Is It Illegal to Interfere With Another Country's Election?

By George Khoury, Esq. on October 10, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Amid the recent allegations from the White House that the Russian government was involved in the DNC cyber attack, questions have been arising about the legality of international hackers interfering with elections. There are several laws on the books in the United States -- and in most countries -- that make it illegal to interference with an election, whether through cyber attack or otherwise. However, it's not so simple to determine how these laws can be enforced against a person in a different country.

The White House's recent position on the DNC hack has grave implications due to the strained relationship between the US and Russia. While there are numerous international agreements in place that address international espionage and cyber-crime, getting concrete proof that the attack came from Russian officials may not be possible. Additionally, to enforce US laws that address these issues would require extradition of the responsible party to US soil, so they could be tried in a US court.

What Can Be Done About the Russian Hack on the DNC?

Since the 1990s, as the internet became more prevalent, criminals have found new ways to steal and defraud, while law enforcement has struggled to keep up. As the technology rapidly advanced, the legislature sought to keep criminal laws up-to-date when it comes to cyber-crimes. However, when it comes to any attack on the election process, election laws will likely have more of an impact than those relating to cyber attacks.

In the United States, the FBI is charged with investigating international cyber-crimes through the use of international partnerships. However, even with the extensive expertise of the FBI, finding out who the specific actors are behind the recent cyber attack on the DNC is not likely to happen. Without being able to trace the attack to the exact source, extraditing the responsible individual(s) is impossible. The White House explained that since they are confident that the attack was at least approved by Russian officials, pursuing some form of sanction against the country is being concerned.

Imposition of economic sanctions would be meant to exert pressure on the Russian government to either cease authorizing cyber attacks, or potentially to mobilize the government in seeking out and punishing the bad actors. The sanctions would likely be brought in coordination with other countries in a joint effort to send a message, not just to Russian hackers, but to all hackers across the world, that engaging in international espionage via the internet can result in an entire nation facing sanctions.

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