How Biden's Tech Policies Aim to Safeguard Human Rights

28 May 2024

FACT SHEET: Advancing Technology for Democracy

The first wave of the digital revolution promised that new technologies would support democracy and human rights. The second saw an authoritarian counterrevolution. Now, the United States and other democracies are working together to ensure that the third wave of the digital revolution leads to a technological ecosystem characterized by resilience, integrity, openness, trust and security, and that reinforces democratic principles and human rights.

Together, we are organizing and mobilizing to ensure that technologies work for, not against, democratic principles, institutions, and societies.  In so doing, we will continue to engage the private sector, including by holding technology platforms accountable when they do not take action to counter the harms they cause, and by encouraging them to live up to democratic principles and shared values.

At the first Summit for Democracy, President Biden launched the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal, an innovative, targeted expansion of U.S. Government efforts to defend and grow democratic resilience with likeminded partners through diplomacy and foreign assistance. The United States’ agenda on advancing technology for democracy constitutes one of the Presidential Initiative’s five pillars.

This agenda recognizes that to harness current and emerging technology in a manner that supports democratic values and institutions, democracies must put forward a vision of what they stand for – an affirmative, persuasive, secure and privacy-preserving, values-driven, and rights-respecting view of how technology can enable individual dignity and economic prosperity, and also what they will stand against – the misuse and abuse of technology to repress, control, divide, discriminate, and disenfranchise.  Additionally, democracies must continue looking ahead, so as to align emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), with respect for democratic principles, human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Biden-Harris Administration’s approach to advancing technology for democracy, and the U.S.-hosted event undertaken as part of the second Summit for Democracy, are each guided by these three key themes: advancing democracy and internet freedom in the digital age, countering the misuse of technology and rise of digital authoritarianism, and shaping emerging technologies to ensure respect for human rights and democratic principles.

Advancing Democracy and Internet Freedom in the Digital Age

Our affirmative vision for the world’s technological and digital future is one that is free, open, secure, and aligned with respect for democratic principles and human rights. The Declaration for the Future of the Internet, now affirmed by more than 65 countries, and the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights, both released following the first Summit for Democracy, help to lay the groundwork for this vision. Additionally, the Biden-Harris Administration’s inaugural National Cybersecurity Strategy outlines a series of actions to advance our positive vision for cyberspace.

Since the first Summit for Democracy, we have advanced our affirmative agenda in additional key areas, including by mobilizing fellow democracies to advance Internet freedom, bolstering the development of national technology frameworks that align with human rights, and supporting the development of technologies that embed democratic values at every stage of their design and use. And the Biden-Harris Administration is making historic investments to close the digital divide in the United States, while laying the foundation to help shape biotechnologies in line with democratic principles and human rights.

Key actions announced or highlighted at the second Summit for Democracy include:

  • Expanding the Advancing Digital Democracy Initiative. This USAID initiative launched at the first Summit aims to foster open, secure, and inclusive digital societies in which technology advances democratic principles and respect for human rights. In addition to existing pilot programs in Serbia and Zambia, USAID is standing up six more programs in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America.

  • Strengthening the Freedom Online Coalition. To implement the Presidential Initiative’s commitment to strengthen and expand the Freedom Online Coalition, the United States assumed the body’s chairship in January 2023 for the first time in the Coalition’s 12-year history. The Department of State, together with USAID and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, is now implementing an ambitious Program of Action for this coalition of 36 governments focused on Internet freedom. This includes expanding the body’s membership and strengthening its governance by institutionalizing a troika leadership system among past, present, and future chairs.

  • Growing the Multilateral Surge and Sustain Fund for Anti-Censorship Technology. This Fund, created following the first Summit for Democracy, is managed by the Department of State and designed to expand access to anti-censorship technologies for those who most need critical tools to access the free and open Internet in repressive environments.  The Department of State and U.S. Agency for Global Media have contributed over $17 million to the Open Technology Fund, an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, for this fund. The United States welcomes a recent pledge from the Government of Estonia to contribute to the Fund.

  • Updating Existing Internet Freedom General Licenses. To help make critical Internet communications technology available to local populations in closed societies, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control will amend existing internet communications general licenses (GLs) across relevant sanctions regimes that impose comprehensive sanctions on the target jurisdiction, emulating recent action in the context of Iran, and will work with other countries to share best practices in this area.

  • Developing Donor Principles for the Digital Age. USAID announced that it will work with its partners to develop voluntary, non-binding Donor Principles for the Digital Age to advance human rights and democratic principles, as well as relevant safeguards for donor-supported programs.

  • Promoting Information Integrity and Resilience (ProInfo) Initiative. Building on the work of the Summit for Democracy Information Integrity Cohort, the ProInfo Initiative expands existing efforts at USAID and the Department of State to strengthen information integrity and resilience globally by advancing private-public-civic partnerships and improving cooperation among key stakeholders, including by demonstrating leadership at the OECD and in other relevant multilateral fora.  USAID will provide up to $16 million to enhance technical assistance and capacity building to local civil society, governments, and media outlets. USAID will expand international donor coordination in order to maximize investments to strengthen information integrity and resilience, especially with respect to marginalized communities, including in the Global South.

