Dispatch (April 15th) from the Alliance for Securing Democracy

Our Take

Together with the Bertelsmann Foundation, ASD will host a screening of the film, Harmony: Latvian Democracy at Russia’s Doorstep, on tomorrow, Tuesday, April 16th from 6:00 to 7:00 PM at Landmark’s E Street Cinema in downtown Washington, D.C. A discussion featuring ASD Director Laura Rosenberger and Latvian Ambassador to the United States Andris Teikmanis will follow. Admittance is free, but please RSVP here.

On the George W. Bush Presidential Center’s podcast, The Strategerist, ASD Co-Directors Laura Rosenberger and Jamie Fly described the challenges emerging technologies such as deep fakes pose for democracies and argued for a more cautious and informed approach to consuming information online.

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, ASD Director Laura Rosenberger argued that governments, civil society, and tech companies need to have robust conversation about to maximize its upsides of technology for democracy, while minimizing its downsides.

Speaking with the New York Times about Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s recent tour of the European Union, ASD Director Jamie Fly noted that “China will attempt to use every opportunity, including the E.U.-China Summit, and the 16 plus 1 meeting in Croatia, to pit Europeans against each other and against the United States.”

ASD Director Laura Rosenberger discussed Chinese foreign interference and how to counter it with Katherine Manstead, Senior Researcher at Australian National University’s National Security College. Rosenberger argued that technology companies need to think proactively about how the technologies they are developing might enable this interference.

News and Commentary
Lawmakers around the world take steps to regulate social media companies: On April 8, lawmakers in the U.K. announced a potential plan to establish an independent regulator with the authority to punish tech companies that fail to adequately police harmful content on their platforms. The plan, which quickly attracted criticism from a wide range of experts and activists, lumps illegal content – such as terrorist or sexually abusive material – with disinformation and cyber bullying. Earlier this month, Australia passed legislation to hold platforms liable for failing to remove “abhorrent violent content,” with punishments including fines and jail time for employees. Lawmakers in Singapore introduced a bill to allow the government to force corrections into online content that it deems false. Civil liberties groups, experts, and journalists have expressed significant concern that these pieces of legislation are far too broad, and risk censoring legitimate speech. ASD’s Bradley Hanlon has argued that platforms should focus on the computational tools used by malign actors rather than the content itself, as focusing on deceptive behavior will allow platforms to limit harmful activity without regulating content. (Reuters, U.K. Government, New York Times, BBC, Verge, Lawfare, Human Rights Watch, Council on Foreign Relations) Western tech companies lend expertise and technology to Chinese surveillance companies: A report by the Financial Times last week revealed that Microsoft has been coordinating with the Chinese National University of Defense Technology on research that could be used for censorship and surveillance. The story echoes a larger trend in which Western firms – eager to access Chinese funding and markets – have pursued partnerships with Chinese companies, which experts worry could facilitate the construction of a technology-enabled police state. In recent weeks, U.S. research universities including MIT, Stanford and UC San Diego have cut ties with Chinese companies out of concern over national security and human rights risks. ASD Fellow Lindsay Gorman and ASD analyst Matthew Schrader have argued that relationships between U.S. firms and Chinese technology giants raise important moral and dual-use national-security questions, and that Western companies should think carefully about potential partnerships to ensure that they do not end up enabling human rights abuses. (Financial Times, New York Times, CNBC, Los Angeles Times, Foreign Policy) In other news: • Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Deb Fischer (R-NE) introduced the DETOUR Act, to ban deceptive data collection by tech giants. • Germany will not exclude Huawei from its 5G network, despite American efforts to persuade European countries not to use equipment supplied by the Chinese manufacturer. • “Study the Great Nation,” an iPhone app that teaches users about the life and philosophy of Xi Jinping, is now the most used app in China. • Civil rights groups have expressed concern that Facebook’s method of targeting ads might be discriminatory. • GitHub, a website that provides open-source code to computer programmers, has grown into a nexus for Chinese dissidents online. • The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab issued a new report on the proliferation of bots attempting to manipulate Twitter traffic in India ahead of multi-level elections. • The Washington Post published an investigation illustrating that as part of its broader disinformation campaign, Russia’s trolls targeted supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) during the 2016 election. • The online Wayback Archive was hit by hundreds of erroneous terrorist content notices by European Union regulators. • The BBC published an expose on Russian interference in Madagascar in connection with that country’s ongoing elections.