New York: Digital technologies have profoundly transformed all aspects of society. It offers endless opportunities for development, education and social inclusion, and transforms the process of advocacy on issues such as human rights and humanitarianism, enabling large numbers of people to be quickly mobilized around the world around important issues that require urgent attention.
However, technological advances are increasingly being misused by governments and terrorist groups to create instability and exacerbate conflict, including through the dissemination of disinformation and hate speech online.
It was one of the main points raised by Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, on Monday during the Security Council meeting on technology and security. This is the second signing event hosted by the US delegation, which holds the Council’s rotating presidency this month, following last week’s discussion on conflict and food security.
The Security Council is increasingly involved in efforts to address cybersecurity issues and the role of information and communication technologies in influencing and shaping events in modern societies. The UN is also leveraging digital technologies to improve its work on the ground.
In a briefing at the start of the US presidency of the Council, Linda Thomas Greenfield, the US envoy to the United Nations, said that this issue was a “new and important priority for the Security Council” and that “it It’s time for the Council to face the impact of digital technologies.”
DiCarlo said digital tools are helping to strengthen the UN’s information-gathering and early-warning capabilities in many places. In Yemen, for example, the United Nations Support Mission for the Hudaydah Accord has used mapping tools, geographic information systems and satellite technologies to improve its monitoring of the ceasefire in the governorate.
DiCarlo said new technologies have also helped remove barriers to access for groups traditionally excluded from political and mediation processes, and thus helped promote inclusion. She gave the example of the digital discussions with thousands of Libyans from all walks of life, which were broadcast on television and on social networks.
“This effort increased the legitimacy of the process, as different communities saw that their voices could be heard,” she added.
Similarly, in Yemen, digital technologies have allowed the UN special envoy to connect with hundreds of women across the country, DiCarlo said, “providing insight into the gendered dimensions of war.”
However, he also warned that incidents involving the malicious use of digital technologies for political or military purposes have quadrupled since 2015, and said activities targeting infrastructure that helps deliver essential public services are of particular concern.
A May 2020 report by the UN Secretary-General noted that new technologies are often used for online surveillance, law enforcement, censorship and harassment, and called for more efforts to develop guidance on how to apply human rights standards in the digital age.
Last month, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on the role of states in addressing the negative effects of disinformation on human rights. He called on members to refrain from conducting or sponsoring disinformation campaigns.
“Non-state actors are increasingly adept at using widely available, low-cost digital technologies to pursue their agendas,” DiCarlo said.
Groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda remain active on social media, using messaging platforms and apps to share information and communicate with their supporters for recruitment, planning and fundraising purposes.
Referring to the malicious use of technology by “high power non-state actors”, Lana Nusseibeh, permanent representative of the United Arab Emirates to the United Nations, said commercially available drones are now capable of flying more quickly, cover greater distances and carry larger payloads, taking advantage of artificial intelligence and other tools to work without manual control.
“Drones don’t just work in the air,” she said. “On March 3, 2020, the Houthi terrorist group used a drone boat loaded with explosives and a remote control to attack an oil tanker off the Yemeni coast.
“If the attack is successful, the attack would have devastating effects not only on the tanker and its crew, but also on the environment, local supply routes and communities along the Yemeni coast that depend on the sea. for their survival.
DiCarlo said the misuse of social media can fuel polarization, violence, misinformation, extremism, racism and misogyny.
She also expressed concern about the increasing use of internet shutdowns in times of active conflict which, in her own words, “deprives communities of the means of communication, work and political participation”.
She called on Member States to seize what she described as a crucial opportunity to build consensus on how digital technologies can be used to benefit people and the planet, while addressing their risks.