  • Cybersecurity Support. On the margins of the Costa Rica’s Summit for Democracy event in San José, the U.S. government announced a new funding package to strengthen the Government of Costa Rica’s cybersecurity. Following damaging ransomware attacks, the assistance package will include a combination of vulnerability assessments, capacity building, and the provision of tools and services. This is an example of how the United States works with partners around the world to build their capacity to address shared threats in cyberspace and support a secure, open, and reliable digital ecosystem.

Countering the Misuse of Technology and Rise of Digital Authoritarianism

From AI-powered mass surveillance to censorship at scale, autocratic governments are increasingly employing technology to repress their citizens and control critics at home and abroad. At the same time, misuse and abuse of technologies can occur in both autocracies and democracies alike, as evidenced by alarming instances of misuse of commercial spyware and the spread of online harassment and abuse.

To address this challenge, the Biden-Harris Administration is unveiling at the second Summit for Democracy a comprehensive package of actions meant to combat digital repression from multiple angles – from leading by example with respect to use of commercial spyware and deepening international cooperation on this issue; to championing new principles to guide governments’ use of surveillance technology; to announcing a new efforts to integrate a human rights lens into export controls so as to prevent dual-use technologies and goods from falling into the hands of those that may misuse them. The U.S. government is also calling on the private sector to combat authoritarian use of network-level filtering technology for repressive censorship by supporting and furthering censorship-resistant technologies and technical standards.

Key actions announced or highlighted at the second Summit for Democracy include:

  • Executive Order Prohibiting the Use of Commercial Spyware that Poses Risks to National Security. President Biden’s new Executive Order prohibits the operational use of commercial spyware by the U.S. Government when it poses significant counterintelligence or security risks to the United States, or significant risks of improper use by a foreign government or foreign person. The Executive Order substantially advances the Administration’s multifaceted effort to counter the proliferation and misuse of commercial spyware and serves as a demonstration of the United States’ commitment to countering the proliferation and misuse of commercial spyware and other surveillance technology.

  • Joint Statement on Efforts to Counter the Proliferation and Misuse of Commercial Spyware. Complementing the Executive Order, the United States is joining an initial group of nine partners in endorsing the Joint Statement, which aims to deepen international cooperation on countering the proliferation and misuse of commercial spyware. The initial group of partners includes: Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, France, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

  • Restrictions on Post-Service Employment with Foreign Entities of Concern. In addition, Congress enacted new statutory authorities and requirements related to commercial spyware in the Intelligence Authorization Acts for Fiscal Years 2022 and 2023, including new restrictions and reporting requirements for Intelligence Community (IC) employees’ post-service employment with foreign governments or companies, to include foreign commercial spyware entities. On March 23, 2023, the Director of National Intelligence issued binding guidance to the U.S. Intelligence Community to implement these statutory requirements, which set a standard that we hope will be followed by other countries.

  • High Risk Community Protection Initiative. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced the next phase of its groundbreaking High Risk Community Protection Initiative, which is dedicated to strengthening the cybersecurity of high-risk communities—such as civil society organizations—in the United States against transnational repression.

  • Strategic Dialogue on Cybersecurity of Civil Society Under Threat of Transnational Repression. In complement to CISA’s High Risk Community Protection Initiative, which focuses on actors within the United States, the United Kingdom and the United States will co-host the Strategic Dialogue to facilitate greater international cooperation among the cybersecurity agencies of likeminded countries to strengthen the cybersecurity of civil society against transnational repression within participating states’ respective borders. The initial participants in this dialogue include the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Japan, New Zealand, and Norway.

  • Guiding Principles on Government Use of Surveillance Technologies. Drafted as a consensus document among the 36 members of the Freedom Online Coalition, these principles outline how governments can respect democratic values and protect human rights as they use surveillance technologies in three key areas of concern. The Guiding Principles draw a clear distinction between those governments that adhere to appropriate behaviors and those who misuse surveillance technologies for repression. The members of the Freedom Online Coalition are Argentina, Australia, Austria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Maldives, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The following additional states participating in the second Summit for Democracy have endorsed the Guiding Principles: Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Ecuador, Iceland, Kosovo, Malta, and North Macedonia.

  • Export Controls and Human Rights Initiative – Code of Conduct for Enhancing Export Controls of Goods and Technology That Could be Misused and Lead to Serious Violations or Abuses of Human Rights. This multilateral Code of Conduct, developed through the Export Controls and Human Rights Initiative announced at the first Summit for Democracy, commits subscribing states to better integrate human rights criteria in their export control regimes. In addition to the United States, the following governments that have endorsed the voluntary code of conduct are:  Albania, Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Kosovo, Latvia, The Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Republic of Korea, and the United Kingdom.

