Can you put a Red Cross emblem on a Wi-Fi tower in a refugee camp? How can the life and dignity of crisis-affected populations be protected from cyber-attacks and unintended harm in cyberspace? How should humanitarian agencies and their technology partners work together to safely and responsibly meet information and communication needs in crisis?
Together with US, Swiss, and international partners, the Consulate General of Switzerland in San Francisco and swissnex San Francisco will convene a two-day conference on September 27-28 to collectively examine our international humanitarian and human rights laws, standards, and norms in light of new cyber-realities. The program will provide a neutral platform to develop a better understanding of the relationship between cyber-threats and humanitarian protection, and identify a possible agenda for mitigating the digital vulnerabilities of populations in crisis. In workshops and panel discussions, researchers, practitioners, and policy makers will map out new territories of vulnerability in cyberspace, assess existing practice around humanitarian data, and build consensus for action.
Core partners in this initiative include The Policy Lab, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, the Geneva Internet Platform, the World Affairs Council, and the University of Geneva.
Cyber-Attacks, Digital Policy, and Humanitarian Law
Switzerland, historically a land of asylum for those persecuted for religious or political reasons, has long been committed to helping people affected by conflicts and disasters. This humanitarian tradition was marked by an extraordinary milestone in the 1860s, the creation of the Red Cross movement in Geneva and the first Geneva Convention following the vision of Swiss businessman Henry Dunant. The four Geneva Conventions that are still in force today were enacted in 1949, with the fourth one specifically dedicated to the protection of civilians in times of war.
Fast forward 70 years, Microsoft’s president Brad Smith takes the stage at the RSA Conference 2017 in San Francisco to make the case for a “Digital Geneva Convention” that protects civilians from state-sponsored cyber-attacks. This call to action—a “Geneva 5.0″—provides a timely impetus to examine relevant humanitarian laws, standards, and norms in the international realm, and how they operate in the digital age.
This conference is part of the Swiss Touch Campaign, a series of events dedicated to leveraging Switzerland’s innovative and forward-looking edge. The digital Swiss Table provides a venue for all to engage in conversation and generate new ideas. Switzerland is striving for a relevant, responsive, and meaningful humanitarianism in the digital age—through building bridges between the technology and the humanitarian sectors, and between San Francisco and Geneva.
Photo: Armed conflict between 1989 and 2015 (in red and pink; Syria is excluded). (ETH Zurich / Luc Girardin with data from UCDP, NASA and ETH Zurich).