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Political Affairs Chief Spells Out Double-edged Nature of Digital Technologies, in Briefing to Security Council

Members Also Hear from Representatives of Civil Society, Academia

Whereas digital technologies offer “boundless opportunities” for the United Nations to detect crises, position humanitarian stocks and design data-driven peacebuilding programmes, they can also affect conflict dynamics for the worse, the Organization’s political affairs chief told the Security Council today.

“The benefits of digital technologies for the maintenance of international peace and security are manifold,” said Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs. In Yemen, the United Nations Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement has used mapping, geographic information systems and satellite tools to enhance its monitoring of the ceasefire, she noted, adding that the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has held five digital dialogues — each involving more than 1,000 participants — increasing the legitimacy of a process in which communities see that their voices can be heard.

At the same time, the number of State- and non-State-sponsored incidents of malicious use of digital technologies for political or military ends has nearly quadrupled since 2015, according to some estimates, she said. The targeting of vital infrastructure, such as health and humanitarian agencies, is a particular concern, while lethal autonomous weapons raise similar questions about human accountability for the use of force.

“Machines with the power and discretion to take lives without human involvement are politically unacceptable, morally repugnant, and should be prohibited by international law,” she affirmed, emphasizing that more must be done to counter such behaviour. She drew attention to the call for a global digital compact, outlined in the Secretary-General’s Our Common Agenda report, that would outline shared principles for an “open, free and secure digital future for all”.

Along similar lines, Nanjala Nyabola, Director of Advox — the digital rights project of Global Voices — said that after years of unchecked tech optimism, the world is now in a moment of cynicism, as many risks previously discussed are materializing today. “Our appetite for digitalization is outpacing our awareness of its implications, and with the mounting evidence of the harms this disordered approach makes possible,” she added.

Citing an alarming rise in “the global surveillance economy” and widespread use of technologies such as Pegasus against political leaders, journalists and civil society members, she echoed calls for a global moratorium on the development and sale of surveillance technologies and pressed the Council to exert pressure on private corporations to comply with such a ban. She also pointed to a dramatic rise in the use of laws that unjustly expand the definition of criminal libel to make almost all criticism of State officials illegal. “Digital rights and human rights, and any effort to address these challenges, must first begin with the protection of the human from excesses of power of the State and private corporations,” she emphasized.

On that point, Dirk Druet, Adjunct Professor at McGill University Center for International Peace and Security Studies and Non-resident Fellow at the International Peace Institute, said United Nations operations have been drawn into the strategies of parties aiming to influence the outcomes of conflicts in their favour. Emphasizing that the United Nations should take on a more explicit and deliberate role as an information actor in conflict environments, he said access to accurate information can increasingly be considered as a human right in situations of information warfare. The Organization has a role in truth-telling, and as a conduit for reliable information, he added.

In the ensuing dialogue, delegates outlined the challenges of calibrating the use of digital technologies, with several pointing to their abuse in ongoing conflicts around the globe.

The representative of the United States, Council President for May, spoke in her national capacity, pointing to disinformation campaigns against United Nations peacekeepers in the Central African Republic and Mali, as well as the disconnection of Internet access by authorities in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. “These practices are as wrong as they are widespread,” she stressed.

Albania’s representative was among several who pointed to the Russian Federation’s actions in Ukraine. He blamed Moscow for causing communication outages in critical infrastructure in that country and other parts of Europe by deliberately attacking a satellite just one hour before launching the invasion. He said countries of the western Balkans are being targeted by campaigns of interference and information manipulation to trigger instability and undermine their Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

In turn, the Russian Federation’s representative blamed a cyberarmy under the command of Western Governments for spawning numerous uncorroborated sources. While Western media have become “factories for fakes”, IT giants have blocked the accounts of anyone who contravenes the Western elites. Denouncing cybertotalitarianism, marked by the shuttering of Russian channels and the blocking of Russian sites, he demanded the demilitarization of the information space, pointing to a set of draft rules for responsible conduct proposed by the Russian Federation on behalf of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

China’s representative said it is “worrisome” that some Governments politicize scientific or technological issues, abuse State power and want only to suppress the gains of companies, adding that they have imposed technology blockades on certain countries and bullied them over their scientific and technology practices. He called for a rational and open-minded approach, a halt to the creation of divisions around the globe, including in the Asia-Pacific region, and an end to the use of coercive measures to force countries to take sides as well as other destructive measures to destabilize supply chains.

More broadly, India’s representative emphasized the need to address abuse of digital technologies by terrorist groups, highlighting, in particular, the emergence of new financial technologies, virtual currencies, online fundraising methods and crowd-funding platforms.

Taking a nuanced view, Gabon’s representative said the use of drones is becoming “the option of choice” for monitoring and surveillance, which allows for timely reactions and minimizes collateral damage. However, he expressed concern about the robotization and digitization of battlefields, underlining that United Nations peacekeepers and national armed forces must have adequate technology to respond to emerging threats.

The representative of the United Arab Emirates similarly stressed that terrorist and extremist groups must not be allowed to use the Internet to propagate their agendas and manipulate its billions of social media users.

Also speaking today were representatives of France, Kenya, Mexico, Ghana, United Arab Emirates, Brazil, Norway, United Kingdom and Ireland.

The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 12:35 p.m.

Briefings

ROSEMARY DICARLO, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, said digital technologies offer boundless opportunities for sustainable development, education and inclusion. Social media, for example, has transformed human rights and humanitarian advocacy, making it possible to mobilize people quickly and efficiently around issues requiring urgent action. It has also improved the ability of the United Nations to detect crises, better pre-position its humanitarian stocks and design data-driven peacebuilding programming, she noted. The United Nations is using digital technologies in conflict prevention, peacemaking and peacebuilding work, strengthening its information-gathering and early-warning capacity, she continued. In Yemen, for example, the United Nations Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA) has used mapping, geographic information systems and satellite tools to enhance its monitoring of the ceasefire. More broadly, the Organization worked with partners to build an e-learning platform on digital risk management, she said, noting that in various peace negotiations, it has used artificial intelligence-assisted digital dialogues to reach out to thousands of interlocutors.

She also pointed to the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), saying it has held five digital dialogues, each with more than 1,000 participants — an effort that increased the legitimacy of the process as various communities saw that their voices could be heard. Noting that the use of digital technologies can also improve the safety and security of peacekeepers and civilian staff on the ground, she said the launch of the Strategy for the Digital Transformation of Peacekeeping represents an essential step towards that goal. “The benefits of digital technologies for the maintenance of international peace and security are manifold,” she said, while cautioning nonetheless that the advances have also created significant new risks and can affect conflict dynamics for the worse. Highlighting several areas of concern, she said the number of State-and non-State-sponsored incidents of malicious use of digital technologies for political or military ends has nearly quadrupled since 2015, according to some estimates.

Of specific concern is the targeting of vital infrastructure, such as health and humanitarian agencies, she said, adding that lethal autonomous weapons raise similar questions about human accountability for the use of force. “Machines with the power and discretion to take lives without human involvement are politically unacceptable, morally repugnant, and should be prohibited by international law,” she stressed. She said non-State actors are becoming quite adept at using low-cost, widely available technologies to pursue their agendas, noting that Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and Al-Qaida use social media platforms and messaging applications to share information and communicate with followers for the purposes of recruitment, planning and fundraising. The increasing availability of digital payment methods such as cryptocurrencies brings additional challenges, she cautioned. Artificial intelligence systems that may be discriminatory to the widespread availability of surveillance technologies that can be deployed to target communities or individuals raise major human rights concerns.

She went on to highlight the increasing use of Internet shutdowns, notably in situations of active conflict, which deprive communities of their means of communication, work and political participation. She pointed, in particular, to Myanmar, where Internet and mobile shutdowns have risen in number and duration since the military coup of 1 February 2021, particularly in areas of military operations. “The misuse of social media — and the sometimes limited or not fully adequate response of social media companies — is enabling the spread of disinformation, radicalization, racism, and misogyny,” she said, heightening tensions, and in some instances, exacerbating conflict. She noted that as fighting escalated in Ethiopia, there was an alarming rise in social media posts spreading inflammatory rhetoric, with some going as far as inciting ethnic violence. Online disinformation and hate speech, meanwhile, can result in offline harm, including violence, she said.

