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Sen. Kamala Harris says Russia still intends to interfere in US elections

Harris talks up election integrity, data privacy and tech's role in all of it at the annual Lesbians Who Tech conference.

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This story is part of Elections 2020, CNET's coverage of the voting in November and its aftermath.

Sen. Kamala Harris on Tuesday warned that Russia will again meddle in US elections this year, predicting it will take a page from its successful 2016 playbook.

The former Democratic presidential candidate referred to Russia's interference and use of tech and social media to "create chaos" and compromise the integrity of our election system.

Kamala Harris Lesbians Who Tech

"When they influenced our elections, they diminished in some ways the integrity of our election system and therefore their goal was accomplished," Harris said speaking at the Lesbians Who Tech & Allies virtual Pride Summit. "And they did it through technology."

Tech companies, wittingly or unwittingly, play a role in foreign attacks on our country, she said. Asked about Jack Dorsey's move to ban political ads from Twitter, Harris referred to a bill she proposed that would require political ads to disclose who paid for them, something that is required in TV ads but not on social media.

"Until we can get legislation passed I would urge that social media companies institute [requiring disclosures] as their policy,"  she said.

Nefarious parties "are not going to relent," she said. "2020 is not going to be immune and [there will be] attacks, misinformation campaigns, distortions of reality and truth to turn the American people off from this election." A report in October from the Senate Intelligence Committee, of which Harris is a member, already calls for measures to prevent interference in this year's elections.

Speaking to data privacy, Harris said while she never wants to suppress innovation, she wants to make sure consumer information is protected. She created the Privacy and Protection Unit while she was serving as California's attorney general to make sure that the public is "informed, aware of and have the tools to make the decisions about their personal information, their data," she said, "so they're not in a system that might bring convenience to them, without realizing what they might be giving up in exchange."

Many companies and startups are doing well because "they have figured out a way to accumulate a lot of data which can then be processed and dissected and analyzed in a way that things can be sold," she said.

"There still remains a lot of space in that place...to inform consumers and to protect them around their private information and their data. That's the new gold." 

And as far as tech's role in the current protests, she said that while the '60s and '70s saw their share, "one of the differences now than before is that everyone is seeing what certain communities have known for generations, and they can't therefore turn a blind eye in a way previous generations did."