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UK Confirms Cyber and AI Commitments in the UK Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy

The Four objectives

30 March 2021

The UK Government has published its Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy. The Review has been described by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as "the largest review of its kind since the end of the Cold War" and presents the Government's vision for the UK over the next decade. This article provides a brief summary of the cyber, AI and technology aspects of the Review.

Across the Review, there is a clear focus on science and technology, cyber power and artificial intelligence as core to the UK's future security, prosperity and resilience. The Strategic Framework established as the outcome of the Review sets out four overarching and mutually supportive objectives, each of which reflects key considerations in the Government's cyber strategy.

Sustaining strategic advantage through science and technology ("S&T")

The S&T landscape is rapidly changing and its effective exploitation is highlighted as increasingly important in measuring global power as well as conferring economic and political advantages. The Review sets an ambition for the UK to become a "science and tech superpower by 2030," and puts emphasis on the importance of developing and promoting the responsible use of technology. One way in which the UK plans to achieve this is by increasing funding for investment in AI research and development, and supporting the ethical adoption of AI and other data tools, a theme shared with the UK government's recent release of 10 tech priorities for 2021.

However, the fast pace of growth in this area could result in a gap between technological advancements and the related necessary governance. New regulatory frameworks and technical standards are identified as being necessary to encourage responsible behaviour and create a safe ecosystem that is fit for the future.

In order to ensure that there is a coherent approach to cyber decision making, the UK Government has also formed a ministerial small group, and will adopt an "own-collaborate-access framework" to guide strategic decisions on building capabilities in priority areas.

Shaping the open international order of the future

The development of cyber power is highlighted as critical to enable the UK to shape the global digital environment and influence the international order of cyberspace in the future. Governance is a key theme in this objective, as the Review speaks to the UK's intention to focus on regulatory diplomacy to build an international coalition promoting free, peaceful and secure cyberspace. It provides detail on the UK's developing approach to govern digital technologies through efforts such as the Online Safety Bill, which is intended to ensure human rights are protected online in the same way as they are offline, as well as create accountability and oversight for technology companies.

Strengthening security and defence at home and overseas

State cyber operation threats are more persistent than ever and take many forms, including: espionage, political interference, sabotage, electoral interference, disinformation, propaganda and intellectual property theft. The Review addresses how the Government plans to take a more robust approach in response to these threats, and notably intends to enhance its own cyber capabilities.

Over the next four years, the Government pledges to invest at least £6.6 billion in research and development in areas such as cyber, AI and quantum technologies, in order to modernise defence for a competitive age.

The Review discusses the importance of the Online Safety Act in strengthening the UK's response to illegal and harmful online content, addressing terrorist material and content relating to exploitation of children. The UK's proposals around online safety track the increasing global trend for governments pursuing specific regulation of online spaces, including in Australia, the EU (via the Digital Services Act) and in other countries with existing content rules.

Building resilience at home and overseas

The Review emphasises the need for both cyber resilience and cyber power to defend against the risks posed to the UK by proliferation of cyber capability to countries and organised crime groups. The Government will establish a "Situation Centre" to strengthen its ability to assess complex risks and facilitate its collection and use of data. Furthermore, the upcoming UK Cyber Strategy will focus not only on building resilience to cyber-attacks, but also on the use of offensive cyber by the recently established National Cyber Force to disrupt and deter potential threats. The Government notes its intention to take a "whole-of-society approach", so that citizens, private and public sector alike will work together to build resilience.

Conclusion

The Review has been published at a time of significance for the UK, following its exit from the European Union and amid the coronavirus pandemic. It is clear that science and technology will be a key part of the UK's strategy for the next 10 years in order to achieve its policy goals both domestically and internationally. The Review identifies rapid technological change and digitisation as a trend of particular importance to the UK and the changing international order, which will reshape relationships between states, as well as between citizens and the private and public sectors.

At the foundation of achieving the country's cyber and technology objectives, will be the development of international technical standards, regulatory frameworks and rules of responsible behaviour, as well as the striking investment commitments put forward in the Review, and the increased focus on improving knowledge and information management practices.

The commitments put forward in the Review memorialise the UK's ambition to excel in its cyber capacities and become a global services, digital and data hub. It is clear that the UK's various policy proposals are now to be put into motion, and their impact and efficacy will be tested against the increasing laws and regulation emerging globally in this area.

Andrew Kernaghan, Trainee, TMT Group, contributed to the writing of this article.