The Tech for Democracy initiative kick-starts a multi-stakeholder push for protecting and promoting democracy and human rights in an era of rapid technological development.
To initiate action, on 18 November 2021, Denmark’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Jeppe Kofod, and Minister for Development Cooperation, Mr. Flemming Møller Mortensen, hosted a virtual, international multi-stakeholder conference Tech for Democracy.
The virtual conference connected representatives from governments, multilateral organisations, the tech industry, and civil society from global as well as local civil society organizations and activists. The conference was livestreamed to a global audience.
In the run-up to the conference in November 2021, 47 virtual Days of Action gathered input from diverse voices. Focus was on leaving no one – and no voice – behind and identify people-centered solutions and ways to support civil society and locally grown initiatives.
The virtual conference launched a year of action with focus on how to make tech work for democracy and human rights. In 2022, Denmark will gather stakeholders once more to take stock on activities, where partners and signatories of the Copenhagen Pledge will showcase concrete action and share best practices and lesson learnt.
The exploitation of new technology poses a challenge to both mature and aspiring democracies. Global internet freedom has declined ten years in a row. Internet shutdowns have become a popular tool for authoritarian regimes to quell dissent. Digital surveillance techniques are used to impose social control, oppress marginalised groups, and stifle legitimate opposition. Civic space is shrinking both offline and online. Democracy activists, human rights defenders, and protest movements all over the world are under digital attack from authoritarian regimes. Numerous examples have shown that the internet can be weaponised to launch disinformation campaigns, meddle with democratic elections, sow division, and weaken alliances. Moreover, social media’s algorithms can fuel polarisation, spread misinformation, and create echo chambers eroding trust in democratic institutions and practices.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for a massive digital leap, and digital technologies have never been more pervasive in the lives of people around the globe. Yet, private actors increasingly shape this global transition while the rules-based international order and international norms are under pressure, also in the digital sphere. Democratic governments, parliaments, and the people they represent have lost some of their ability to choose the direction for their societies. They need to get back in the driver’s seat of technological development. At the same time, geopolitical competition is increasing, and the development, application and regulation of new technology will be decisive in shaping the future.
To make technology work for, not against, democracy, it is crucial that defenders of democratic values and human rights stand together to harness the potential of digital technologies.
There are no easy solutions. Rather, governments, multilateral organisations, tech companies and civil society must come together to renew our shared commitment to a responsible, democratic and safe technological development. We must forge new partnerships to deliver concrete solutions and step up support to civil society’s digital resilience and mobilisation. A meaningful inclusion of civil society is pertinent to ensure a broad representation and to leave no one behind in the technological development, especially in countries with weak democratic practices. The Tech for Democracy initiative will bring representatives from states, multilateral organisations, the tech industry and civil society together to focus on concrete solutions to make digital technology support democracy and human rights – and rediscover the techno-optimism of the internet’s early days.
Concrete deliverables for the Tech for Democracy initiative include: