Digitalisation and SSG/R: adapting to a new reality

by Thomas Guerber · October 18th, 2021.

Digitalization, in its essence, is about generating, storing and processing data at a scale and speed which has truly been mind-boggling in recent years. In the past twenty years, the rapid increase of digital technologies and soaring computational capabilities have also had a profound impact on security sector governance and reform (SSG/R).

Digitalization and SSG/R are intertwined. Not only has the development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) created a new space in which the question of internet governance has gained ever greater significance;the digital world has also become of  critical strategic importance because infrastructures and governing institutions increasingly rely on digital networks to function properly. 

PROTECTING AGAINST DIGITAL THREATS
The first and often most obvious dimension where digitalization and SSG/R meet is cybersecurity. The concept of cybersecurity captures the notion that the safe use of the digital space by all should be guaranteed and that critical infrastructures and institutions should be protected from digital threats. 

At DCAF we have been working with our partners on the issue of cybersecurity for several years. Our Europe and Central Asia Division has supported cyber resilience and cybersecurity in the Western Balkans by conducting needs assessments, enhancing good governance, and supporting national Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) to effectively prevent and respond to attacks on national systems. Our Business and Security Division has produced influential guidance on cybersecurity governance targeting both practitioners and members of parliament. We have put forward recommendations, based on an understanding which we’ve jointly developed with our partners related to the most likely challenges security sector actors may encounter when working on cybersecurity. 

Security sector actors are increasingly using ICTs to carry out their mandates. Many of them have significantly increased their capacity to acquire, store and act on data through the deployment of surveillance technologies, drones, and artificial intelligence (AI). DCAF’s experience in this area is clear: In general, legislation and accountability mechanisms related to these technologies are greatly underdeveloped. Such mechanisms will however be vital if digital technologies should serve the people in a way which is sustainable and based on principles such as the democratic control, rule of law and respect for human rights. 

ABIDING BY PRINCIPLES OF ACCOUNTABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY
DCAF’s work therefore contributes to the evolving legislative and rule of law frameworks governing the use of digital technologies in the area of security. Our work aims to build the capacity of security sector partners to abide by the core principles of accountability and transparency when it comes to the use of ICTs, as enshrined in the policies of the United Nations, European Union, and African Union.  To that end, DCAF’s International Security Sector Advisory Team (ISSAT) is currently conducting a mapping and analysis study around donor SSG/R programming involving digital technologies and their integration into the security and justice sector. In parallel, our Policy and Research Division is facilitating a Delphi-study to establish consensus on SSG/R related entry points in the digital space.

INCLUSIVE REFORM THROUGH TECHNOLOGY
Digital technologies could improve access to security and justice services, thus improving conditions for enhancing local ownership and strengthening inclusivity of reform processes. Digitalisation will have a drastic impact on how security and justice sectors are structured and operated, allowing for more transparent and accountable budgeting practices and access to information. This, in turn, will help the media and civil society organizations to better perform their oversight role of the security sector. Today, more than any time before, digital technologies provide the potential to build institutions that are more open, inclusive, participatory, transparent, and in tune with the needs of communities who have historically lacked access and influence. 

Whilst digitalization will continue to leapfrog entire societies into a new era, SSG/R has a key role to play in contributing to the safety of the digital space, in guiding the use of ICTs within the security sector, and in exploring how digitalization can support security sector governance. DCAF, together with its partners, will continue to explore the opportunities that digitalization offers for enhanced reform and governance.  

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