In response, the United Nations is taking various actions, driven by the Secretary-General’s Plan of Action on Hate Speech and initiatives such as “Verified”, she said. Citing examples in Iraq, she said that after reports of increased online harassment of women candidates in the 2021 election, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) partnered with civil society organizations to monitor hate speech, issue public reports and strengthen voter education. In addition, Member States in the General Assembly have made progress towards establishing a normative framework to ensure responsible behaviour in cyberspace, she said, adding that they are also cooperating to develop and apply a range of confidence-building measures to prevent conflict, avoid misperceptions and misunderstandings, and reduce tensions.

However, more must be done, she stressed, recalling that the Secretary-General’s Our Common Agenda report calls for a global digital compact that would outline shared principles for an “open, free and secure digital future for all”. Together with the New Agenda for Peace and the proposed code of conduct for integrity in public information, the United Nations has a critical opportunity to build consensus on how digital technologies can be used for the good of people and the planet, she said, stressing: “Collective action by Member States remains essential towards this goal.”

NANJALA NYABOLA, Director of Advox, the digital rights project of Global Voices, described herself as a researcher examining the intersection between technology, society and politics, with an interest in deepening the collective understanding of digital rights. She urged the Council to commit to preserving the Internet as a global public good, while cautioning that speaking about digital technology in relation to peace and security should not be interpreted as an invitation to the militarization and securitization of the Internet. However, after years of unchecked tech optimism, the world is now in a moment of cynicism, as many risks previously discussed are materializing today, she noted. “Simply put, our appetite for digitalization is outpacing our awareness of its implications, and with the mounting evidence of the harms this disordered approach makes possible.”

Citing an alarming rise in the global surveillance economy and widespread use of technologies such as Pegasus against political leaders, journalists and civil society members, she said these tools are created in wealthy countries and then deployed or exported to poor ones with no consideration for their rights context, thereby placing those at the forefront of advancing peace at grave risk. She echoed calls for a global moratorium on the development and sale of surveillance technologies and invited the Council to exert pressure on private corporations to comply with such a ban. Turning to the question of access, she said it explores active and passive practices that restrict people’s ability to use the Internet, noting that 2021 saw 181 Internet shutdowns across 34 countries, an increase from 159 shutdowns in 29 countries in 2020. The longest shutdown lasted three years, she added.

In addition, there has been an increase in practices like bandwidth throttling and social media shutdowns, particularly around elections, she continued. Questions around speech, meanwhile, explore restrictions on free expression, information or opinion. She pointed to a “dramatic” increase in the use of legislation to restrict people’s ability to participate in discourse, notably laws that unjustly expand the definition of criminal libel to make almost all criticism of State officials illegal. The information domain, meanwhile, concerns practices that manipulate information in the public sphere to distort people’s perception of reality, and, thus, their ability to act appropriately in response to political or social issues, she said. Misinformation, disinformation and malinformation fall into that category, as does the use of coordinated inauthentic behaviour, or “astroturfing”, to shift the public agenda on social media platforms.

Perhaps the biggest cause for alarm is that the rise of those practices is not necessarily restricted to certain types of Government or those one might label “authoritarian”, she continued. Rather, there is a growing tolerance for allowing national security concerns to overtake those of human rights and democracy. She drew particular attention to the building and export of technologies that enable digital authoritarianism from countries that are nominally democratic to countries that are explicitly authoritarian. Alongside them, she said, are the injustices imbedded within the technologies themselves, including around the just use of artificial intelligence. She underscored the importance of identifying cultures of digital authoritarianism before they take root and spread around the world, pressing the Council to take a multilateral, transnational and generational approach to upholding human rights in the digital age.

“Digital rights and human rights, and any effort to address these challenges, must first begin with the protection of the human from excesses of power of the State and private corporations,” she said, stressing that the power of the Internet can still be harnessed for the greater good. “We must shape and protect it as a global public good, without allowing the interests of security or profit to drown out the interests of peace.” Whatever actions the Council chooses to take must look beyond the present moment to protecting the aspirations of future generations, she emphasized, asking: “What shared digital future do our actions make possible?”

DIRK DRUET, Adjunct Professor at McGill University and Non-resident Fellow at the International Peace Institute, described how evolving digital technologies are impacting the nature of violent conflict, and their implications for United Nations efforts to prevent violence, sustain peace, and alleviate suffering in war. He noted that the Organization’s operations have been drawn into the strategies of parties to conflict wishing to influence outcomes in their favour. The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) has been the target of deliberate campaigns to undermine its credibility in the eyes of the population, he said, while pointing out that the motivations differ widely depending on the setting and the actors involved. He added that disinformation targeting the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) from local power brokers appears aimed at undermining its operations that would disrupt illicit economic networks.

