The Russia Connection

Penn Law Conference on Foreign Interference with Democratic Institutions

By Carrie Cordero
Thursday, April 20, 2017, 3:16 PM

On April 18th, the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law (CERL), University of Pennsylvania Law School, hosted a conference on Foreign Interference with Democratic Institutions. CERL was founded and is directed by Claire Finkelstein, the Algernon Biddle Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy. The event included two panel discussions and featured the 2017 Haaga Lecture, which was given this year by former CIA and NSA Director General Michael Hayden. The speakers who comprised the two panel discussions of the afternoon included former senior government officials, journalists, scholars and lawyers (including yours truly).

Here’s how CERL described the event:

The discovery of widespread attempts to influence the 2016 Presidential election in the U.S. on the part of the Russians has sent shockwaves through the public and has forced us to begin to re-evaluate the current nature of the threats to democratic values and adherence to the rule of law on behalf of foreign governments that do not share the U.S. commitments to the integrity of basic democratic institutions. Drawing lessons from the recent revelations of Russian cyberhacking, as well as Russian involvement in the dissemination of fake news, there is a growing awareness that our reliance on computerized communications and data processing has created vulnerabilities for foreign interference that we had previously overlooked or underestimated.

Cyberattacks or interference with the elections of rival nations is thus emerging as a threat to national security of epic proportions. This program will be divided into two panels: the first panel will consider the nature of the threat posed by Russian hacking and cyber intelligence operations more generally, and will seek an understanding of the legal status of these activities. Does cyberhacking and targeted interference in the U.S. election constitute an act of war? If not, then how should we understand our relationship with countries that regularly engage in these activities? If so, then what actions are permissible under the law of armed conflict to forestall or prevent such attacks on our institutions and those of our allies? Is kinetic action ever justified as a response or in anticipation of a cyber attack? The second panel will address the implications of the flooding of social media with fake news by foreign powers.

Even without security breaches and the hacking efforts on the part of the Russians, the impact of false information disseminated as credible news on social media has implications both for national security and for the integrity of bona fide news organizations. How should we address the dangers posed by the dissemination of fake news and what can we do to protect against the risk that the public that makes critical political decisions will be misinformed and manipulated? How can we combat the dangers of fake news at the same time that we continue to protect and safeguard first amendment rights of both the press and individuals under the Constitution? What are the implications of these cyber activities for the authority of government leaders when their mandate to rule is partially the product of the espionage and other covert activities of rival sovereign powers? This event will be immediately followed by the Distinguished Haaga Lecture, which will be given this year by General Michael Hayden.

Penn Law has posted video for the two panels and the Haaga lecture, all of which are now available online: