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Regulating the piranhas - Digital Threat Digest

PGI’s Digital Investigations Team brings you the Digital Threat Digest, SOCMINT and OSINT insights into disinformation, influence operations, and online harms.

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On 1 April 2024, the UN Office of the Secretary-General's Envoy on Technology published the zero draft of the Global Digital Compact (GDC). The GDC, first pitched to the international community in September 2020 as part of the Common Agenda, aims to “outline shared principles for an open, free and secure digital future for all.” The GDC is meant to provide a framework of engagement for governments, international organisations, and other stakeholders to regulate and "even out" technological development across the globe, ideally cutting out the darkest corners of the web.

The GDC revolves around 5 key goals, which the UN has somewhat embedded within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in an effort to facilitate their implementation in policymaking. These are: closing the digital divide, increasing inclusion in the digital economy, fostering an inclusive and safe digital space, advancing equitable international data governance, and governing emerging technologies for humanity.

Providing effective domestic internet governance is a catch-22. Doing so at global level is the equivalent of trying to teach a pool of piranhas about online safety by waggling a sign in front of them, hoping they'll opt for digital etiquette over finger nibbling. Don't get me wrong, it is great to see the international community catching up with the idea that a free-for-all approach to digital development is ineffective. It is even more exciting to see them building this framework around a human-right centric approach, where mis- and disinformation are recognised as key risks and digital public goods as a service that needs to be funded and developed.

What I think is a bit naive about the draft is the approach (or lack there of) to cross-border data flows as well as the idea of establishing a "universal, free and secure" internet with little indication as to how that may be done.

In principle, these are all key aspects of the internet we want to experience. In reality, we are living through a key election year where we see nothing but adversarial behaviours aimed at disrupting democratic processes and undoing the very principles the document upholds. I recognise that it is much easier to be a keyboard warrior from the warmth of my London flat, than it is to try and regulate the pool of piranhas. I also recognise that you have to start somewhere. However, there is no point in putting out policies and legislation that are so out of touch and out of reach, they cannot even be implemented. We already have human rights law for that.

More about Protection Group International's Digital Investigations

Our Digital Investigations Analysts combine modern exploitative technology with deep human analytical expertise that covers the social media platforms themselves and the behaviours and the intents of those who use them. Our experienced analyst team have a deep understanding of how various threat groups use social media and follow a three-pronged approach focused on content, behaviour and infrastructure to assess and substantiate threat landscapes.

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