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Winning the Information Battlespace: An Agenda for Democrats

Remarks to OECD Parliamentary Network, Saeima of the Republic of Latvia 

Thanks you much, Mr. Chairman for that kind introduction.

It’s great honour and privilege to be here on the International Day of the Parliamentarian here in this magnificent chamber.

It is today such a powerful symbol of your democracy, here beneath your great message emblazoned on the wall above us, that the sovereignty of this country lies well and truly with the people.

I just want to confine my remarks to a few today.

The OECD Parliamentarians Network at the Saeima in Riga

It is impossible for us to have this discussion in this chamber and in this country just 1000 miles from the conflict in the Ukraine without reflecting on the weaponization by our enemies of everything from food, to energy, to data to information.

That’s why I congratulate you on bringing this debate forward today because it is top of the agenda for democrats around the world.

What well we have seen in recent months is a lesson in how bad actors will seek to use data, information, and cyber skills for bad purposes.

When we look at bad actors like Russia, we see not just a conflict but a case study in how people will fight future wars on forward five different fronts.

Yes, of course, there will be the kinetic front, but there will also be the cyber front. There will be economic warfare. There will be political warfare, and there will be information warfare.

And as any one of those five fronts grows weak, then bad people will just step up their work on one of the other fronts.

That’s why the information battlespace is at the core of the debate.

Now, here in the Baltics, you have been expert for some years because you have been on the front line for so many years in combating disinformation.

We know that countries like Russia cannot generate positive narratives of their own.

So they will always seek to divide and rule. They will always seek to use proactive information conflicts, to try and exploit our great strength, which is our diversity and our discussion and turn that into a weakness.

So they will always find two sides of an argument and seek to fuel the rage on both sides in order to generate division and conflict in our countries.

There will be others that now seek to take this kind of playbook to a new level.

There will be countries that seek to develop AI powered systems. To build mass surveillance systems globally, and to use in the future as a weapon of war.

That’s why we now all have to be on our guard against the exfiltration of technology and data around the world.

Because we know bad actors are building the giant datasets needed to train the algorithms, which will be tools of warfare in the future.

So we cannot be innocents abroad in a world that is an innocent.

Liam Byrne at the Saeima in Riga

In the UK Parliament, there a five key issues in our debates.

1. The first is about investment. We do not invest as much as the bad players in strategic communication.

Yesterday in Madrid, the NATO conference we agreed for NATO members a new concept of operations that puts far far more investment into strategic communications that powerfully sets out the case for good. But this is still too little and too late.

2. Second, we have to be far smarter about the way that we use intelligence and analysis.

Both the United States and the United Kingdom took a very different approach that the way that we share proactively intelligence about for example, Russia’s bad intentions, putting it into the public domain, so that people are able to see and judge for themselves, what countries like Russia are up to.

But you know, the truth is that we still have bad frameworks for sharing intelligence between ourselves and coming to wise decisions about what needs to go into the public domain. What is the information and intelligence that we should be sharing more proactively with the people that we represent?

3. The third area is obviously education. I represent one of the most diverse communities in my country. When I was researching ISIS driven extremism five or six years ago, I was horrified by what I was seeing the kind of propaganda videos that look like they had the production values of a pop video or a video game like Call of Duty.

These were very powerful. Recruiting sergeants, for young people.

That’s why our classrooms are now the frontline of our defence against misinformation.

So we need to share ideas for how we teach our children to be good interrogators of what they see is part of how we train our young people to be good citizens and democrats for the future.

4. Fourth is obviously then in the field of regulation.

All of us have been having this debate in our different Parliament’s for a long time now, but we have still got to get better at how we regulate content online without jeopardising that fundamental right of free speech.

We’ve got to be all of us far smarter about how we regulate the money that comes into our politics and is used to promote bad and divisive messages.

5. And then the final point, Chairman, is really to encourage meetings and conferences and discussions like this because what all of us now need are not just rules, but tools.

We need to enshrine good ideas like a digital Bill of Rights. When I think about the charters of rights we’ve had in our country like the Magna Carta, I notice it was very good about how to police fish weirs. It didn’t say much about data privacy.

We need to keep up the debate about how we enshrine a digital Bill of Rights for our citizens. And part and parcel of that has got to be how we regulate and protect in the field of artificial intelligence. We cannot have old injustice being translated into new injustice through of algorithms, but equally we cannot hand those who wishes ill the tools to do us that harm by letting them simply steal our data and technology.

So this has been a really welcome opportunity for us to get together at a time to talk about some of the ideas and some of the debates that we all share. I’m really looking forward to the discussion ahead.

Thanks so much.


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