Delivered by Her Excellency Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh, Permanent Representative
The UAE would like to thank the United States for organizing this session on an issue of increasing importance. We also thank Under-Secretary-General DiCarlo, Ms. Nyabola, and Mr. Druet for their insightful briefings.
Digital technologies advance at dizzying speed. Let’s think back to 1989, when the World Wide Web was created. By the end of the next decade, Larry Page and Sergey Brin had invented Google. Little did we know at the time, this new idea coming from a garage in California was going to change our lives forever. Fast forward a decade. Google was in everyone’s smart phone and it was an indispensable part of work and life bringing about enormous progress and change.
Now imagine the same warp speed on the nefarious side of technology on our watch. For example, ongoing advancements in digital technologies are multiplying the possibilities of what devices like drones are able to do. In the near future it will be possible that swarms of drones are utilized by terrorist groups to carry out cross-border attacks using facial technology and other features enabled by artificial intelligence without the possibility of attribution to either a State or non-State group. How will States respond to such an attack in the future legally and in accordance to international humanitarian law?
To prevent this dystopian future, we need to take urgent action now in this Council and other fora. What is clear is that we should not expect meaningful answers from political and ethical debates that have not caught up with technologies that are now ubiquitous and that have the potential to be utilized in such destructive ways.
There is no doubt that digital technologies bring their fair share of risks and challenges, particularly as a force multiplier for terrorist groups.
But that is not the whole story.
Digital technologies can also be peace enablers, as we have heard today. For example, natural disaster-warning systems relying on the latest technologies and data allow us to predict extreme weather events like droughts, hurricanes and floods, and preposition aid accordingly. Successive anticipatory action programs in Somalia have helped communities address devastating water shortages and droughts. Thanks to these technologies, OCHA and other partners have been able to mitigate the loss of livelihoods and decline in food consumption, ensure access to water and keep kids in schools, where they belong. Proper information puts the international community in a better position to respond to climate security threats, it saves lives and helps prevent fragility from becoming a trigger of instability.
As we consider the dual nature of digital technologies, it is time for the Council to move beyond “admiring the problem”, and to discuss specific ways in which the Council can leverage technological innovations to contribute to sustainable peace and security. Today the UAE would like to address five specific issues:
First, terrorist and extremist groups like Da’esh, Al-Qaida and many others must not be allowed to use the internet to propagate their agendas and manipulate social media and its billions of users. Technology companies have increasingly invested in detection tools based on artificial intelligence and human moderation teams to remove such content from their platforms. However, business as usual is clearly not enough. Terrorists and extremists continue to radicalize and recruit online, and this problem is by no means limited to developing countries. The perpetrators of a number of recent high-profile hate crimes against religious and ethnic minorities in much of Europe and the US had been radicalized through online platforms, as were countless Da’esh recruits. We have seen progress in recent years strengthening regulatory and legislative frameworks to protect users from terrorist and extremist content, but we need to fast-track these efforts, since the international normative framework is not catching up. This responsibility lies with technology companies but also governments.
Second, we must address the pernicious effects of online disinformation and misinformation campaigns, using social media platforms, including on peace operations and humanitarian activities. We have seen instances where peacekeepers and humanitarian relief workers, who are already putting themselves in harm’s way to protect civilians, become further imperiled by the spread of misinformation and disinformation against them. Effective responses to fighting disinformation are needed at multiple levels, including by the private sector through rules and regulations, fact-checking, labelling of information and media literacy campaigns. The suggestions made today that the UN scale up its capacity and ability in this field should be welcomed.
Third, we should leverage digital technologies to strengthen the protection of civilians against harm. For example, in the physical world medical and certain humanitarian actors use the red cross or red crescent emblems to signal their specific protection under international humanitarian law. As these actors are facing new digital threats from attacks on their digital backbones, we should start considering whether there might be a digital emblem to clearly signal that medical and humanitarian actors must never be targeted, online or offline. This emblem should not only reinforce the idea that these networks need to be protected, but that there should be accountability for any violations as well and that international humanitarian law applies here.
Fourth, digital innovation is having an impact on the physical world, multiplying the possibilities of what devices such as drones can do. I mentioned it at the beginning. Commercially available drones can now fly faster, travel further, carry larger payloads, and leverage artificial intelligence and other tools to operate without manual control. And drones do not just operate in the air. On 3 March 2020, the Houthi terrorist group used a remotely operated “drone boat” laden with explosives to attack an oil tanker off the coast of Yemen. If successful, the attack would have had devastating effects not only on the tanker and its crew, but on the environment, on global supply routes, and on local communities along the Yemeni coast who depend on the sea for their livelihood. We are in a Hobbesian state of nature regarding the use of technology by super-empowered non-state actors. Inaction is not an option: because when there is no regulation, we are only encouraging proliferation.
It is clear that non-state actors, including terrorist groups, increasingly have access to these technologies. The UAE strongly condemns their use to conduct cross-border attacks, target civilians or civilian infrastructure in violation of international law. This threat will only grow more dangerous as technology advances and it must be addressed by the Council. Governments should enhance coordination, support capacity-building measures and exchange good practices and guidance to counter this threat.
Fifth and final, we have talked about the importance of digital technologies to protect humanitarian actors, let’s now talk about their role in scaling up humanitarian action. Digital innovations such as artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, digital cash transfers and blockchain technology can improve humanitarian operations. These emerging technologies not only help humanitarian actors anticipate and prepare for crises but they also enable them to more quickly and efficiently respond when such crises arise.
As we consider digital innovation, let’s not forget the digital divide. An estimated 37 per cent of the world’s population – almost 3 billion – have never used the Internet. The divide remains wide — and it disproportionately impacts women and girls. Only 19 per cent of women in Least Developed Countries are using the Internet (12 percentage points lower than men). Inequality in the physical world is clearly being replicated in the digital world. As we think of how innovation can help us amplify our impact, let’s prioritize those that have yet to see the dividends of technological developments that are now commonplace in other parts of the world.
As an early champion of frontier technologies, the UAE is leveraging their benefits domestically and abroad. That is why, four years ago, we championed the establishment of the Secretary General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, which reflected our belief that digital technologies can positively contribute to global peace and security. We actively supported implementation efforts and are encouraged to see the Secretary-General’s idea in “Our Common Agenda” to establish a Global Digital Compact, though we all need to champion that multilateral work further.
The UAE will continue to work with everyone here and all stakeholders to ensure that the world benefits from digital technologies as a key enabler to bring about a more resilient, equitable and inclusive societies.
Thank you, Madam President.