Remarks at a UN Security Council Arria-Formula Meeting on Emerging Technology

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis
Acting Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs
New York, New York
May 17, 2021


Mr. President, thank you for organizing this important discussion, and thank you to the briefers for their statements.

New and emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, advanced telecommunications and data, and biotechnology are transforming nearly all aspects of our societies, economies, and lives. Many of these can be powerful tools for good – generating social and economic benefits, improving people’s lives, and solving global challenges. They can also be used to protect and promote human rights. For example, they are helping us fight COVID-19 through new mRNA vaccines, combatting food insecurity through big data analytics, and gathering information on the climate crisis through remote sensing technologies. Other speakers have raised other additional examples.

Even so, we need to be cognizant of the fact that emerging technologies can also be used to do harm. For example, under the guise of protecting public order, security, or countering terrorism, some are using facial recognition software and genetic sequencing technologies to assert political and social control, limit online and offline spaces, and target journalists, human rights defenders, and members of civil society through censorship, and unlawful or arbitrary surveillance. Certain emerging technologies exploited by outside malicious actors can further damage democracy and human rights, and the functioning of transparent, market-driven economies. Here, in the United States, foreign actors have misused technology to interfere in our democratic elections, attack our critical infrastructure, and steal our intellectual property.

Within the context of the United Nations, the United States supports technology that gives UN peacekeepers better situational awareness and early warning, which can improve their security and their ability to effectively implement their mandates – including the protection of civilians. It also makes them safer in hostile environments, a priority for all of us. However, such technology must be used only for those purposes – within the limits of the mandates and areas of operation – and in line with UN guidelines and regulations. We must carefully enforce measures to protect against the misuse and abuse of this technology in peacekeeping operations, and to ensure that missions continue to respect the core principles and values of the UN.

We also recognize the intersection of our work, here at the United Nations, and that of the private sector, in the area of emerging technologies. Indeed, it is not only the burden of governments to responsibly develop and use new technologies – the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights clearly demonstrate private businesses’ responsibilities in this context, as well.

The United States will continue to oppose the misuse of technology by states that seek to undermine democratic values and principles that we have all committed to in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We believe that, together, we can foster collaboration, innovation, and inclusivity in technology development, while ensuring technology usage respects human rights – including freedom of expression, as well as privacy protections, and the rule of law.

Our digital era could hardly have been imagined when the UN was founded 75 years ago. Yet – as we adapt to the benefits and challenges of these emerging technologies – the rules, norms, and principles to which our governments committed must still apply today. The United States will continue to lead and partner with others to develop and use critical and emerging technology as tools for good – consistent with democratic values, fundamental freedoms, and greater equality and access for all.

I thank you.