The most potent threats to democracy are cyber threats - the president of Microsoft

The role of technology should be to promote and protect democracy, Microsoft’s president Brad Smith said on Tuesday’s Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) webinar.

“If you look at that, 47% of the world’s people that live in democracies, they account for 97% of Microsoft’s global business. So, I like to say to our own employees, we, as a company, have a mission,” Smith said during the webinar.

Brad Smith, a leading figure in Microsoft since the early ‘90’s, argued that crucial threats to democratic societies revolve around issues enabled by technology and foreign interference.

“I think if there’s one constant that you can see going back to ancient Greece and ancient Rome, it’s that democracy is always fragile and will flourish, will be preserved only if we constantly invest in its promotion and protection,” Smith said.

According to him, critical threats originating from abroad are cyber threats. He described three categories for primary concern: hacking, threats to the integrity of the voting system, and information operations.

He expressed concern about the hacking of emails of candidates worldwide, attempts to interfere with voter rolls, especially in the U.S., and the disinformation operations that haunted societies all over the world last year.

“All three of these threats are coming principally from, for authoritarian nations Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea using different approaches, different priorities,” he said. 

He acknowledged the different hurdles that different groups of Americans have, yet singled out the Russian government as adding flame to the fire.

“And then the next part of it is, I think, a quite intentional effort, especially -- I just have to say -- driven by the Russian government to persuade Americans, that there is a reason they’re being left behind. It’s because the institutions that they would otherwise trust do not care about them,” Smith said. 

Talking to the CSIS audience, he urged them to fight the pandemic rather than each other. Meanwhile, tech companies should focus on persuading populations to protect themselves online in the same way that automakers had to push for seatbelt use.

According to Smith, one way to do that is to use the internet to spread information, thus maintaining a well-informed society.

“We all need to spend a little more time understanding a broader range of fields, but let’s always recognize that at the end of the day, the heart of our society is our democratic foundation,” he stated.

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