Leaders stress partnership to combat digital threats to democracy

Leaders stress partnership to combat digital threats to democracy
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, left, and United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken applaud during the opening ceremony of the third Summit for Democracy on Monday. Source: U.S. Embassy in Seoul’s official X account

By Kuksung Nam, The Readable
Mar. 18, 2024 10:00PM GMT+9

On Monday, global leaders emphasized the need for collaborative efforts between the public and private sectors, alongside international cooperation, in response to the fast-paced evolution of technological tools, highlighting the significant threat such developments pose to the integrity of democratic systems.

Oliver Dowden, Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, left, moderates the first session of the multi-stakeholder roundtable at the third Summit for Democracy on Monday. Photo by Kuksung Nam, The Readable

During the first session of the multi-stakeholder roundtable at the third Summit for Democracy held in Seoul, United Kingdom Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden remarked on the dual nature of technological advancements, especially in artificial intelligence. “Technological development, particularly in relation to artificial intelligence, has the potential to transform society for the better,” Dowden stated. However, he also warned of the dangers, noting, “But we also need to be alert to the risks posed by potential misuse of these technologies by actors who are looking to undermine trust in our democratic institutions.” The summit, titled “Democracy for Future Generations,” was co-hosted by South Korea, the United States, the UK, and Ecuador.

Global leaders are taking a photo at the third Summit for Democracy on Monday. Source: U.S. Embassy in Seoul’s official X account

During the ministerial conference, leaders from 31 countries emphasized the significant positive impact AI technology could have on improving lives by creating new opportunities and accelerating progress across various sectors. However, these global leaders also pointed out the challenges that rapid technological advancements pose to democracy. They specifically warned of the potential for bad actors to misuse cutting-edge technology, particularly in undermining the election process. This concern is especially pertinent in what is being termed a super-election year, with more than 2 billion voters in 50 countries anticipated to head to the polls.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken specifically addressed the challenges of disinformation in his keynote speech at the multi-stakeholder roundtable. “Our competitors, our adversaries, are using disinformation to exploit fissures within our democracies by further sowing suspicion, cynicism, and instability. Pitting one group against another. Discrediting our institutions,” Blinken highlighted. He emphasized that the distortion of the marketplace of ideas is not merely an unfortunate consequence of free speech but poses a direct threat to the freedom of expression itself.

Global leaders underscored the necessity for collaboration across both private and public sectors, highlighting the crucial role of transnational collective action. In his opening remarks, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol called for the international community to pool its expertise and wisdom. He emphasized that rapidly developing technologies should contribute to the advancement of democracy while also protecting the security of citizens and societies. Echoing this sentiment, Věra Jourová, the European Commission’s Vice President for Values and Transparency, remarked that AI security is not an issue isolated to a single country or continent. It is a global challenge that necessitates concerted efforts from both the public and private sectors to restore trust and safeguard elections.

Věra Jourová, the European Commission’s Vice President for Values and Transparency, delivers her speech at the ministerial conference during the third Summit for Democracy. Photo by Kuksung Nam, The Readable

International technology giants emphasized the critical role of partnerships in addressing the potential risks associated with the development of AI technologies. Kaja Ciglic, the Senior Director of Digital Diplomacy at Microsoft, advocated for transparency in information sharing between the private and public sectors, noting the diverse capabilities and perspectives that companies and countries bring to the table. “It is really important to bring in civil society as well and to have a real multi-stakeholder approach,” Ciglic added, stressing the importance of a collaborative strategy. She further highlighted the need for increased awareness and investment in public education about these issues, suggesting that civil society is ideally positioned to lead such initiatives.

During the Summit for Democracy, U.S. Secretary of State Blinken announced an expansion in the coalition to counter the proliferation and misuse of commercial spyware. South Korea, Japan, Germany, Finland, Poland, and Ireland have joined the United States in this movement. This initiative builds on efforts from the previous year’s summit, where the U.S., along with ten other countries, issued a collective statement aimed at addressing the misuse of commercial surveillance technology. Concerns over such technology, used globally to surveil human rights activists, political dissidents, and journalists, underscores the importance of freedom from interference in democracy, and elevates concerns about privacy and security in the digital realm.


This article was copyedited by Arthur Gregory Willers.

Kuksung Nam is a journalist for The Readable. She has extensively traversed the globe to cover the latest stories on the cyber threat landscape and has been producing in-depth stories on security and privacy by engaging with industry giants, foreign government officials and experts. Before joining The Readable, Kuksung reported on politics for one of South Korea’s top-five local newspapers, The Kyeongin Ilbo. Her journalistic skills and reportage earned her the coveted Journalists Association of Korea award in 2021 for her essay detailing exclusive stories about the misconduct of a former government official. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in French from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, a testament to her linguistic capabilities.