Digital security for democratic, social and economic prosperity


The conference on Digital security for democratic, social and economic prosperitywas convened in cooperation with Canadian Ditchley and the University of Ottawa, and was held in Ottawa, Canada on 4-5 November 2022.

The Ditchley community debrief from the conference was held on the 11 November 2022. The main themes to emerge from the discussion were:

Urgency. Wise regulation of the digital environment is required urgently.  We have witnessed a series of disaster wake up calls - the pandemic and Ukraine/Russia - which we have resolutely ignored, and we need to do something right now.  Legislation might not be perfect but it needs to be in place urgently to help us tackle what’s coming.

Empowering the right actors. At individual consumer level we don’t have as much power as we might think.  Digital super barons – Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg - currently have digital autonomy but conversely big tech CEOs tend to talk about how to avoid legislation.  However, many of them enjoy a level of trust and could step up and take more responsibility including informing legislation and education.

Digital Literacy. More emphasis on the need to educate people from cradle to grave.  Companies can do this through policies and codes of conduct but much more is needed to tackle disinformation.  Would it be more helpful to people to have a recommended list of news sources?

State levers to tackle disinformation. Counter disinformation needs to be plugged into the much more powerful ways in which digital security are tackled.  Responsible business could treat and tackle disinformation as an ESG.

Hard law is hard to enact, soft law is hard to enforce.  Digital legislation is hard – as an example, GDPR took 5 years to enact.  The EU AI act for example will be a global standard when it comes but won’t be in force until 2024 which leaves a big gap.  Standards help with urgency and can be introduced quickly but can also be swept away.   The Twitter AI team exodus happened during the conference which highlighted the point about how fragile soft law can be – how do we give soft law the teeth it needs to have an effect?  It could be achieved through leader of financial services.  While we do not need more principles, more transparency about standards setting so we can use financial heft that investors represent to take effect would be helpful.

Global commonality but which institution to use? We should place more emphasis on engaging the Global South and help partners there by passing digital capability to them.  Engaging with global south digital leaders and sharing data sets with them poses an opportunity for the future. US/China/Europe as an optic is crowding out.

Innovation of people vs resilience.  Do we want a capability which can be turned off by one person? As is the example in Ukraine with Starlink.  Forming a global independent advisory board, for example a Blue Ribbon committee, empowered to make legislative recommendations with a rotating membership focused on digital resilience and disinformation could be a way forward.

Cyber rescue service.  Similar to a 999 emergency service which serves all size businesses not just the huge corporates. A framework of risk and how to mitigate them would be really helpful to business owners – a cyber interpole so we could work about this globally. 

And finally… Recommender algorithms – just turn it off!

These notes are a summary of the debrief discussion. The notes do not reflect the position of The Ditchley Foundation, neither is any participant in any way committed to their content or expression.

It is also emphasised that these are summary notes of the debrief discussion: it is not feasible to reflect every point of view that was raised but we hope that these notes provide a good overview of the major lines of discussion.

Click here for a link to the terms of reference for the conference.