Christy Lorenz, Jessica Uitvlugt and Jessica Stewart

Dispatch from the 2024 Technology Governance Policy Challenge

Photo by Joanne Weston


By: Christy Lorenz, Jessica Stewart and Jessica Uitvlugt, MIPP students

Last month’s “Technology Governance Policy Challenge,” hosted by the Balsillie School of International Affairs in collaboration with the School of International Service at American University, provided a unique and intense learning experience for students from both Balsillie and across the border. Over two days, April 18-19, 2024, students from both schools engaged with the complexities of modern technology policy through a meticulously crafted simulation that felt disturbingly similar to real-world crises.

Our team—comprised of Jessica Stewart, Jessica Uitvlugt, and Christy Lorenz—was given the task of responding to a hypothetical but all-too-plausible scenario set in the near future: the 2025 Canadian federal election is thrown into chaos by human error at a voting station, sparking disinformation campaigns that quickly spread across social media platforms. These campaigns falsely accused a company of manipulating the election results, thus threatening the integrity of the electoral process. Foreign interference is suspected.

This simulation was not merely academic; it echoed the ongoing real-world concerns about election security, disinformation, and foreign influence that democracies worldwide are grappling with today. The challenge was to brief Global Affairs Canada (GAC) and propose actionable strategies to counteract disinformation and secure the electoral process.

To prepare for the challenge, our team conducted a thorough review of the literature on election interference and disinformation, including works by our esteemed judges, such as Samantha Bradshaw and Wesley Wark. We focused on analyzing the collaborative strategies employed by both state and non-state actors and examined how democracy and technology can concurrently conflict and complement each other. This preparation was crucial for grasping the full scope of the case study and formulating effective and creative recommendations for Global Affairs Canada (GAC).

The agenda for the two-day challenge was packed with student presentations, feedback sessions, and keynote lectures that enriched our understanding of social media algorithms, machine learning, disinformation, and foreign election interference. Faced with a detailed and realistic case study, we emerged from each learning opportunity with new insights to refine our policy draft. Experts such as Samantha Bradshaw, Tara Denham, John Hilton, and Wesley Wark provided invaluable feedback that sharpened our proposal and strategic thinking. The students from the American School were also a dream to collaborate with and compete against. Not only did they deliver compelling presentations, but they also offered thoughtful questions, comments and suggestions that enriched our policy development process and overall learning experience. Indeed, despite it being a technology challenge, the real triumph was the incredible networking opportunity: over two days, we forged many friendships through shared interests and policy perspectives.

After much deliberation and late-night revision, our ultimate proposal to GAC entailed employing a human rights framework to guide a National Digital Security Strategy. Our analysis of the case study found that the dissemination of disinformation via digital platforms constituted a significant threat to the integrity of Canada’s democracy that compromised fundamental human rights, including the right to free and fair elections, freedom of thought, and life, liberty and security of person. Through this Strategy, we recommended that GAC build upon the Global Declaration of Information Integrity Online, the Cyber Security Strategy, and the National Security Strategy by addressing hybrid threats that infringe upon core human rights and democratic freedoms with one guiding document.

The Strategy included two broad sections, including improving the resilience of Canadians to disinformation and implementing deterrence mechanisms against foreign interference. In this manner, the Strategy remedied the shortcomings of Canada’s foreign response mechanisms. The section concerning resilience highlighted monitoring the information space with CSIS and private AI detection firms alongside digital literacy campaigns, which can be improved upon by partnering with the Center for Digital Rights and focusing on the importance of algorithmic biases. In addition, the Strategy detailed the creation of a multilingual website to provide information on election parties, thereby recognizing the diversity of Canada and the vulnerability of diaspora communities. Finally, the implementation of a multinational Foreign Registry platform with the Five Eyes alliance supported deterrence. We are excited to further develop and improve our proposed Strategy before submitting it for publication in an upcoming anthology.

We feel so lucky to have participated in this inaugural event. We learned so much, met so many kind and brilliant people, presented to and received feedback from leading experts in the field, and sharpened our policy skills under pressure. We will undoubtedly recall the lessons of the challenge—and our newfound American friends!—as we continue to learn about the evolving threat of foreign election interference and progress in our careers.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the BSIA, its students, faculty, staff, or Board of Directors.

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