Tech Envoy Series: Bytes Beyond Borders: Charting the Future of Cyber Diplomacy

Nate Fick, Ambassador at Large, Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy, United States Department of State, speaks at a Tech Envoy Series program at Meridian House in Washington, DC on October 4, 2023. Photo by Steven Bobb.


October 4, 2023

In a candid conversation at Meridian, Cyber Ambassador Nate Fick illuminated critical strategies and challenges in shaping a responsible, ethical, and inclusive technological future. In the ever-evolving digital landscape, this conversation offered diplomats a roadmap toward a technologically resilient world, underlining accessible yet substantive strategies of collaboration and informed decision-making for individuals, businesses, and governments.

Here are some top takeaways from the program:

1. Digital Solidarity Over Digital Sovereignty

The U.S. Department of State conceptualizes “digital solidarity” as an intellectual and operational alternative to digital sovereignty. Ambassador Fick warns shutting off cross-border ecosystems under the guise of digital sovereignty will escalate cost and risk for all. Democratic societies benefit from a harmonized approach to tech development, deployment, and use. As AI undergoes rapid evolution, it is imperative for U.S. allies and partners to cooperate, fostering innovation while safeguarding individual rights and democratic values.

2. Don’t Underestimate the Power of a Good Cable

The deployment of cyber-proficient officers in the field who comprehend technical issues, contextualize politics and legislation, and translate their findings into concise analyses is transformative for headquarters. As the recipient of cybersecurity analysis from American diplomats serving around the world, Ambassador Fick underscored the power of a good cable to significantly expedite governments’ ability to engage and respond. Ambassador Fick highlighted his goal of having a trained cyber and digital officer in every U.S. mission around the world by the end of 2024 as a crucial step in the evolution of the U.S. foreign service. On the one-year anniversary after its inception, the State Department has filled 50% of these diplomatic assignments and is on track to meet its goal.

3. Voluntary Commitments to Digital Accountability

Voluntary commitments have emerged as an agile and effective strategy towards establishing guardrails for AI. This approach encourages businesses to voluntarily commit to digital accountability, versus awaiting the sluggish pace of legislative processes, often rendering regulations antiquated before implementation. As the cornerstone of tech ethics, these commitments foster a culture of responsible technology development and ensure international tech governance remains flexible, relevant, and impactful.

4. Tackling Disinformation Through Public Education

Public education was heralded as a powerful tool for combatting the rising tide of disinformation. Diplomats were encouraged to invest in comprehensive campaigns that empower citizens to critically evaluate digital content and distinguish AI-generated material from reliable sources. Collaboration with tech companies, educational institutions, and civil society organizations help provide equal access to digital literacy initiatives and ensure that all citizens are equipped with the skills needed to navigate the complexities of the digital world responsibly.

5. Upskilling the Cyber Workforce

The global skills gap in the labor market and a rampant, structural inability to fill jobs in cybersecurity and emerging technology highlight the need for robust talent development strategies. Ambassador Fick emphasized the need for domestic capacity building to bolster talent pipelines, stressing the importance of inclusive programs accessible to diverse backgrounds. Diplomats were encouraged to collaborate with educational institutions and businesses to create tailored programs, scholarships, and incentives. To ensure innovation adaptability and competitiveness, it is critical to nurture a skilled cyber workforce poised for future challenges.

Project summary

Tech Envoy Series: Bytes Beyond Borders: Charting the Future of Cyber Diplomacy | October 2023
Countries: Denmark, Canada, Panama, Argentina, Brazil, France, United States, Jamaica, Liechtenstein, Morocco, Nicaragua, Norway, Portugal, Luxembourg, Netherlands
Impact Areas: Artificial Intelligence and Cybersecurity, Science and Technology
Program Areas: Diplomatic Engagement