September 10, 2019

CNAS and T4GS Launch Joint Initiative: “Future Digital Threats to Democracy”

Washington, September 10, 2019 – As part of a two-year, multi-disciplinary effort to address the ways in which democracies and open societies combat high-tech illiberalism, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and the Bay Area–based non-profit network Technology for Global Security (T4GS) have launched the joint project “Future Digital Threats to Democracy.”

Today, much of the intellectual energy poured into the crossroads of politics and technology is spent looking backward. The latest election hack or social media propaganda campaign captures most regulatory and corporate attention. But government and business leaders must avoid the mistake of fighting the last war. Expert opinions are widely split on how the quality and veracity of the online ecosystem will evolve, and Washington is still playing catch-up to yesterday’s high-tech challenges. Just as today’s bots and “deep fakes” will be tomorrow’s augmented reality, so too will emerging political, social, and economic trends significantly reshape the landscape in which these tools can be used, abused, monitored, and controlled.

CNAS and T4GS will use foresight and scenario planning exercises to map out the directions the information environment will take in the next ten years to better anticipate emerging digital threats to open societies. Collaborating with a mix of experts from the technology, policy, academic, media, and other fields, they will develop a series of possible futures highlighting intersections of trends that demand greater policy attention today.

Populism, technology adoption, privacy and data ownership, tribalism, trust in institutions—these and many other forces have the potential to interact in ways the policy and technology communities remain unprepared for. According to T4GS CEO Philip Reiner, “The risks of unanticipated, fundamentally destabilizing effects are too high for any one sector to go it alone. We need to bridge the policy and tech communities and T4GS is uniquely positioned to bring the innovators from across these communities to the table.”

In addition to developing a wide range of futures to challenge and inform present assumptions, the project will generate recommendations to prepare governments, corporations, liberal democratic institutions, and individuals to combat the next evolution in high-tech threats to democracy. CNAS Leon Panetta Senior Fellow Loren DeJonge Schulman says, “We need to start building the policies, partnerships, and connectivity for tomorrow’s digital threats to our values and way of life.”

To schedule an interview with the project leaders, please contact Cole Stevens at cstevens@cnas.org or 202-695-8166.