Crisis Code: Workshops

Together with US, Swiss, and international partners, the Consulate General of Switzerland in San Francisco and swissnex San Francisco convene Crisis Code, 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 provides 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.

This conference is part of the Swiss Touch Campaign, a series of events dedicated to leveraging Switzerland’s innovative and forward-looking edge. 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 Silicon Valley and international Geneva.


Workshop 1
A Shifting Cyber-threat Landscape: Cyber-Aggression and Cyber-Attack on Civilian Populations

September 27 | 9:30 am – 12:30 pm PST @ Pier 17

Chatham House Rule: 20-30 invited participants expected to attend

The objective of this workshop is to explore the digital vulnerabilities of civilian populations presented by the growing use of cyber-capabilities as a means and method of organized aggression, attack, and violence.

Relevant cybersecurity and ICT experts will provide an overview of emerging threats posed to civilian populations, who are increasingly integrated into the fabric of digital life and reliant on interconnected computer systems and information streams. Threats range from information warfare to cyber-aggression and cyber-attack, and we ask speakers to discuss briefly the nature of these threats and how they’ve played out in the real world.

Relevant humanitarian protection and human rights policy actors will then be asked to form working groups with cyber and digital security experts to explore the impact of these kinds of cyber-threats and digital harms on civilian populations in fragile contexts, and reflect on how this state-of-affairs challenges existing humanitarian protection frameworks.

This is intended to be the beginning of a conversation around civilian and societal vulnerabilities that are a function of increased reliance on digital services and information infrastructure, and gaps in humanitarian protection policy to effectively respond to these vulnerabilities.

Facilitation: Joseph Guay and Lisa Rudnick (The Policy Lab)

Speakers / Use Cases

  • Bill Marczak (Citizen Lab): “How Governments Spy in an Encrypted Age”
  • Kate Starbird (University of Washington – via videoconference): “Online disinformation and political propaganda in the context of emergency and humanitarian response”
  • Sarah Yee (Digital Forensics Research Lab): “Disinformation on the Frontlines of Eastern Ukraine”
  • Han Soal Park (UN Security Council, CTED) “Protection of critical infrastructure against online terrorist attacks”


Workshop 2
The Digitalization of Humanitarian Action: Assessing Risks and Threats

September 27 | 2 – 5 pm PST @ Pier 17

Chatham House Rule: 20-30 invited participants expected to attend

The objective of this workshop is to explore the digital vulnerabilities of affected populations emergent in—or presented by—information and data-related activities in services carried out by humanitarian actors and their technology partners.

Operational humanitarian actors and their technology partners will provide an overview of humanitarian information and data-related activities in service of crisis-affected populations. Speakers will be asked to describe specific practices using information activities and data-related services to meet the needs of crisis affected people, and pose key questions and/or share concerns and priority areas inherent in this kind of work.

Cybersecurity researchers and practitioners will then be asked to form working groups with humanitarian participants to map out and discuss key risks, potential threats, and possible harms (and their consequences) presented by or emergent in each of these humanitarian information technologies and digital services. (Four to five working groups, approximately one hour).
This group activity draws on principles of threat modeling—a procedure for optimizing network security by identifying vulnerabilities of a system and then defining countermeasures to prevent, or mitigate the effect of threats to the system. We expect to use this “threat-mapping” activity to inform a discussion around priority challenges for humanitarian practitioners to attend to when carrying out information activities and digital services.

Facilitation: Joseph Guay (The Policy Lab) and Willow Brugh (Digitally Responsible Aid)

Speakers / Use Cases

  • Alexa Koenig (Human Rights Center, UC Berkeley): Open-source investigation techniques for human rights documentation
  • Cameron Birge (Microsoft Response): “Cloud services in hurricane Maria response”
  • Lily Frey (Mercy Corps): Digital cash-based transfers to affected populations
  • Gabriele Almon (Nethope): Mobile connectivity initiatives in Syrian-refugee hosting countries
  • Andrina Beuggert (Mercator Fellow on Humanitarian Innovation): “Use of ICTs and digital services in Azraq Refugee Camp”
  • Brandie Nonnecke (CITRIS): Cybersecurity Implications of Refugee Digital Identification Systems


Workshop 3
Addressing Gaps in Protection Frameworks and Digital Governance

September 28 | 9:30 am – 12:30 pm PST @ Pier 17

Chatham House Rule: 20-30 invited participants expected to attend

The objective of this workshop is to identify, discuss, and prioritize the consequential gaps in international law and policy that pertain to the digital vulnerabilities, in particular, of crisis-affected populations. Experts will provide an overview of specific international legal frameworks and emerging cybersecurity dialogues and platforms relevant to the digital vulnerabilities of civilian populations.

Speakers will be asked to reflect on the applicability of these legal/policy tools, drawing from the insights gained from day one around (1) emerging vulnerabilities and needs presented by digital aggression and cyber-attack that are unaccounted for in conventional protection frameworks, and (2) the specific and urgent challenges encountered by the humanitarian sector and technology partners in their practice at the intersection of cybersecurity and humanitarian response.

This workshop is intended to survey the digital policy terrain from the vantage point of different stakeholder perspectives: that of international humanitarian law (IHL) and other protection frameworks; international security arrangements (such as the GGE process); and the private sector.

Facilitation: Tereza Horejsova and Jovan Kurbalija (Geneva Internet Platform / DiploFoundation)

Speakers / Use Cases

  • Roland Portmann (Embassy of Switzerland in the USA): International humanitarian and human rights law in a digital environment
  • Nathaniel Raymond (Harvard Humanitarian Initiative): “Cyber-power and the humanitarian: extant gaps in international humanitarian law”
  • Elvina Pothelet (University of Geneva): “The applicability and relevance of international humanitarian law (IHL) in regulating cyber-threats and cyber-attacks, and in protecting civilian populations from their effects”
  • Kerstin Vignard (UNIDIR): “Cybersecurity and the Multilateral Response: mind the gap”
  • Paul Nicholas (Microsoft): The Digital Geneva Convention: the role of technology companies in global cybersecurity


Workshop 4
Taking Stock and Making Plans

September 28 | 2 – 5 pm PST @ Pier 17

This workshop mobilizes The Policy Lab’s Agenda Building Activity to conduct this session.

Chatham House Rule: 20-30 invited participants expected to attend

The objective of this workshop is to take stock of the learning from workshops 1-3, and translate this into a tangible resource for participants in their efforts going forward. Therefore, this working session involves a set of activities in which participants will share new insights, identify new opportunities, and indicate concrete actions for ensuring that global conversations on digital governance reflect humanitarian protection imperatives in cyberspace.This session is intended to engage participants in translating their learning into ideas for concrete action, and for identifying new partnerships for carrying them out.

The materials created in this session will be used to (1) compose an Agenda for Action that will be presented in the conference report and (2) identify potential opportunities for Switzerland at Pier 17 to host some of the activities identified. The propositions developed by participants may be used (by them, but also by swissnex SF) as the basis for a variety of partnership, programming, policy, and resource mobilization tools.


Partners