Claire Woodall-Wogg, the director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, became the target of a barrage of abusive messages and threats after her communication with election consultant Ryan Chiu was exposed on the Gateway Pundit and Wisconsin Spotlight websites in mid-2021.
Some readers of these sites took the humorous and seemingly innocuous messages published by one party in the correspondence and concluded that Woodall-Wogg had manipulated the presidential election in favor of Joe Biden.
The FBI launched an investigation into the threats and acquired a search warrant against an anonymous user of encrypted email service ProtonMail. In the email to Woodall-Wogg, the user made derogatory comments about her and threatened repercussions for her actions.
Although the FBI couldn’t access the content of the correspondence, they obtained metadata from Proton Technologies, the owner of ProtonMail. This limited information allowed them to identify the suspect’s other online accounts, gather evidence, and locate the individual.
The suspect has not been charged yet, as the FBI determined that he lacked both the intention and capability for actual violence against Woodall-Wogg.
ProtonMail’s spokesperson emphasized their stance against illegal activities and the blocking of offenders. While the content of users’ emails remains encrypted and inaccessible even to the company, requests from U.S. authorities to ProtonMail for data are on the rise.
Protecting Election Integrity: Battling Harassment and Ensuring Data Privacy
The incident raised concerns about the potential impact of harassment campaigns on election confidence and the intimidation of election commissions. Experts call for stronger measures against online misinformation and calls for violence.
Woodall-Wogg views these attacks as an effort to “make people feel guilty for doing their job.” She hopes her experience will caution other election officials about the consequences of leaked internal communications.
Harassment affects two-thirds of U.S. election workers, with women accounting for 77% of such incidents. The issue’s seriousness calls for enhanced safeguards for these professionals.
This incident underscores data security and personal privacy concerns in the digital era.
The ProtonMail situation highlights that no defense method is entirely foolproof, despite claims of encryption-protected platforms. The service disclosed user metadata at law enforcement’s request.
Regardless of claimed protection levels, it’s essential to remain cautious about potential risks and exercise prudence in online activities.