This week’s news that the Russian Government was behind hacks of the Democratic National Committee’s computer systems and Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta’s GMail account was actually not news at all. Everyone knew — while the election was unfolding — that the Russians were attempting to hack and release damaging information of candidates, campaigns, PACs and political parties.
What was new last week was the revelation of our current president’s feckless response to the hacks, and the incoming president’s dubious denial that the Kremlin was involved.
Fortunately, there is still no evidence that Russians or anyone else hacked voting. Even President Obama has admitted that the results of the election accurately reflect the will of the American people, as expressed through the electoral college. That’s the most important thing.
What the Russians were attempting to do was to steal and release information — seemingly selectively, perhaps even falsely—knowing that the information invariably would become part of the narrative of the campaign. Of course, anyone who was concerned about that — and indeed, everyone should have been — had ample opportunity to assess the Russians’ obvious efforts and decide for themselves whether and how it should impact their vote for president, if at all.
(On this point, Senator Marco Rubio took a very principled stand and refused to use or even discuss hacked information, because it had been obtained unlawfully and he did not want to reward the hackers’ efforts by doing exactly what they had hoped people would do with the information.)
Attempts by foreign governments and other outside interests to influence our elections in this manner are unacceptable, and should be met with swift and stern consequences.
But we also need to recognize reality. Information that is stored in the cloud, or on computers and other devices that are connected to the Internet, is going to be a target. And there is virtually nothing that we can do to stop information from being posted on the Internet — whether in this country or another, and without regard to how the information was obtained and whether it is true — and then spreading virally through the electorate.
So campaigns need to take responsibility for the security of their information. Some campaigns this cycle have already done so — by moving their internal communications to encrypted messaging apps. All campaigns should do so in the future.
And voters are going to have to become discerning of information they learn via the Internet — be it leaked, hacked, fake or otherwise.
Finally, the media — which already self-censors certain types of coverage for various reasons of policy (for example, the names and faces of mass shooters, the names and faces of suspected terrorists, footage of fights and streakers at sporting events) — needs to decide whether it wants to continue to traffic in stolen information.
As a Republican, I truly hope Democrats believe that, with everything else that was going on in the election, the release of John Podesta’s hacked emails swung hundreds of thousands of votes in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin and lost the election for Hillary Clinton. (These are, after all, the same Democrats who knowingly nominated a candidate for president with an admitted, well-documented history of disregard for the security of digital information.)
But as an American, I hope our government gets serious about attempts by foreign governments and other outside interests to disrupt our political process — and that political operatives, candidates and the campaigns, PACs and party committees they lead will, in future cycles, button up their information and data security protocols.
Vladimir Putin only will be emboldened by the success of his efforts in this election. We should expect that hacking American and other free elections now will become intramural sport for the governments of Russia, North Korea, Iran and other enemies of freedom and democracy around the world. We cannot stop them from trying, but we should not make it easy for them. And if they succeed, our government should not stand idly aside, and the media, candidates and our political institutions should not be accomplices to their efforts.