Big cyber ideas: cyber policy, creativity and inspiration Leon hot air balloon festival 2010, Guanajuato, Mexico (Wikimedia Commons)

Big cyber ideas: cyber policy, creativity and inspiration

A group of my friends and colleagues have organized an event to stimulate what we call big ideas in cyber policy. The Big Cyber Ideas Festival will be online and will take place on Friday 26 June.

Big ideas are that rare combination of vision and precision, an appreciation for both the long view and the devilish details that often derail grand plans. Why is this important now? The world is changing rapidly. For many, expectations of normality have been suspended, creating uncertainty over when – and if – their previous lives will return. For many others, the pandemic has disrupted or devastated families, communities, professional plans and personal relationships.

Political orthodoxies – whether in terms of travel, economics, or systemic social inequality – are being questioned in these exceptional circumstances. But alternatives, especially when implemented in haste, bring their own challenges and unforeseen consequences. Policymaking in all areas therefore requires sufficient insight and vision to recognize new paths that open up in moments of change, along with enough care and attention to navigate those paths without causing greater harm. In short, it needs big ideas.

This event will have the atmosphere of a festival, where both speakers and audiences feel the freedom to improvise and step outside their comfort zones.

For the Big Cyber Ideas Festival, we picked four areas of cyber policy where big ideas are urgently required. These four areas are relevant to practitioners, researchers, and the interested public. While these four areas are central to cyber policy in Europe, they transcend both national and regional boundaries, and we welcome and encourage participants from around the world.

The first area is cyber diplomacy: international dialogue and action on cybersecurity and cyber policy. Cyber diplomacy is not the exclusive domain of states, as many ‘non-state actors’ – multinational companies, non-government organizations, internet infrastructure bodies, and so on – are central players and advocates for their own interests and wider norms and values in cyberspace.

But state actions remain a core plank of cyber diplomacy, and the EU’s Cyber Diplomacy Toolbox represents one of the most transparent and detailed initiatives currently out there. This session asks whether the Cyber Diplomacy Toolbox is up to the task of managing and containing state disagreements in cyberspace, including state-sponsored cyberattacks. Where does the Toolbox fit into the longer development of cyber norms, and what sort of world does it envisage?

This event will explore possibilities of creative cooperation in an increasingly divided policy space, especially outside unravelling formal relationships

The second area is cooperation and coordination. This session aims to counter a prevalent view of a hostile, dangerous cyberspace by highlighting the many levels at which cooperation and coordination occur regularly, and where more is needed. It tackles headline issues, such as global standard-setting in the context of a US-China trade war, as well as structures of criminal and legal cooperation and areas of cyber policy that are often overlooked at the international level, such as gender-based violence and domestic abuse.

The third area is platform governance. Social media platforms are the focus of several intersecting digital policy debates, around the regulation and moderation of content, the spread of disinformation and manipulation by artificial or ‘inauthentic’ accounts and actors, the infrastructural and commercial power of large platform companies, and new models of oversight and governance.

This session examines the potential promise and pitfalls of new institutions being created in an effort to — depending on who you ask — either pacify lawmakers and avoid regulatory scrutiny, or make the political decisions made by platform companies more transparent and accountable. As the European Commission opens its public consultation on the new Digital Services Act, seeking to reform the regulatory status quo for online intermediaries, this session will bring together academic and civil society perspectives on the latest developments.

This period of uncertainty and change is a critical time to support the next generation of thinkers and practitioners in cyber policy

The fourth area is cybersecurity and COVID-19. The pandemic has generated several new cybersecurity threats, including cyberattacks against hospitals and healthcare infrastructure, as well as raising privacy concerns over contact-tracing apps and corporate and technological overlaps with problematic surveillance practices.

However, the pandemic has also illuminated value-based professional networks, with new initiatives to counter these threats and monitor technology-based solutions for coronavirus control. This session investigates how cybersecurity has changed with COVID-19, both positively and negatively, and whether COVID-19 heralds a future where cybersecurity awareness is even more of a social necessity.

Finally, we believe that this period of uncertainty and change is also a critical time to support the next generation of thinkers and practitioners in cyber policy. To this end, the Big Cyber Ideas Festival also includes a career track with talks on publishing cyber research, collaborating with think tanks, and bridging the technical/non-technical divide, each with renowned experts in the field.

This career track will run alongside the topical sessions, enabling students, early career scholars, practitioners and others interested in cyber policy careers to dip in and out of discussions with experts in the field. It is designed to encourage participants to share ideas, thoughts and concerns one might not be able to elsewhere in our current societal situation.

If any of the above catches your eye, please join us on Friday 26 June for the Big Cyber Ideas Festival, and you can register online here. We look forward to tackling these crucial issues with you, and above all, thinking big!