The prospect of 20 billion connected objects being at our disposal in 2020 increases the possibility of the theft, manipulation or destruction of information with the aim of taking control of individuals or computer systems.
Information is the key to warfare. In the haze that typically envelops any armed conflict, it is knowledge that brings about decision. The same goes for economic warfare: the protection or pirating of innovation are determining factors when it comes to where producers stand in the hierarchy. This is especially so in the midst of a technological revolution when the ability to process data produces new wealth for businesses and nations.
The information war aims at taking control of “people’s minds”, as Hannah Arendt put it. It has entered a new phase with the digital revolution. The collection, processing and analysis of data bring a fifth dimension to warfare: cyber war is added to war on land and sea, in the air and in space. The fact that more than half of humankind is connected to the Internet and the prospect of 20 billion connected objects being at our disposal in 2020 increase the possibility of the theft, manipulation or destruction of information with the aim of taking control of individuals or computer systems. The battlefield is global. Operations are carried out continuously and in real time. The digital element, even more so than the atom – which still remains in the hands of governments – has a leveling power and is a one-sided weapon. It is accessible to criminal and terrorist groups, even to mere individuals, and puts them on an equal footing with global companies and major powers, as has been shown by cyber attacks from North Korea, for example in the WannaCry virus which blocked over 200,000 computers in 150 countries.
The information war does not only involve governments; it saves bloodshed whilst demonstrating considerable effectiveness in breaking down the enemy by attacking the minds of the population. Hobbes said that “To govern is to make believe”. The one who knows how to make people believe comes out the winner, especially in democracies which are régimes d’opinion [regimes governed by public opinion]. Democracies are the main targets of the information war, which destabilizes their citizens through social media in order to warp their institutions and public debate. There are several modus operandi: personal attacks against leaders; divulging massive amounts of confidential data along the lines of WikiLeaks; giving out fake news; nationalist and religious propaganda.
There are two particularly dangerous enemies. Firstly, démocratures [a combination of democracy and dictatorship] like China, Russia and Turkey, as recently illustrated by the Russian intervention in the American and French presidential elections. Secondly, jihadist movements which, whilst being dismantled in the Middle East, are redeploying themselves in the social media in developed countries. But the risk is also an internal one: populists, against a background of a discredited elite and the radicalization of the social fabric, use fake news as rabble-rousing material, occasionally with the help of media like Fox News or the Breitbart website in the USA – even helped by Donald Trump’s tweets.
Democracies cannot resign themselves to being victimes of the information war, or they will put themselves in great danger. Hence the need for a coordinated global reaction.
On the economic front, the search for, the validation of, and the independence of information should be protected by the application of legislation on competition to platforms and to their share in the financing of disseminators of information. On the legal front, laws on responsibility must be introduced to stop the dissemination of fake news – which can now be unfailingly detected – and of the propaganda coming from démocratures and jihadist groups. The European Union has thus established ways of preserving the freedom of its citizens by means of the Privacy Shield and regulations for the protection of personal data which will come into force on 25th May 2018. On the military front, a cyber strategy must be instituted to integrate intelligence, the protection of citizens, businesses and institutions, and to take the offensive in the war. On the political front, cooperation between Europeans is indispensable; on the one hand, to break the vise that US technological domination holds on them and, on the other hand, to put an end to attacks from Islamic terrorism and the Russian and Turkish démocratures.
The ultimate antidote is to look for ways to educate citizens of democracies in freedom and responsibility. The resistance of counterweights to the USA like the French during the last presidential election shows that the information war is not lost. Democracy remains inseparable from the freedom, the plurality and the veracity of information – more than ever a constant battle.
(Column published inLe Figaro, 26th June 2017)