ICRC calls on tech companies to safeguard civilians in conflict zones

The advisory underscores the growing significance of digital technology and its role in modern warfare, emphasising the need for all stakeholders to observe international law during wartime to minimise threats to civilian populations.

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The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has issued an advisory urging tech companies to act responsibly during armed conflicts and cyberwarfare. Specifically, the ICRC emphasises the role of tech companies, highlighting that they should closely monitor how their products and services are utilised during wartime. This includes assessing the use of communication infrastructure, cloud storage, and cybersecurity tools.

The reason for such scrutiny is the potential reclassification of tech companies as military targets if their products are directly involved in hostilities. This change in classification could place their employees at significant risk, highlighting the profound implications for both these companies and their personnel.

Furthermore, the Red Cross encourages tech companies to take proactive steps to prevent or minimise the utilisation of their civilian services by the military. These businesses need to inform their employees about the potential risks and legal consequences associated with military usage of their products. Such informed decisions can help safeguard the interests of tech companies and their employees.

To further bolster the protection of civilians during conflicts, the ICRC recommends that tech companies should, when offering their services for use in wartime, physically or technologically segregate data and communication infrastructure intended for military purposes from those meant for civilian use. This segregation is a vital step in maintaining the integrity of civilian services and safeguarding their use during armed conflicts.

Moreover, tech companies should go beyond mere compliance with legal obligations. They should make voluntary efforts to ensure that their actions do not inadvertently disrupt the operation and safety of critical services, such as healthcare and humanitarian aid. In essence, the objective is to minimise the risks that may arise from tech companies’ involvement in conflicts, not only for themselves but also for civilian clients who depend on their services.

The advisory extends its guidance to governments, the military, and humanitarian organisations, emphasising the importance of adhering to international legal frameworks during armed conflict. The overarching goal is to reduce digital threats to civilians, as the consequences of failing to do so can be devastating.

The ICRC’s advisory is consistent with earlier guidelines that focus on the responsibilities of hacktivists during wartime.

Why does it matter?

The proliferation of technology in modern warfare presents unique challenges, and as a result, protecting civilians from digital threats requires the development of appropriate legislation, policies, and procedures. While some progress has been made in this regard, including the International Criminal Court’s announcement to prosecute cyberwar crimes, the full regulatory landscape surrounding aspects of cyberwarfare, especially the involvement of civilian hackers, remains largely unregulated.