He said it is equally important to acknowledge the important role played by digital technologies in enabling the United Nations to effectively execute its mandates in modern conflict environments. Its peace operations in Somalia and Mali are making use of natural language-processing technologies to rapidly gain a nuanced understanding of local perceptions and national political discourse, he noted. Monitoring and surveillance technologies such as unmanned aerial systems are being used with increasingly effective integration into Mission-wide qualitative and quantitative data-gathering tools and analysis systems to generate higher-quality peacekeeping intelligence, he said. That translates into better-informed detection of threats as well as more rapid action to protect civilians against violence and ensure the safety and security of peacekeepers.

Emphasizing that the United Nations should take on a more explicit and deliberate role as an information actor in conflict environments, he said that access to accurate information can increasingly be considered as a human right in situations of information warfare. The Organization has a role in truth-telling, and as a conduit for reliable information, he added. Its peace operations must significantly scale up their capacities to monitor and analyse the information space and to respond effectively in the face of malicious communications. Quoting a recent report from the International Peace Institute, he said missions need to “anticipate crises and proactively reframe the narrative to engage in two-way rather than one-way communication, and to tailor their messages to specific audiences”.

He said the United Nations itself will require new technologies and the capacity to use them effectively, in the field of communications but also in the areas of situational awareness and peacekeeping intelligence, data analytics for strategic planning, and new technologies for dialogue and mediation. As the United Nations pushes forward with exciting innovations in those areas, it is vital to recognize that those tools bring with them important and complex ethical, legal and political questions with a bearing on the rights of people already suffering under conflict, he stressed. Whereas it may be tempting to adopt the frames and doctrine of Member States for the use of those tools, United Nations operations are distinct in their interests and responsibilities when using sensitive technologies in conflict settings, he said.

Urging the Secretariat to develop its own organic tools, policies and procedures that take the distinct nature of the United Nations as a user of those technologies into account, he said there is already valuable work to that effect under way, including in the Department of Peace Operations, which is working to enrich its policies on monitoring and surveillance, and in the United Nations-system-wide efforts led by UN Global Pulse to roll out a data privacy policy across the system. If done well, and in full transparency on the part of Member States and the public, those efforts would have an important normative effect in setting the standard for how sensitive technologies can be used responsibility in conflict situations with vulnerable populations, he said.

Statements

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States), Council President for May, spoke in her national capacity, saying social media tools and messaging applications can facilitate access to life-saving information before and during conflict, adding that data from satellites can identify risk from climate change, provide critical information to peacekeepers and improve emergency communications during conflict and natural disasters. However, the oppressing challenge is to address the misuse of digital technologies to restrict human rights and fuel conflict, she emphasized, noting that disinformation campaigns against United Nations peacekeeping missions in the Central African Republic and Mali threaten the security of personnel and undermine their ability to protect civilians. The authorities in Ethiopia’s Tigray region cut off access to the Internet, she added, pointing out that such actions hamper the ability of civilians to gain access to health services, delay the documentation of atrocities and human rights violations, disrupt financial services and prevent families from connecting virtually.

She said the Russian Federation continues to shut down and restrict Internet connectivity, censor content, spread disinformation and intimidate journalists for reporting the truth about that country’s invasion of Ukraine. “These practices are as wrong as they are widespread,” she emphasized, recalling that last month, a group of 60 global partners launched a declaration for the future of the Internet to revitalize a democratic vision for the global Internet, and inviting Member States to join the declaration. “To effectively maintain peace and security in the twenty-first century, we need to respond to twenty-first-century threats and deploy twenty-first century tools,” she said, underlining that now is the time for the United Nations to responsibly harness the power of digital technology so as to take on the most pressing challenges and advance peace and security around the world.

