Digital technology growth can create conflict UN hears


Explosive growth in digital technologies worldwide is opening potential new domains for conflict and the ability of State and non-State actors to attack across international borders the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs said at the Security Council’s first open debate on maintaining peace and security in cyberspace.

Izumi Nakamitsu pointed to a surge in malicious incidents in recent years, ranging from disinformation campaigns to disrupting computer networks, contributing to diminishing trust and confidence among States.  Particularly at risk is critical infrastructure — including financial institutions, healthcare facilities and energy grids — which rely on information and communications technology (ICT) to function.

“ICT threats are increasing, but efforts are underway to address them,” she told the Council, meeting via videoconference.

She pointed to the work of two bodies established by the General Assembly — the Group of Governmental Experts on advancing responsible State behaviour in cyberspace in the context of international security and the Open-Ended Working Group on developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security.  In their latest reports, both reaffirm international law and the UN Charter are applicable and essential to maintaining peace, security and stability in the ICT environment, she said.

She went on to say political and technical difficulties in attributing and assigning responsibility for ICT attacks could result in consequences, including unintended armed responses and escalation.

“These dynamics can encourage States to adopt offensive postures for hostile use of these technologies,” she said.

They could also enable criminal groups and others seeking to access potentially destabilising capabilities with a high degree of impunity.  Given the implications on international peace and security, Council engagement on this issue is paramount, she said.

In the debate Heads of Government, ministers, senior officials and representatives of the 15-member Council emphasised cyberspace is subject to international law, including the UN Charter and the State sovereignty principle.  Several speakers emphasised the need to close the digital divide between nations and peoples, while others warned States against unilateral actions.