Speaking notes: The future of tech and peacekeeping, re:publica 2015

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Invited by ZIF – Center for International Peace Operations and representing the ICT4Peace Foundation, I spoke today at re:publica15 in Berlin, Germany on the future of peacekeeping and technology. The session this morning had a very compelling title: NERDS WITH BLUE HELMETS? DIGITAL INNOVATION AND PEACEKEEPING.

My submission was anchored to the following points:

Following from the ‘Performance Peacekeeping’ report, what are the central challenges for peacekeeping in our digital age? What impact will the Internet of Things (IoT) tomorrow, and the democratisation of mobile devices today have for the peacekeeping domain?

  • *radical inclusion*, where like it or not, voices hitherto at the margins, periphery or violent erased could and would record their stories, and disseminate it to a wider public, through a range of media.
  • What are the implications of live-streaming over Twitter? *Social witnessing*?
  • Stories that wouldn’t have been recorded were it not for a range of advances in technologies to record, disseminate, archive and engage. *management of exclusion* important – *actionable intelligence from noise and information*.
  • An *addressable world* would change our interactions within and between, for example, communities, networks and identity groups. Is it the case today, and increasingly in the future, that active agents of peacebuilding and peacekeeping have to necessarily give up more of their privacy in order to do, and say, what they must?
  • *Human avatars from network protocols* and the impact on real world perceptions, realities. How one could even remotely maintain control over privacy within ecosystem of competing owners, location sensors, proxy indicators, sentient nodes, ambient observation, pervasive automation that go on to recreate, digitally, our lives that may in fact be unrepresentative of who we really are? How will the politics of representation change?
  • *Privatisation of information on the web* – what can the UN do with intelligence that resides on corporate servers? The problems around FB’s internet.org initiative (net neutrality).

What implications does the use of big data and data from telcos have on the rights, privacy and safety of host communities and target groups, who are often vulnerable to violent conflict?

  • *New vulnerabilities* – producers of information, and subjects of oversight, aren’t the architects of how what they produce is used.
  • *No guarantee of reform* – Big data use in socio-political systems featuring chronic corruption, political instability and poor legislative oversight. Add to this mix the profit orientation of big corporate bodies, and consumer protection is often secondary, at best, to market imperatives or contra-constitutional state led directives.
  • *Data in the aggregate can discriminate as much as individual records* Even randomised and anonymised, big data can provide insights into geo-fenced communities and specific income groups that are then hostage to the nature of government and timbre of governance prevalent at the time.

Are the normative assumptions around the use of drones, big data and other technologies unsuited to be applied easily to contexts framed by systemic violence and chronic instability? Have legislative and institutional architectures haven’t kept pace with tech developments and indeed, use case scenarios?

  • In March 2014, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms. Navi Pillay noted in her Opening Statement to the 25th Session of the UN Human Rights Council that,

“… the development of new technologies – such as drones and lethal autonomous robots – which push us to the outer edge of our thinking on how to ensure our rights are protected, social media and new information technology which raises the question of where the public and private space lies and the importance of on-line and off-line freedoms..”

  •  *Disruptive technology* isn’t always empowering to vulnerable populations.
  •  *Can create new dependencies on West / existing power structures*. Sharing of information isn’t a given – cost implications, rights of access etc, in-country access post-disaster or within violent conflict, with congested or poor connectivity etc.
  • *Nepal UAV operations* – chaotic, and showcases how hostage UAV operations are to domestic legal and policy frameworks, even post-disaster.
  • *Does democratisation of use lead to more democratic frameworks of governance* – Five years hence, even small NGOs with shoe-string budgets will have operational capability for hyper-local UAV overflights, with or without official airspace regulatory oversight, government authority or, in some cases, military clearance. What about non-state armed actors getting UAVs? What are the optics around UAV crowded skies? How to maintain neutrality in the air?
  • *Informed consent* – what does it mean for UAV overflights? And the sharing of data downstream, months and years after original acquisition?
  • Need for data *sunset clauses*, expiration frameworks for information harvested from disaster affected communities?

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