FERIT HOXHA (Albania) said the Russian Federation’s actions caused communication outages in Ukraine’s critical infrastructure and other parts of Europe by deliberately attacking a satellite just one hour before it invaded. The western Balkans are being targeted systematically by campaigns of interference and information manipulation to trigger political instability and undermine their Euro-Atlantic aspirations, he added. Other notorious examples are the repeated malicious activities by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in collecting intelligence, conducting cyberattacks and generating unlawful income, he noted. Welcoming the reports of the Group of Governmental Experts and the Open-ended Working Group on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security, he said that, through those mechanisms, Member States have agreed on a substantial framework that includes existing international law, 11 voluntary non-binding norms and confidence-building measures.

NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) highlighted the potential of digital technologies to contribute to international peace and security, saying they enhance the safety of peacekeepers, improve their performance and help them better protect civilians. They also revolutionize peacekeeping strategic communications, he said, noting that the United Nations Integrated Transitional Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) conducted an online consultation that enabled the entire community, including civil society, to make their voices heard. Technologies can also contribute to the fight against impunity through media coverage and open-source intelligence, as shown in the conflict in Ukraine, he pointed out. In Mali, France recently thwarted an attempt by the mercenary Wagner Group to manipulate information so as to blur the boundary between State and non-State actors, he revealed, emphasizing that shutting down the Internet is a violation of human rights. He also deplored Internet disruption in northern Ethiopia.

T.S. TIRUMURTI (India) emphasized the need to address abuse of digital technologies by terrorist groups, highlighting, in particular, the emergence of new financial technologies, virtual currencies, online fundraising methods and crowd-funding platforms. Noting that some States are leveraging their digital expertise to achieve political and security-related objectives, he said they also indulge in contemporary forms of cross-border terrorism, attacks on critical national infrastructure, and disruption of social harmony by promoting radicalization through the online space. He called for a collaborative rules-based approach to ensuring the openness, stability and security of the digital domain. Stressing the need to equip peace operations with the latest digital technologies to counter those employed by armed groups, he also called upon countries to cooperate in combating the misuse of digital technologies to commit crimes.

ZHANG JUN (China) said artificial intelligence and biotechnology have played an important role in preventing pandemics and controlling climate change. Emphasizing that innovation is indispensable in a highly interdependent global economy, he called for cooperation in science and technology, and for an open, fair environment for the conduct of joint research and development. Science and technology gains must be advanced for the benefit of all, rather than becoming “treasures in a cave”, he said. United Nations platforms should be brought into full play to speed the transfer of technology, share the dividends with developing countries and leapfrog the development gap, he added. Countries must be supported in their use of big data to combat crime, he stressed, also pressing for the use of new technologies to strengthen the collection of information and early warning. Underscoring the imperative that States work with each other to control risks, he highlighted the role of the United Nations as the main forum for dialogue.

He went on to say that States should adhere to multilateral, multi-stakeholder approaches and improve universally accepted rules and norms, adding that they must also oppose cybersurveillance and attacks while avoiding an arms race in outer space. It is “worrisome” that some Governments politicize issues of a scientific or technological nature, abuse State power and wantonly suppress the gains of companies, he said, noting that they have imposed technology blockades on certain countries and bullied them over their scientific and technology practices. He called for a rational and open-minded approach and a halt to the creation of divisions around the globe, including, in the Asia-Pacific region, the use of coercive measures to force countries into taking sides, and other destructive measures to destabilize supply chains.

MICHAEL KAPKIAI KIBOINO (Kenya) underscored the need for a “community of discussants and actors”, including the Council, to ensure a balance between fostering digital innovation and addressing the malicious use of technology by State and non-State actors. The United Nations must support countries in addressing the consequences of the digital revolution on national stability, including through the misuse of artificial intelligence, big data and social media, he said, noting that the Council has a responsibility to ensure that the United Nations has the expertise and capacity to play this role. Highlighting the link between technology and peace, he noted that electoral processes often face security vulnerabilities on digital platforms, he called for more investment to help Governments secure the link between cyber and electoral security. Calling for enhanced partnerships between technology companies, policy regulators and the United Nations, he encouraged technology companies to establish regional hubs to better identify and support Governments in addressing fake news. He went on to note that the data-driven nature of emerging technologies has opened the door to misuse by armed and terrorist groups, and stressed that States must have the capacities to combat the online terrorist threat, as well as illicit financial flows and the removal of online extremist content. The safety of women participating in peace processes is critical, he said, urging States to prosecute perpetrators of online attacks and physical violence against women. “The Council must increase the costs of all online intimidation,” he added.

