- The Washington Times
Thursday, January 16, 2020

The FBI will now notify state officials when local election systems are hacked, reversing course on much-maligned policy to only inform the victims of a cyberattack, the bureau said Thursday.

Previous FBI policy dictated that only direct victims of a cyberattack — such as the county that owned the election equipment — would be notified. The bureau did not necessarily share that information with state governments. 

The FBI said the shift will result in increased collaboration among all levels of government.

“The FBI’s interactions regarding election security matters must respect both state and local authorities,” the bureau said in a statement. “Thus, the FBI’s new policy mandates the notification of a chief state election official and local election officials of cyber threats to local election infrastructure.”

Last year, special counsel Robert Mueller released his report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. His report revealed that a Florida county’s election infrastructure was breached by Russian hackers in 2016.

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis expressed outrage that he had not been briefed on the incident. The bureau ultimately briefed Mr. DeSantis and Florida’s congressional delegation last year.

In a statement, the FBI said it would aim to notify state officials in a “timely” manner.

“Decisions surrounding notification continue to be dependent on the nature and breadth of an incident and nature of the infrastructure impacted,” the bureau said.

The FBI policy change will likely give both sides ammunition for the election security debate with the 2020 presidential election mere months away.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had longed blocked bipartisan election security legislation, prompting criticism from Democrats.

In September, the Kentucky Republican threw his support to a measure that would authorize an additional $250 million to assist states with shoring up their election infrastructure.

Democrats have pushed for more sweeping legislation to tighten election security. They will likely point to the FBI’s shift as proof more work needs to be done.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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