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Home Secretary Meeting Big Tech To Collaborate On Election Year Challenges

Home Secretary James Cleverly will be in the US early next week (Alamy)

3 min read

The Home Secretary will meet with technology giants in the US next week to discuss how the UK government and tech players can work together to tackle a number of huge challenges facing democracies in the digital age.

James Cleverly is visiting the US next week and will meet tech leaders including Apple, Google, and Meta in San Francisco, the home of Silicon Valley, the global centre for high technology and innovation. He will also travel to New York where it is expected he will meet officials from X, formerly Twitter.

The meetings have been organised in response to a growing mood that the UK government and other Western democracies will need to not only talk to each other, but work together to tackle growing challenges around misinformation, digital fraud, and digital exploitation and crime. 

A general election is expected in the UK by the end of the year, and more people across the world vote in elections in 2024 than in any other year in history – including in the US presidential election in November. MPs and experts have therefore warned that this year could be an "acid test" for whether democracies can protect political debate and free speech from the dangers of misinformation and disinformation.

A government source told PoliticsHome that the home secretary will talk to the firms to make sure the digital sphere has "safeguards against attempts at malign influence in the democratic process".

Ahead of the Global Fraud Summit being held in London on 11-12 March, Cleverly is also going to discuss with the companies what measures they are taking to tackle digital fraud. The UK has been working with the UN on bringing these firms on board for the Global Digital Compact, an initiative to try to ensure that digital technologies are used responsibly for the public's benefit.

PoliticsHome understands that the home secretary will hold platform-specific talks with firms on how to work together to address areas such as digital exploitation and crime.

"The challenges for both are not going to disappear or be ignorable," a government source said.

The matter of online safety will also be touched upon. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told Conservative MP Siobhan Baillie in the Commons on Wednesday that the home secretary would raise user verification with social media firms when he meets them next week.

The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) is responsible for the government's online safety measures and PoliticsHome understands there was some confusion from DSIT over why the home secretary was meeting firms to discuss this. A Home Office source said that there was overlap between online safety and digital crime, meaning it therefore would sometimes fall under the Home Office's remit.

"User verification can be a powerful tool to keep people safe online," Sunak said on Wednesday.

"The Online Safety Act 2023 requires companies to offer all adults optional user identity verification. Companies will also need to take firm action to improve safety for children in particular, and Ofcom will be able to monitor tech companies and have strong powers to ensure they comply."

However, Baillie warned that this was "not good enough" as many tech companies only offer public ID verification options at a fee.

"Bereaved parents are campaigning for more measures to protect kids online, fraudsters are routinely exploiting fake social media accounts to scam, and there are fears of global political interference in elections from faceless, traceless bots," she said.

"It is creating the perfect cyber-storm."

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