JUAN GÓMEZ ROBLEDO VERDUZCO (Mexico) said digital technology should be used, first and foremost, to defend human rights and democracy, underscoring his country’s commitment to a free, open and stable cyberspace, fully governed by international human rights, international humanitarian law and criminal law, as well as other sources of jurisprudence. He cited the Group of Governmental Experts on Advancing responsible State behaviour in cyberspace, and the General Assembly Open-Ended Working Group in that regard, as well as the Ad Hoc Committee to Elaborate a Comprehensive International Convention on Countering the Use of Information and Communications Technologies for Criminal Purposes. He called for bolstering digital capacities in peace operations and in special political missions, noting that mission staff can benefit from the flexibility offered by telemedicine. The use of social networks is key to enhancing the relationship between peace missions and the communities in which they operate, he said, citing General Assembly resolution 75/316, promoted by Mexico, which underscores the impact of technological change on international peace and security.

HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana) said that building national capacity to enhance cybersecurity must be at the heart of developing a robust framework for the use of digital technology. The malicious use of technologies by terrorists and extremist groups requires that vulnerable countries such as some in Africa, where fragilities exist, should obtain the support required to strengthen their digital capacity, in line with the African Union’s Digital Transformation Strategy. He also encouraged support for the implementation of existing treaties, such as the Budapest Convention and the African Union Convention on Cybercrime and Personal Data Protection. Support for regional platforms for sharing intelligence and information, such as the Accra Initiative, could further enhance the early detection of the expansionist agenda of terrorist networks in West Africa, including their online activities, he said.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said the idea of digital technologies as an “unequivocal force of hope” has not come to pass, as the manipulation of information has assumed threatening importance. A cyberarmy — under the command of Western Governments — has spawned numerous fake and uncorroborated sources, he added. He pointed to the “crude fabrications” by the “White Helmets” and Bellingcat about the Syrian chemical weapons dossier and the “MH17 issue”. Expressing concern that an information war is being carried out in a manner that is not only divorced from reality, but also aimed at completely superseding it, he emphasized: “The truth is pushed aside.” Noting that Western media have unspooled so-called information about the deaths of civilians in Bucha, blaming Russian troops and spreading “fakes”, he said that when faced with the facts, the media had to acknowledge that residents of Bucha were killed not of gunshot wounds, but rather, by obsolete artillery shells used by Ukrainian forces.

While Western media outlets have become “factories for fakes”, IT giants have blocked the accounts of anyone with an agenda that contravenes that of Western elites, he continued. Expressing his delegation’s objection to hate speech and cybertotalitarianism, marked by the shuttering of Russian channels, blocking of Russian sites and a campaign to undermine ICT infrastructure, he said a cyberarmy was announced in Kyiv, with an open acknowledgment of attacks against Russian and Belorussian targets. He added that the task was advanced in April by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) during its “Locked Shields” cybersecurity exercise, as well as through a $10 million award for anyone who could justify the Russian Federation’s involvement in cyberattacks against the United States. Aside from flooding Ukraine with weapons, there is unchecked distribution of cyberweapons and trainings on their use, he said, accusing Council members of creating an unchecked cyberarmy that is advancing under their command to attack the Russian Federation.

Warning that the threat will not stop there, he said the hackers will spread around the world, creating a threat to Western citizens. “The militarization of the digital space, which has been carried out by the West, has exacerbated the threat of a direct military confrontation,” he added, noting that the risks of an inadvertent escalation and mutual exchange of cyberstrikes rise precipitously. Underlining that the Russian Federation will rebuff any attempts to undermine its information security, he said a cyberconfrontation is just as dangerous as the use of weapons of mass destruction. He demanded the demilitarization of the information space, pointing to a set of draft rules for responsible conduct in that sphere proposed by the Russian Federation on behalf of the Security Cooperation Organization. He also called for an apolitical discussion on all aspects of ensuring information security, under the aegis of the General Assembly Open-Ended Working Group, emphasizing that today’s meeting in no way supersedes the activities of that Group.