Complementing U.S. government efforts, a number of private sector actors have also taken specific action to counter the misuse of technology and rise of digital authoritarianism. For example, over 150 companies, spearheaded by Microsoft, Meta, Cisco, Trend Micro and endorsed by Apple and Google, released a set of principles focused on minimizing the risk associated with commercial spyware. Among other corporate commitments, Cloudflare has committed to meaningful consultation with civil society as it works with Internet standards bodies and other Internet providers on the next generation of privacy-enhancing technologies and protocols. Meta has committed to helping people communicate freely and securely, including through a new feature that allows users to connect to WhatsApp by proxy when their Internet connection is disrupted or blocked. Microsoft, together with other cloud service providers, has developed and released the Trusted Cloud Principles. Google is launching a $2 million fund to support human rights defenders, and providing 100,000 security keys at no cost to individuals at higher risk of cyber attacks, such as journalists and human rights defenders.

Additionally, the Biden-Harris Administration announced, as part of the Global Partnership for Action on Gender-Based Online Harassment and Abusea series of actions to prevent and respond to technology-facilitated gender-based violence and counter its chilling effects on women leaders. This includes committing more than $13 million in targeted funding across USAID and the Department of State. The Global Partnership has grown to be a 12-country initiative bringing together governments, international organizations, civil society, and the private sector to prioritize, understand, prevent, and address the growing scourge of technology-facilitated gender-based violence, which disproportionately impacts women, girls, and LGBTQI+ political and public figures, leaders, journalists and activists. These actions and investments also include the release of the Global Partnership’s 2023 Roadmap and several other initiatives.

Finally, in September 2022, the Administration released principles for reforms to enhance tech platform accountability, including providing robust federal protections for Americans’ privacy; removing the special legal protections that broadly shield social media companies from liability; and increasing transparency about platform’s algorithms and content moderation decisions.

Shaping Emerging Technologies to Ensure Respect for Human Rights and Democratic Principles

Emerging technologies, including AI and biotechnology, hold the power to fundamentally shape industries, economies, and entire societies. Automated systems are driving extraordinary benefits, from technology that helps farmers grow food more efficiently and computers that predict storm paths, to algorithms that can identify diseases in patients. These tools now drive important decisions across sectors, while data is helping to revolutionize global industries. They hold the potential to redefine every part of our societies and make life better for everyone, but they also present significant new challenges and risks including to the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms. We – the private sector, government, and civil society – must ensure that innovation and progress does not come at the price of democratic values or respect for human rights. That is why the Biden-Harris Administration is leveraging the second Summit for Democracy to shine a spotlight on steps it is taking to mitigate risks, and ensure that innovation drives new opportunities for all.

The Administration has released foundational documents providing a road map for achieving these objectives, including an AI Risk Management Framework that the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released in January 2023, as well as the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released in October 2022. In February 2023, the President signed Executive Order 14091 on Further Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, which directs federal agencies to root out bias in the design and use of new technologies, such as AI and other automated systems, and to protect the public from algorithmic discrimination. The Administration is also advancing the implementation of the President’s September 2022 Executive Order on Advancing Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Innovation for a Sustainable, Safe, and Secure American Bioeconomy as the foundation to engage stakeholders at home and abroad on the importance of shaping ethical standards for the biotechnology of the future.

Key deliverables announced or highlighted at the second Summit for Democracy include:

  • National Strategy to Advance Privacy-Preserving Data Sharing and Analytics. OSTP released a National Strategy to Advance Privacy-Preserving Data Sharing and Analytics, a roadmap for harnessing privacy-enhancing technologies, coupled with strong governance, to enable data sharing and analytics in a way that benefits individuals and society, while mitigating privacy risks and harms and upholding democratic principles.

  • National Objectives for Digital Assets Research and Development. OSTP also released a set of National Objectives for Digital Assets Research and Development, whichoutline its priorities for the responsible research and development (R&D) of digital assets. These objectives will help developers of digital assets better reinforce democratic principles and protect consumers by default

  • Launch of Trustworthy and Responsible AI Resource Center for Risk Management. NIST announced a new Resource Center, which is designed as a one-stop-shop website for foundational content, technical documents, and toolkits to enable responsible use of AI. Government, industry, and academic stakeholders can access resources such as a repository for AI standards, measurement methods and metrics, and data sets. The website is designed to facilitate the implementation and international alignment with the AI Risk Management Framework. The Framework articulates the key building blocks of trustworthy AI and offers guidance for addressing them.

  • International Grand Challenges on Democracy-Affirming TechnologiesAnnounced at the first Summit, the United States and the United Kingdom carried out their joint Privacy Enhancing Technology Prize Challenges. IE University, in partnership with the U.S. Department of State, hosted the *Tech4Democracy Global Entrepreneurship Challenge.*The winners, selected from around the world, were featured at the second Summit.

This post was originally published on March 29, 2023 in