Cybersecurity & The Art of Trust
The heart-wrenching crisis unfolding in Ukraine, the eruption of what is dangerously close to a 3rd World War, is not caused by one hideous individual that we can collectively hate like a new Hitler, but by an enabling environment that gave him free reigns. While urgent steps must be taken to stop the bloodshed as soon as possible, our cybersecurity strategy must also include actions towards building a resilient trust in democratic institutions.
The private sector-led lobby and industry-led promotion of AI undermine both the trust in a new technology, and the trust in our governments’ capacity to lead AI’s adoption fairly and without conflicting interests. The lack of trust in democratic institutions is a weakness in both our digital economy and national security strategy.
There are billions of dollars invested in AI and Digital Transformation. The data-driven digital economy has grown about 40% faster than Canada’s overall GDP over the past decade. Yet, without a Trustworthy Cybersecurity Strategy, our public investments might yield “returns” that go against the very values that we cherish and the luxuries it allows us to enjoy.
By turning a blind eye to the causes and impacts of digital inequality, while casting out billions of dollars to catch the next unicorn, our AI investment strategies contribute to the destabilization of international systems. Cyberwars, and cyberattacks such as foreign interference aimed at identifying divisive events and trends to undermine liberal democratic norms and values, are made possible by the weakening of “generalized trust which enables complicated market interactions, community involvement, and trade and cooperation among states” (A World Without Trust, Jacquelyn Schneider).
Trust in AI is an industry-led rhetoric that will do more harm than good to the economy it claims to boost. The paradigm needs to shift from Trustworthy AI to Trustworthy Democracy. To rebuild resilient trust in democratic institutions, all sectors (public, private, civil) must collaborate towards constructive dialogue and empathetic human communities. Policies must heighten the contrast with authoritarian regimes and totalitarian leaders by promoting bold and creative digital citizenry (The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War, Louis Ménand; The Art of War, Can Culture Drive Geopolitics, Beverly Cage).
The civil sector is underfunded in its’ efforts to support strong and resilient democracies, so this advice is for government and industry.
• Industry: Trust citizens. Trust your clients. Trust yourselves as individuals. Fear of loss is detrimental. Make CSR, ESG, DEI plans that support, with allocated budgets, for Civil Society Organizations’ independent initiatives in data and AI, development, and governance.
• Governments: 1) Keep in mind that industry can’t lead governance initiatives in digital economies, nor can industry funded non-profits that are associated, or appear to be, rightfully or not, with tech lobby; 2) Cybersecurity strategies, digital transformation funding must include support for Civil Society Organizations striving for human rights and Sustainable Development Goals, as well as for old-fashion social work and human to human connections.
The well-being and safety of entire nations rely on our capacity to bridge civic engagement and knowledge mobilization with legitimate policy innovation in digital democracies, and for that, we need frameworks that challenge current funding models, academic and public silos (see my previous article).
 National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians Special Report on the Government of Canada’s Framework and Activities to Defend its Systems and Networks from Cyber Attack, February 14th 2022.