Calling Off Iowa’s “Digital Caucuses” Is a Wise Display of Caution

Lessons in Taking Cybersecurity Concerns Seriously

Caution and restraint are not known as the hallmarks of the digital revolution. Especially when there’s the admirable possibility of increasing participation by going digital, the temptation to do so is strong—and rarely resisted.

But a decision reportedly taken by the Democratic National Committee presents a significant display of caution that deserves both attention and praise. Last month, I wrote here at Just Security about a proposal by Iowa Democrats to add a digital dimension to Iowa’s famous caucuses that can heavily influence the selection of a nominee for president. The Iowa Dems had proposed holding in 2020, for the first time, six “virtual caucuses.” The motivation was admirable: “increasing caucus participation.” Yet the potential for cyber-enabled distortion and disruption appeared, at least from the outside, insufficiently addressed. After all, it takes serious time and resources to build a secure portal, test it, and ensure that the interface is user-friendly while also addressing a wide range of security concerns.

Reflecting those concerns, the DNC has reportedly decided to suspend the  implementation of Iowa’s virtual caucuses. That was surely a tough call to make, given the DNC and Iowa Dems’ praiseworthy desire to facilitate greater participation through such caucuses. It’s the type of tough call we rarely see made in the cyber domain, given the impulse to go digital with more and more of our daily lives, and then sort out cyber concerns later—often too late. But this announcement bucks that general trend and, I suspect, reflects a real consideration—ahead of time—of the cybersecurity risks.

Showing restraint usually isn’t exciting or flashy. But it can be admirable. And, here, organizations like the DNC that take these steps deserve our collective applause for erring on the side of caution, especially in a world replete with cybersecurity and election interference threats.

 

Photo image: Alex Edelman/AFP/Getty Images

  

About the Author(s)

Joshua Geltzer

Founding Executive Director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection and Visiting Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center. Former Senior Director for Counterterrorism at the National Security Council, former Deputy Legal Advisor to the National Security Council, and former Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for National Security at the Department of Justice. Member of the editorial board of Just Security. Follow him on Twitter (@jgeltzer).