Laws governing the upcoming British election are not fit for purpose and steps by Facebook and Google to increase transparency around digital adverts are not a substitute for reform, the Electoral Commission said.
In May the government pledged to safeguard elections through new legislation, including a requirement for a digital imprint on election material and stronger laws on foreign donations, after calls from the Electoral Commission to update the laws regulating elections for the digital age.
However, with British politics consumed by Brexit and Boris Johnson replacing Theresa May as prime minister, the government's proposals never became law before the December 12 election was called.
"We think electoral law needs to be reformed. That hasn't happened, so we are continuing to run this election with laws that aren't fit for purpose," Louise Edwards, director of regulation at the Electoral Commission, told Reuters.
"There are definitely going to be things that we would rather see done differently, better and more transparently for the voter that won't be, because the law hasn't been updated."
The vote will be the first general election in Britain since Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg was quizzed last year by US and EU lawmakers over political ads and Cambridge Analytica's use of personal data from 87 million users collected by a researcher through an app on the site.
Facebook has stood by its policy to allow political ads, even as rival Twitter has banned them on its platform ahead of the 2020 US presidential election.
To improve transparency, Facebook and Alphabet's Google have both introduced databases which allow users to see who has spent on which political adverts.
However, while such a move may have been made in anticipation of tighter regulation around labelling political ads online, the Electoral Commission doesn't believe that the steps obviate the need for legal reform.
"We should have legislation in place, and not rely on individual company policies, because those individual company policies are not the same of what the legal definition (of political advertising) is," Edwards said.
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