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Foreign Disinformation

Volume 733: debated on Monday 22 May 2023

12. What discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on countering foreign disinformation in the UK. (905046)

Countering foreign disinformation that seeks to subvert and undermine the UK’s democracy, prosperity and security is vital. The National Security Bill, which is currently making its way through Parliament, will further strengthen our ability to counter hostile state threats.

It is now more than two years since The Times reported that Iranian cyber specialists were peddling disinformation in an attempt to influence the result of the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections. In the same year, the US Department of Justice shut down 36 Iranian-linked websites in a disinformation crackdown. How do the Government intend to combat and disrupt the threat of disinformation spread here in the UK by the murderous Iranian regime?

Disinformation is the concerted effort to create and deliberately spread false or manipulative information, and the hon. Gentleman is right to say that hostile states such as Iran use disinformation as a hostile act against the United Kingdom’s interests. We are constantly reviewing our position on Iran, and this is something we take very seriously at the top of Government.

Microsoft’s digital defence report outlines how nations including Russia, China and Iran are deploying social media-powered propaganda operations to shape opinion, discredit adversaries and incite fear, with harrowing examples of Russia’s use of hybrid warfare in Ukraine. During the passage of the National Security Bill, the Labour party called for an annual report on the extent of disinformation originating from foreign powers, which this Government rejected. Does the Home Secretary accept that the Government have been far too slow in responding to the scale of this threat, and that such an annual report represents the bare minimum that the Government should be doing to protect the UK from foreign hostile and sustained cyber-interference?

I disagree with the hon. Lady’s characterisation that the Government have been too slow to act on Russian state threats. Following the invasion of Ukraine last year, the UK introduced trade sanctions in relation to internet and online media services, preventing designated entities from using platforms to connect with UK audiences online. The Government designated TV-Novosti and Rossiya Segodnya on 4 May 2023, choking off the Russian Federation’s ability to disseminate misinformation across the internet through its state-sponsored RT and Sputnik brands. There has been a lot of effort and a lot of work to counter Russian state disinformation.