Embracing Difference: Governance of Critical Technologies in the Indo-Pacific

Author name: 
Jolyon Ford
Damian Clifford
The National Security College

This paper considers what an approach to human rights and the ethical governance of critical technologies could entail for Quad members. Its focus is data-driven technologies, like artificial intelligence.

The key insight of the paper is that policymaking and diplomacy on critical technologies should proceed from a recognition that the uses and impacts of technology are heavily affected by social factors, including local culture, context and legal traditions. Quad membership is often defined by distinguishing from autocratic/non-democratic powers. However, there are also considerable divergences within and between Quad members, and other partners, on what the responsible development, use and governance of technology (and related data) comprises. There are also differences between and within like-minded countries about how technologies are perceived to either pose a risk to, or enhance, security, economic and social interests and values.

This techno-social context of critical technology raises important questions:
• Where is there scope to aim for common Quad-level approaches and standards?
• Where is difference inevitable (or even desirable), and how should it be managed. • What is the role for ethics and human rights, and are these strategically the most appropriate and compelling frames for pursuing the governance of critical technologies? What other governance systems (or narratives) might assist in the socially responsible development and use of technology?
• How does the outsized role and impact of the private sector (especially transnational ‘big tech’) affect the viability of state-led approaches?

This paper grapples with each of these questions. Part 1 examines the complexities of critical technology policymaking and diplomacy. Part 2 then asks what might be the most appropriate framing for approaching questions of the responsible development and use of critical technologies. Part 3 then canvasses key issues at the intersection of human rights, ethics and security that Quad members – either alone or together – will need to bear in mind when promoting critical technology governance standards. Part 4 then narrows in on a key issue across a range of critical technologies: data governance and privacy regimes. Part 5 offers insights for how Australia, especially via mini-lateral groupings such as the Quad, can engage in diplomacy at the nexus of critical technologies, human rights and ethics.

About the QTN Series

The Quad Tech Network (QTN) is an Australian Government initiative to promote regional Track 2 research and public dialogue on cyber and critical technology issues. This paper is part of a series of papers by universities and think tanks in Australia (the National Security College at The Australian National University), India (the Observer Research Foundation), Japan (the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies) and the United States (Center for a New American Security). The QTN series offers analysis and recommendations on shared challenges facing Australia and Indo-Pacific partners across four themes: • international peace and security • connectivity and regional resilience • human rights and ethics, and • national security.

The QTN is managed by the National Security College at The Australian National University, with the support of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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