CyberPeace: From Human Experience to Human Responsibility

By: Stéphane Duguin, Chief Executive Officer, the CyberPeace Institute


Everyday, each and every human being must ask: Where will I get food? Water for drinking, cooking, cleaning? Medical care? Can I breathe, think and roam freely? Will my government protect and serve me, keep me safe from violent conflict?


For many, the answers are uncertain, or do not exist. The notions of peace and security are a distant dream, a fantasy that bears little resemblance to daily realities. These questions are now intrinsically linked to cyberspace. In this context, digital ecosystems can be a bridge or a threat, a cure or a disease.


As cyberspace has expanded to nearly every facet of human existence, cyberpeace must similarly encompass the full depth and breadth of the human experience. CyberPeace necessarily involves an integrated approach; one which focuses on human life and condition.


CyberPeace exists when human security, dignity and equity are ensured in digital ecosystems.


While the international community, including politicians and policymakers at the United Nations, has recognized the need to be more “human-centric,” the CyberPeace Institute believes that an increased focus on human impact is not enough. In our pursuit of CyberPeace, we must start with the human impact. In each and every response, we must recall that the digital is human.


Human security calls us to consider securing the individual both from fear and from want, from attacks and threats from all actors, especially from States, and to be on the lookout for disruptions to daily life, the mundane but essential foundations of reality — of survival. Human dignity and equity remind us that the bare minimum is not enough. Justice and fairness require a critical assessment of social structures, distribution of resources, access and opportunity. We cannot simply seek to secure the status quo. We must secure the human being. This requires much more than the absence of aggression or fear. As a moral imperative, CyberPeace is centered around and motivated by a concern for the well-being of individual human beings.


But how to achieve CyberPeace? How to address such a multi-faceted challenge, whilst contemplating downstream the combined, layered consequences from physical, ethical, cultural and regulatory perspectives?


Just as the end goal of CyberPeace is focused on the human experience, the key means to achieving it is through human responsibility. Driving this sense of responsibility requires awareness, empowerment and, importantly, accountability.


Holding ourselves and each other accountable for our actions is a simple and powerful concept. It is even more important in today’s world, which is undergoing a fundamental redistribution of power as a result of the convergence of disruptive digital innovations, profound mutation in technological usage and increasing divide in digital capabilities globally. Thus far, this transformation has not been accompanied by equally robust mechanisms for documenting responsibilities, tracking commitments and analysing behaviour.


In fact, this persistent lack of accountability is the greatest obstacle to achieving peace in digital ecosystems. In this context, State actors bear the greatest responsibilities, not only to live up to their commitments to CyberPeace but also to ensure that technological and regulatory ecosystems allow for closing the accountability gap. As a matter of fact, this commitment goes beyond State actors. In her 2014 Nobel Lecture, Malala Yousafzai exhorted: “Not just the politicians and the world leaders, we all need to contribute. Me. You. It is our duty.” Ms. Yousafzi was speaking about education but we believe the same applies to CyberPeace.


In cyberspace, the “we” is everyone — and everyone — citizens, governments, private sector, civil society — has a role to play. This collective action is essential to promoting justice, effecting change and ensuring human security, dignity and equity.


The CyberPeace Institute mission is to track and increase these diverse accountabilities, regardless of the context: defining responsibilities; establishing commitments to those responsibilities; evaluating whether everyone is upholding their commitments; and implementing measures to increase follow-through on commitments made. To this end, the Institute gathers testimonials from the field and collects digital evidence, ensuring that cyberattacks and cyber operations are investigated in their local context. Closing the accountability gap will be made possible by shedding light on responsibilities in the context of the societal impact of irresponsible behaviour.

For example, our recent work in the context of cyber attacks against the healthcare sector during the COVID-19 pandemic aimed to increase accountability through several different mechanisms. We started with the impact on human security as our compass point. We recognized that these attacks put human lives at increased risk — during an already grave global crisis — and first sought to provide urgent assistance to the most vulnerable through our Cyber 4 Healthcare matchmaking program. At the same time, we pushed for governments to uphold their commitments with respect to the protection of critical civilian infrastructure, including healthcare, through a public Call to Action and coordinated awareness campaigns aimed at informing and empowering individual end users to uphold their responsibilities as well.

Like many of our partners and others working tirelessly for a better cyberspace and a better future, we recognize that the pursuit of CyberPeace requires addressing both urgent needs, which call for immediate action, and complex, intractable challenges that require dedicated, long-term trench work. We are committed to both.


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The CyberPeace Institute is an independent, non-profit organization with the mission to enhance the stability of cyberspace. It does so by supporting vulnerable communities, analysing attacks collaboratively, and advancing responsible behaviour in cyberspace.


Copyright: The CyberPeace Institute

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