to the Nov.3  general election were explored in a “fireside chat” between former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, now a  Covington & Burling partner, and Jim Dempsey, executive director of the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology, during  a Sept. 30 session of the virtual Internet of Things ( IoT) National Institute, which was presented by the ABA Section of Science & Technology Law. 

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder

Photo courtesy of Covington & Burling LLP

Both Holder and Dempsey agreed that the American public must be warned about what could happen on Election Day and beyond, but people should not be discouraged from voting.

“We don’t want to turn people off,” Dempsey said. “The response to all of this is, get out and vote.”

Dempsey said he hopes both presidential campaigns and elected officials will be honest with the American public and say, “there’s going to be a lot of crazy stuff said on Election Day and on the days afterwards and we all have to be very careful and very cautious and very patient and let every vote be counted.”

Such scenarios could include candidates declaring victory before votes are counted, he said.

Holder said that though foreign threats “sow discord,” people should not dismiss domestic threats that also could be conducted online and through social media.

“In some ways, this is what worries me the most,” Holder said. “Disinformation could certainly be spread by domestic actors. This (type action) goes all the way back to the beginning of our republic. But (by) using the internet in this way, is what we’re used to on steroids.  I’m really concerned that if you have white supremacists, the alt right engaging in these kinds of things, you have people who are unstable, people who are on the fringes of the fringe, that could result in physical harm, in addition to all of the institutional concerns you ought to have.”

Possible cyberthreats to the election infrastructure also raise concerns about interference with the voting process that could sow doubt about the validity of the election result.

Holder said, “foreign actors” attempting cyberattacks should “make a calculation.”

“We have cyber capabilities we don’t always talk about,” he said. “This is the United States of America. You know Russia might be good; China might be good; Iran might be good. We’re damned good too. To the extent that they (go) at our electoral systems, that would warrant an appropriate and competent response from the United States.”

Holder said the U.S. could impose sanctions on countries who meddle in our elections, which could be matched by allies, that could prove “crippling.”

 “We have a full menu of things we can do,” Holder added.

Holder said Americans are “inundated” with information from the internet, and he suggested people should carefully assess the sources of information to determine whether it’s credible.

Dempsey and Holder noted that the FBI recently issued a press release warning the public of disinformation that could threaten the election.

The chat, titled, “The Race Is On: Getting Ahead of Disinformation, Disruption, and Other Digital Threats to Elections,” was moderated by Ruth Hill Bro, senior adviser for the ABA Cybersecurity Legal Task Force. 

Related links: