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Technology for Democracy at the second U.S. Summit: an update on our progress

In accordance with Access Now’s commitment to an open, accessible, and secure internet, and to defending and extending human rights in the digital age, we are co-leading the Technology for Democracy Cohort of the U.S. Summit for Democracy in partnership with the UK and Estonian governments. Since launching in October 2022, the Cohort has grown into a coalition of over 150 civil society, government, and private sector organizations across 40 countries. Together, we are working to develop projects that serve to enhance connectivity, and promote inclusivity and transparency online.

To that end, the Cohort has been working hard to realize several objectives ahead of the second U.S. Summit for Democracy, which will take place in-person and online on March 29 and 30.  These efforts are built around three working groups, each with several areas of focus.

  • Technology to support open and secure access to the internet

This working group focuses on promoting broader awareness of government-led restrictions and challenges to open and secure internet access – particularly through the increasingly commonplace practice of internet shutdowns. These have wide-ranging implications for the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people, journalists, business owners, both small and large. As a Cohort, we want authorities to understand the implications of switching the internet off.

To this end, the working group, co-led by Access Now and the UK government, is championing the Shutdown Impact Stories Project, centering the voices of those impacted most by internet shutdowns and highlighting the human and economic costs they carry. We are also contributing to expanding and improving the Internet Society’s Pulse Project, which documents internet shutdowns and their impact across the globe. 

  • Harnessing the potential of technology for the benefit of open, democratic societies

The second working group focuses on establishing guidelines for privacy enhancing technologies (PETs) and broadening access to online voter registration for people with disabilities. To achieve this, the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABAROLI) has launched a stakeholder dialogue on developing a shared understanding of PETs, and human-rights centered guidelines for developing and deploying them responsibly. In parallel, the German Marshall Fund is spearheading engagement with civil society, governments, and tech companies to develop informed and comprehensive recommendations on how to help people with disabilities use technology to participate more actively in elections. These should be completed later this year. 

  • Technology for good governance

Finally, the third working group is led by Accountability Lab, the E-Governance Academy, and the Estonian government. Together, they are moving forward with a digital public infrastructure project targeting government stakeholders. This aims to showcase examples of open and secure digital infrastructure that enhance government transparency. A more detailed proposal for the project will be shared soon.

Working together to support digital democracy 

Protecting human rights and democratic values in the digital age demands an inclusive and collaborative approach, reflecting and responding to both existing and emerging threats to open, secure internet. From civil society to the private sector, from individual activists to government representatives, we need everyone at the table to make meaningful and sustainable progress, both before, during, and long after the Summit and the conclusion of our Cohort’s work. We urge you to follow the Cohort’s journey as we ramp up for the second Summit for Democracy over the coming month.