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FBI Tells The Governor Of Florida About Election Hacking, But Says He Can't Tell Anyone Else

Published: May 16, 2019
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Source: Tech Dirt

I thought this was America, but whatever. Secrecy in all things government, despite the (often misheld) presumption that our public servants will be open and honest about issues that affect us.

It's no secret voting systems and databases are not secure. These are problems that date back 15 years, but have shown little improvement since. Election interference is just another tool in the nation-state hacking kit, and the US is far from immune from these attacks.

Federal agencies investigating election interference are at least speaking to officials in states affected by these efforts. But those officials are apparently not allowed to pass on this information to those affected the most: voters.

Gov. Ron DeSantis met with the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security last Friday to discuss the revelation in Robert Mueller’s report that “at least one” Florida county had its election information accessed by Russian hackers in 2016.

DeSantis told reporters Tuesday that he had been briefed on that breach — which he said actually happened in two counties in Florida — but that he couldn’t share which counties had been the target.

“I’m not allowed to name the counties. I signed a (non)disclosure agreement,” DeSantis said, emphasizing that he “would be willing to name it” but “they asked me to sign it so I’m going to respect their wishes.”

The FBI does love its non-disclosure agreements and gag orders. It uses these to keep service providers from talking about demands for user data and law enforcement agencies from talking about surveillance tech. It seems state officials shouldn't have to sacrifice the public's right to know for their right to know. This isn't normal, and even Governor DeSantis seemed to recognize that.

DeSantis’ comments came during a surreal Capitol news conference during which he wouldn’t elaborate on the highly unusual situation of the federal government asking a governor to sign a nondisclosure agreement, especially in a case involving that governor’s own state.

DeSantis didn't say much, thanks to this apparently voluntary gag order. He did say what was accessed was likely voter databases rather than vote tallying equipment. He also said the attack resulted from successful spearfishing targeting one of the vendors used by the unnamed Florida counties. The FBI sort of backed this up in a statement, saying none of the detected activity "impacted vote counts or disrupted electoral processes."

Still, none of this makes it clear whether or not the counties themselves have been informed of the breach. Or the vendor. Or the voters in the county. The federal government says don't talk about what you've learned, and the residents of the state are at the mercy of the man who thought the flow of information should stop with him.

But it's not just Governor DeSantis and his willingness to sign an NDA. It's the fact that the DHS and FBI demanded one be signed in the first place. This isn't how a democracy should be run. If there are threats to election security, everyone needs to know, not just a few officials at the top of the food chain.

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