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FBI San Francisco Issues Public Guidance on 2020 Election Security

September 3, 2020

by: Staff Report

SAN FRANCISCO—The San Francisco Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is providing the public with additional information to guard against foreign influence and disinformation campaigns in advance of the 2020 election.

“The FBI is working with our federal partners, election officials, and social media companies to share threat information and combat malign foreign influence,” said Deputy Special Agent in Charge Craig Fair. “We all have a role to play to protect the sanctity of our elections. We are providing information and guidance to the public so everyone can make their own informed decisions about what they view, read, and share on social media. We all have a shared mission to protect the American democratic system from foreign adversaries.”

The Foreign Influence Threat

Foreign adversaries, including Russia and China, and foreign-aligned groups try to illegally influence American political processes. Malign foreign influence operations are designed to undermine confidence in our democratic institutions. Three common foreign influence methods are:

  • Cyberattacks against political campaigns and government infrastructure: These attacks might include foreign adversaries hacking and leaking sensitive information from computers, databases, networks, phones, and e-mails.
  • Secret funding or influence operations to help or harm a person or cause: Tactics include political advertising from foreign groups pretending to be U.S. citizens, lobbying by unregistered foreign agents, and illegal campaign contributions from foreign adversaries.
  • Disinformation campaigns on social media platforms that confuse, trick, or upset the public: For example, a foreign group may purposefully spread false or inconsistent information about an existing social issue to provoke all sides and encourage conflict.

How the FBI is Combatting Foreign Influence

In the fall of 2017, FBI Director Christopher Wray established the Foreign Influence Task Force (FITF) to identify and counteract malign foreign influence operations targeting the United States. The FBI, through the FITF, is the federal lead for identifying and combating foreign influence operations targeting our democratic institutions and values inside the United States.

The FBI is working closely with partners at every level to better understand the threat, to share intelligence, and — ultimately — to detect, disrupt, and deter our adversaries. The FBI works closely with interagency partners, as well as state and local partners, to ensure we’re sharing information as it becomes available. This can include threat information, actionable leads, or indicators.

The FBI has also established relationships with a variety of social media and technology companies and maintains an ongoing dialogue to enable a quick exchange of threat information. However, social media companies independently make decisions regarding the content of their platforms and the safety of their members.

The FITF considers strategic engagement with U.S. technology companies, including threatindicator sharing, to be critically important in combating foreign influence actors. We cannot let our guard down when it comes to protecting our elections and we certainly will do everything possible to prevent any foreign power from engaging in malign foreign influence.

The FBI has election crime coordinators in each local field office, including the San Francisco Division, to assess and address potential threats to the primaries and general election and ensure your constitutional rights are protected.

What the Public Can Do

  • Ask simple questions: Ask yourself, “Who are you talking to online?” and “Where did the information you are reading come from?” Maintain a general awareness that foreign adversaries seek to deepen divisions in the United States. They may be counting on you to forward information you don’t know to be accurate.
  • Ask where information originated: Know the origin of information, including the ideology and motivation of the source, and seek out multiple sources to make informed judgements. Be aware of your own assumptions and biases, and how a foreign adversary may choose to manipulate them.
  • Be aware of social media deception: Social media provides our adversaries with a way to easily and anonymously connect with them, so users should know their contacts and followers before forming a relationship with them virtually.
  • Check your polling information: Before election day, ensure the information you receive about your ballot, polling location, or other general information are sourced to official government websites.
  • Beware of “deep fakes”: Emerging technology used to generate “deep fakes” — advanced synthetic audio and video generated through artificial intelligence — may mimic authentic communications in a manner that is hard to detect and to counter. “Deep fakes” may be able to elicit a range of responses which can compromise election security. The FBI has been working with the private sector to get ahead of this issue.
  • Report suspicious activity to social media platforms: Many social media platforms provide users a means to report suspicious behavior/content. Check the respective site for reporting procedures.
  • Report suspicious activity to the FBI: The public can report all suspicious activity to the FBI San Francisco Division at tips.fbi.gov or by calling 415-553-7400.

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