Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas outlined new initiatives by the Biden-Harris Administration to counter the misuse of technology at the second Summit for Democracy in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. He highlighted the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s (CISA) High-Risk Community Protection initiative, which is dedicated to strengthening the cybersecurity of communities —such as civil society organizations— in the United States who are at heightened risk of cyber threat targeting and transnational repression.
“Democracies are coming together to reinforce that human rights are the bedrock of our national and international security and must be the north star guiding the design, regulation, and use of technologies,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas. “We must ensure that democracies reject harmful uses of technology and stand together as a model for how to harness technology responsibly and ethically. To that end, in the United States we are active on a number of fronts to ensure technology advances —and does not infringe upon— democracy and human rights. We are changing our policies, deepening our collaboration with democratic partners to accelerate our efforts, and creating new initiatives to protect vulnerable communities here and abroad.”
In January, CISA announced that the Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative (JCDC) will bring technology companies, civil society organizations, and government together to strengthen the cybersecurity of civil society organizations in the United States under threat of transnational repression. In the coming weeks, CISA will accelerate its work on this High-Risk Community Protection initiative and work with partners to develop and implement a joint cyber defense plan focused on civil society. This work will focus initially on engaging civil society organizations to listen and learn about the cybersecurity threats they are facing, find out what support is most needed, identify positive work to amplify, and then work through the JCDC and with partners to fill cybersecurity gaps.
“Protecting democratic values and civil society organizations in the U.S. and across the globe from cyber threats could not be more important and timely,” said CISA Director Jen Easterly. “I am proud that our agency initiated and will lead this collaborative and sustained approach to help strengthen the collective cyber defense of high-risk communities and civil society organizations. I hope to build on this effort that not only reduces cyber risk and builds resilience, but also weakens the threat of digital transnational repression.”
Additionally, CISA, in coordination with the State Department, will cohost a Strategic Dialogue on Cybersecurity of Civil Society under Threat of Transnational Repression with the United Kingdom. This will build on CISA’s High-Risk Community Protection initiative because other countries have also witnessed a rise in transnational repression targeting organizations within their borders. As part of this Strategic Dialogue, CISA’s counterparts from Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States will work to improve the cybersecurity of civil society organizations, engage in information sharing on the threats facing high-risk communities, and identify opportunities for greater collaboration around the world. The first meeting will take place in the coming months.
“Democracy is the foundation on which our nations are built. We must not allow it to be eroded,” said United Kingdom Security Minister Tom Tugendhat. “We’ve seen that sophisticated cyber criminals are prepared to target our democratic institutions and important actors like journalists and human rights defenders. We will not allow them to succeed. As the threat changes, we too must adapt. That’s why this forum could not be more welcome. By collaborating and sharing insights, we will improve cybersecurity across the world.”
“Helping to protect civil society from those opposed to our democratic values is vital for our collective security and prosperity,” said UK National Cyber Security Centre Chief Executive Lindy Cameron. “The NCSC is committed to working with international partners to support communities at high risk of being targeted online and this new initiative will help to safeguard their important work. I look forward to exchanging insights and expertise in this forum so we can support the cyber security and resilience of those who play such a central role in our societies.”
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regularly works with law enforcement partners, within the United States and around the world, to combat transnational repression, limit the ability of authoritarian regimes to misuse technology, and better understand the tactics and targets of repressive groups and individuals. Throughout Secretary Mayorkas’s tenure, DHS has prioritized engaging directly with the victims of oppressive regimes across the world. DHS has hosted engagements and roundtables with members of various diaspora communities in the United States, including Afghans, Cubans, Nicaraguans, Uyghurs, and Venezuelans, to share information on federal resources available to support nationals in the United States and to support those seeking refuge in the United States. DHS also shares intelligence and information on motivations and tactics for transnational repression with domestic and international partners to help law enforcement and government officials address the threat. In October 2022 at Singapore International Cyber Week, Secretary Mayorkas called for nations to “work together to protect one another and embolden and enable nations and people around the world to live freely, invent, create, and share without fear of reprisal or fear for their safety.”