A Mueller-like criminal investigation into Russia’s meddling in U.K. politics needed: MP

Collins suggested that the National Crime Agency would be a natural choice to lead an inquiry. Police would be able to compel cooperation from high-level officials at the Leave campaign – the group campaigning for Brexit. Some of these officials have refused to cooperate with parliamentary inquiries. Banks, for example, got up and walked out in the middle of his testimony – or “evidence session,” as it is called in Parliament – declaring he had a lunch appointment. Dominic Cummings, head of the official Vote Leave campaign, ignored several summonses to appear.

In November Theresa May accused Russia of planting fake stories. She told President Putin: “We know what you are doing” (see “Russia ‘weaponized information’ to sow discord in West, destroy post-WWII international order: Theresa May,” HSNW, 17 November 2017). U.K. intelligence chiefs have said that Russian hackers could target the U.K. energy network (see “Russia has been cyber-attacking ‘U.K. media, telecommunications, and energy sectors’: U.K. cybersecurity chief,” HSNW, 20 November 2017).

“Cyberattacks on national infrastructure are seen as a frontline threat … but we must recognize disinformation campaigns organized by the Russians as a threat too,” Collins said. In an interview with the Times he also called for a ban on Facebook accepting political advertising during elections from anyone except registered campaigns.

The Kremlin’s disinformation specialists spent about £77,000 (slightly more than $100,000) to buy 3,000 adverts on Facebook to help Donald Trump win the November 2016 election and deepen acrimony and polarization in the United States. Facebook told lawmakers that 126 million Americans viewed content uploaded to Facebook by Russian government disinformation experts.

Facebook said that it did not find evidence of significant Russian advertising spend in the run-up to the EU referendum, but Collins told the Times that Facebook and Twitter have not disclosed the extent to which Russian bots and trolls exploited their platforms. “I’m not sure the tech companies are doing enough to help us find suspicious accounts,” he said. “There is every chance these Russian networks are far more widespread than we realize and potentially far more influential.”

Collins also said that the government should consider legislation which would compel companies to identify and remove harmful content, rather than wait for it to be flagged by users.

“There’s a danger that we regulate to death the mature industries, but the biggest and most important ones operate largely unseen,” Collins said.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, refused to appear before the parliamentary fake-news inquiry. The company was fined £500,000 by the ICO for failing to prevent Cambridge Analytica from harvesting the personal data of 87 million users. In 2016 Cambridge Analytica used the data it harvested to help the Trump’s campaign.