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Electoral Cyber Interference, Self-Determination and the Principle of Non-Intervention in Cyberspace

Published on August 26, 2019        Author: 


In recent years we have witnessed persistent attempts to interfere in elections by using cyber means. Russia’s cyber interference in the 2016 US presidential election is a prime and perhaps the most discussed example but it is not the only one; other incidents include electoral interference in the Netherlands, the UK, France and Germany to name just a few (see here). Such interference mainly consists of attacks on electoral infrastructure and operations to manipulate voting behaviour. For example, Russia’s electoral interference in the 2016 US election consisted of ‘hack and leak’ operations to ‘expose, disgrace, or otherwise undermine a particular individual, campaign, or organisation in order to influence public opinion during an election cycle’ (see here) and disinformation operations defined as ‘false, inaccurate, or misleading information designed, presented and promoted to intentionally cause public harm’ including harm to the ‘democratic political processes and value’. (see here at 10).

International law commentators struggled to qualify such operations. Although the majority placed them within the framework of the principle of non-intervention, they concluded that they do not satisfy its conditions and in particular that of coercion (indicatively see here and here).

Against this background, I argue that electoral cyber interference can violate the non-intervention principle. I will do this by reinstating the link between the principle of non-intervention and the principle of self-determination and by introducing control as the baseline of coercion. Before I do this, I will explain how international law traditionally construes intervention in order to expose the regulatory gaps that emerge in cases of electoral cyber interference. Read the rest of this entry…

Filed under: Self-Determination