The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Facebook, and Microsoft hosted a joint briefing on Friday, Aug. 24, for the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) and the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED) regarding “actions being taken to combat malicious interference operations.”

“Like cybersecurity, countering foreign influence is a shared responsibility, and these calls are an important indicator of the level of cooperation between our public and private partners to share information and take action,” said Chris Krebs, under secretary for DHS’ National Protection and Programs Directorate.

This is the second time DHS, FBI, and Facebook have briefed top state election officials in recent weeks. DHS and FBI have favored these briefings as a way to facilitate information sharing between the private sector and public officials.

“Strong relationships with the private sector are a pillar of the FBI’s operational strategy to combat foreign influence operations,” said Michael McGarrity, acting executive assistant director of the FBI’s National Security Branch. “Companies have a key role in taking action to secure their networks and platforms. Working together with our partners, the FBI shares actionable intelligence to better enable these companies to address any abuse of their systems by foreign actors.”

Microsoft concurred with McGarrity’s assessment of the importance of building relationships across the public and private sectors.

“No one organization, department or individual can solve this issue alone, that’s why information sharing is so important,” said Tom Burt, corporate VP of customer security and trust at Microsoft. “To really be successful in defending democracy, technology companies, government, civil society, the academic community and researchers need to come together and partner in new and meaningful ways.”

Specifics on what was discussed during the call were not released publicly, however, NASS and NASED both praised the calls and said the information was useful as they prepare for the upcoming midterm elections.

“We appreciate the work done by DHS and FBI to make sure that we in the election community have a full picture of the efforts to interfere in our democracy,” said Keith Ingram, director of Elections from Texas and president-elect, NASED. “Cybersecurity preparedness and resilience is a group effort, requiring collaboration across all levels of government and the private sector. NASED values the opportunity to hear from companies like Facebook and Microsoft about the steps they’ve taken to curtail malfeasance on their platforms. We are encouraged by their partnership, and that of our other private sector partners, as we approach the November general election.”

Facebook, which has come under public fire for its handling of potential foreign threats during the 2016 election, stressed the importance of cooperation and collaboration.

“Effectively combating coordinated information operations requires many parts of society working together, which is why Facebook believes so strongly in the need for collaboration between law enforcement, government agencies, security experts and other companies to confront these growing threats,” said Kevin Martin, Facebook VP of Public Policy.

Missing from the call was another social media giant, Twitter. Though Twitter has also come under examination for its handling for foreign actors attempting to influence the 2016 election, it hasn’t been included in either of the recent briefings arranged by DHS and FBI.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.