Switzerland and ICRC warn of digital threats in conflict zones

Swiss President Alain Berset in New York, Monday, May 22. © Keystone / Alessandro Della Valle

Swiss President Alain Berset has opened an exhibition at the United Nations in New York about the dangers of digitalisation to humanitarian aid.

This content was published on May 23, 2023

“New technologies can reduce the burden on civilian populations,” Berset told ambassadors and state representatives on Monday night. “But they also bring new threats, like disinformation or illegal surveillance.”

Artificial intelligence (AI) can lead to more violence if used maliciously, while exchanging civilian data can leave them more vulnerable, he said.

Berset is in New York this week to chair various discussions as Switzerland currently holds the presidency of the UN Security Council for a month.

+ Read more about the Swiss presidency of the UN

On Tuesday, he will lead a Security Council debate on civilian protection – one of four thematic prioritiesExternal link for Switzerland’s two-year term as a non-permanent member of the council.

ICRC involvement

The exhibition was co-organised by the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

ICRC President Mirjana Spoljaric said it was vital that new technologies in conflicts be governed by international humanitarian law, which forbids the targeting of civilians and medical infrastructure.

The aim is to “make it easier to understand what it means to be hacked, monitored or the victim of a digital war,” the ICRC’s Philippe Stoll told the Keystone-SDA news agency.

In recent years, the ICRC itself has also faced cyber-attacks: a year ago, servers hosting the confidential data of 515,000 recipients of its aid were compromised.

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