LANA ZAKI NUSSEIBEH (United Arab Emirates) said that terrorist and extremist groups must not be allowed to use the Internet to propagate their agendas and manipulate its billions of social media users. Emphasizing the imperative to address the pernicious effects of online disinformation and misinformation campaigns on social media platforms, she said digital innovation is also having an impact on the physical world, multiplying the possibilities of what devices such as drones can do. She went on to recall the attack on an oil tanker off the coast of Yemen by the Houthi terrorist group using a remotely operated “drone boat” laden with explosives. Meanwhile, digital innovations such as artificial intelligence, predictive analytics digital cash transfers and blockchain technology can improve humanitarian operations, she said, highlighting the issue of the digital divide, which disproportionately impacts women and girls.

JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil) said that, to address the challenge of disinformation, Governments must adopt broad strategies. Education campaigns, open debates to raise awareness and cooperation between public and private actors, such as social media companies, can help tackle the misuse of digital platforms for the purpose of incitement to violence and terrorism, he said. Highlighting the need to use technology more efficiently to improve the Security Council’s transparency and agility, he called upon States to encourage the use of new technologies to provide women, young people and civil society with greater access to peace processes. He also underlined the importance of new technologies to strategic communications in peace operations.

MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon) said today’s topic has become increasingly prominent on the international peace agenda, emphasizing that the maintenance of peace depends on a solid system of technologies and innovation. They help bolster tools for managing and preventing conflict, promote better understanding of situations, and improve mission support, he added. Noting that technological progress helps ensure the safety of peacekeepers and civilians, he said the use of drones is increasingly becoming the option of choice for monitoring and surveillance, which allows for timely reactions and minimizes collateral damage. However, he expressed concern about the robotization and digitization of battlefields and emphasized that United Nations peacekeepers and national armed forces must have adequate technology to respond to emerging threats.

MONA JUUL (Norway) said the misuse of digital technologies can impact peace and security globally through Internet shutdowns or the massive spread of disinformation. Still, the positive effects of digital technologies cannot be underestimated, she added, noting that they can also help promote inclusion in decision-making processes by allowing access for groups that have traditionally been excluded, such as women and minority groups. She went on to say that the Council’s use of videoconferencing facilitates the participation of more diverse civil society briefers. Noting that disinformation remains a challenge in many arenas, including posing a risk to United Nations peace operations, she said the best defence against disinformation is a free, independent, and professional media sector. It is essential that media are free to convey important information, ask critical questions, and report on human rights violations and abuses, she emphasized.

JAMES PAUL ROSCOE (United Kingdom) said technology can play a role in preventing the outbreak of conflict, emphasizing that accurate situational awareness for United Nations peace operations during conflict is essential. Technology also facilitates greater accountability, he added, highlighting the benefits of social media in empowering people to tell the world about conflicts they are experiencing, so that the truth, including evidence of mass atrocities or violations of international humanitarian law, cannot be hidden. Pointing to the Internet shutdown by Myanmar’s military junta and the use of surveillance technology to monitor and persecute citizens, he said technology can also be used by those seeking to destabilize. That is particularly true in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as Moscow conducted cyberattacks and spread disinformation about its illegal war, he noted.

BRIAN PATRICK FLYNN (Ireland) noted that cyberattacks, cybercrime, and the abuse of technology to spread disinformation are severely damaging trust, while advances in modern technology are contributing to the changing nature of conflict. Highlighting negative impacts in that regard, including hate speech, he said Russian State-controlled media have cultivated disinformation narratives in an attempt to create a pretext for its illegal, unjustified war in Ukraine. Digital technologies have the potential to play an important role in support of peace, he said, highlighting cases from Colombia to Libya, where digital technologies were used to support greater inclusiveness and promote engagement in peace processes, including by women, youth and minorities. Technology can also act as a force multiplier in peacekeeping missions, he said, adding that it has the potential to offer peacekeepers greater situational awareness and improved data analysis capabilities. He went on to highlight the importance of defending the right to freedom of expression in times of armed conflict, while emphasizing that approaches to digital technologies must be grounded in human rights, the rule of law and democratic values.

Ms. THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States), taking the floor a second time, pointed out that the Russian Federation chose to be unconstructive in today’s discussions, and instead launched baseless attacks to spread the very disinformation that the Council is addressing. Explaining that her delegation will not “go down the rabbit hole” of conspiracy theories, she said it will instead work with other Council members to foster today’s important discussions.

Source: EMM