On October 23, 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Strengthening Harmful Interference in elections for a Lasting Democracy (SHIELD) Act. In a 227-181 vote, mostly along party lines, House Democrats passed this newest piece of election security legislation. The SHIELD Act 2019 focuses on regulating paid online political advertisements and would require campaigns to report any illicit offers of assistance by foreign governments or agents.
The Third Cybersecurity Legislation Passed By House Democrats
Election cybersecurity issues and the threat of foreign or other bad faith agents meddling in our election process has been a high priority concern since the 2016 Presidential Elections and the major Russian cyber-attack that had an undeniable effect on them. 1 Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s recent testimonies to Congress about the social media company’s stance on consumer privacy and false information in its political advertising platform have been gaining major attention. 2
And this new cyber SHIELD Act signifies the third time this year Democrat representatives in the House have passed major election security legislation. The House passed the “For the People Act” in early March.3 While the “Securing America’s Federal Elections” Act was passed by the House in June,4 both pieces of legislation have yet to pass through the Senate.
Chances Of Getting Passed By The Senate Are Low
While the House of Representatives, with its majority of Democratic representatives, may have successfully passed the SHIELD Act, the act will not likely get passed by the GOP-controlled U.S. Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnel has spoken against these new pieces of election security legislation and confirmed his opposition to this particular bill on the Senate floor.
“House Democrats have achieved something remarkable here. They have drafted legislation that is so anti-First Amendment that it has united everybody from former Federal Election Commission commissioners to the ACLU to yours truly in opposition to it.” – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell 5
Freedom of Speech Objections To The Cyber SHIELD Act
Indeed, opposition to the SHIELD Act 2019 has not all been along party lines. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sent a letter urging leaders of the House Administration Committee to amend the bill due to significant First Amendment concerns.
“There is no doubt that foreign governments, foreign political parties, and foreign nationals maliciously interfered with a U.S. election in 2016, and the danger that they will do so again in 2020 is very real. We are glad to see Congress train its gaze on finding ways to prevent such interference from happening again. However, any legislative changes made to address that problem must be narrowly tailored to avoid infringing upon civil liberties. The SHIELD Act, as it currently stands, strikes the wrong balance, sweeping too broadly and encompassing more speech than necessary to achieve its legitimate goals.” – National Political Director Ronald Newman & Senior Legislative Counsel Kate Ruane 6
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- Eric Lipton, David E. Sanger, Scott Shane, The New York Times – The Perfect Weapon: How Russian Cyberpower Invaded the U.S.
- Helaine Olen, The Washington Post – Mark Zuckerberg flounders before Congress
- Peter Wade, Rolling Stone – House Passes Anti-Corruption, Pro-Voter Rights ‘For the People’ Act
- Nicholas Fandos, The New York Times – House Passes Election Security Package, With an Eye on Mitch McConnell
- Jordain Carney, The Hill – McConnell pans House election interference bill
- Roman Newman & Kate Ruane, ACLU – ACLU LETTER EXPRESSING SIGNIFICANT FIRST AMENDMENT CONCERNS RE: THE SHIELD ACT (H.R. 4617)