What Technology and Digital Diplomacy Look Like in 2019
Diplomacy has traditionally been defined as direct communication between one government and another. Public diplomacy came into being with the advent of the radio, and Nazi Germany using this technology to speak to the populations of neighboring countries. Governments have used technology to take their message to the world (and the foreign public) since that point.
Technology always plays a role in diplomatic capabilities. The telephone, television, and now computers have all played their role in how governments conduct their business both internally and externally with other governments.
While digital diplomacy, or Twitter Diplomacy, may seem like a new phenomenon, both go back further than the current administration. The U.S. State Department created a task force on eDiplomacy (the same idea) in 2002. Since then, Britain, Canada, and other foreign powers have taken up their own eDiplomacy policies and initiatives.
In 2012, a global communications firm discovered there were 264 Twitter accounts for heads of state and other institutions across 125 countries. That number will only likely continue to rise as the platforms further engrain themselves into everyday life.
The Tools of Digital Diplomacy
With an expected 5.7 billion smart phone users in 2020, digital diplomacy makes communication with the whole world instantaneous. That includes foreign leaders and the foreign public as well.
Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter also have a nearly universal familiarity. Those who don’t use the platforms will likely become aware of any governmental or political messages through nearly instant news media coverage.
Examples of Positive Digital Diplomacy in Action
There have been several examples of digital diplomacy being used for good over the last few years as well. For instance, in May 2018 French President Emmanuel Macron hosted the Tech for Good summit, with 60-plus technology leaders, to talk about how it can be used for the common good within issues like education, labor, and diversity.
Representatives from Facebook, Microsoft, IBM, Uber, Salesforce, Stripe and other major tech firms participated in the conversation.
The UN also recently released a report that collaborative efforts to force major terrorist networks off of popular social media channels have been largely successful. While groups such as ISIS may not be as prevalent on Facebook or Twitter as they once were, the report does state that they are using smaller, less monitored sites to share materials. But this trend is a step in the right direction.
Canada’s G7 Summit last year used Snapchat to expose younger audiences to the event. They used a social media platform that is primarily youth based in membership to open up the conversation to younger audiences in a way that otherwise may not have been possible.
As time progresses, diplomacy and digital diplomacy may become redundant terms. Technology and social media allow corporate messages to permeate large International audiences and it only makes sense that government would take advantage of these tools for the same purpose.
We’re moving into an era where access to mobile, online communication is nearly universal. World leaders have the ability to use this new connectedness to connect with the general public in a positive way.
Tech Companies and Privacy Law
When we write a message to another party and send it, we traditionally expect that message to remain private. Likewise, we expect to maintain control over personal data and where it is collected, stored, or used by another party. We do not expect third-party involvement when we hand our data over online.
Every day, these expectations are increasingly challenged. Laptops, smart phones, tablets, watches, and IoT devices add to the complexity of digital privacy as they grow their platforms and offer users more convenience and service. The number of smart devices will more than double from 2017 to 2020, according to Forbes.
It’s already increasingly difficult to opt out of this web of digital transparency, where data breaches and hacking are increasingly prevalent. Trust in companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon is increasingly down. While there are tremendous social benefits to all this technology, all you have to do is flip on the news to understand that there is a cost.
What’s Being Done to Protect Consumers?
Europe introduced General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May of 2018, as a way to provide consistent protection of consumer and personal data across all European Union nations. It takes steps like requiring subject consent for data processing and anonymizing the collection of data to protect privacy. It also requires data breach notifications, and safety in handling the transfer of data.
GDPR was designed to safeguard the handling of EU citizens’ data to better protect its residents. Any company that handles EU data is subject to regulation of this law, regardless of their location.
The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is set to come into law in January of 2020. It gives consumers the right to tell businesses that they cannot collect information about you, your children, or the devices that you use. The law will hold businesses responsible for protecting data and personal information.
Could a US Federal Privacy Law Happen?
While it’s sometimes tough to imagine much being done, there are signs of agreement between Democrats and Republicans that something needs to happen in the wake of Facebook’s role in the 2016 election.
An FTC task force is studying anti-competitiveness within the tech industry. State lawmakers have been looking into Facebook data collection methods. There are also drafts of various data protection bills that have floated their way through congress.
The climate has clearly changed following multiple data breaches from large American corporations, that expose consumers’ personal data. The role that Facebook played in the 2016 elections has also caught legislators’ attention. In the past when this subject has come up, the focus has been on putting the burden on consumers to take initial steps to protect their data. That focus is shifting to put more responsibility on the corporations that handle consumer data. It may be hard to keep consensus within Congress on this issue, after the California law comes into effect. It can also be hard to maintain any level of agreement through a split congress.
But there is always a chance that something could happen in a small window.