International Cyber Policy Centre
Elsa Kania, Non-resident Fellow
James Leibold, Non-resident Senior Fellow
ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre (ICPC) is a leading voice in global debates on technology, security and democracy. ICPC informs public debate and supports sound public policy by producing original empirical research. To develop capability in Australia and our region, the centre has a capacity-building team that conducts workshops, training programs and large-scale exercises in Australia and overseas for the public and private sectors. ICPC also enriches the national debate by running an international visits program that brings leading experts to Australia.
Conduct and publish research
During 2019–20, ICPC published a wide range of publications that sparked and fed into national and international debates. Many of them were the most read ASPI publications of the year. In March 2020, the centre released Uyghurs for sale (authored by Vicky Xu, Danielle Cave, Dr James Leibold, Kelsey Munro and Nathan Ruser), which became ASPI’s most read report of all time, producing 212,000 unique page views as of August 2020. The report has been raised and discussed in the US Congress and other legislatures by politicians in the US, the UK, Australia and Europe. A bipartisan bill to ban all imports to the US from Xinjiang or otherwise involving forced Uyghur labour was tabled in Congress days after the report’s release, citing ASPI’s work. In June 2020, ICPC Senior Fellow Dr James Leibold published a report titled Genomic surveillance: inside China’s DNA dragnet.
In 2020, ICPC published a range of other reports, including reports on ‘clean pipes’ that looked at whether internet service providers should provide a more secure internet, on Cyber Crime in Southeast Asia by Jonathan Lusthaus, on Facebook diplomacy by Dr Damien Spry, on Pacific islands ICT issues by Bart Hogeveen, and on foreign interference and the Chinese Communist Party’s united front system, by Alex Joske.
Tweeting through the Great Firewall was released in September 2019 (Tom Uren, Elise Thomas and Dr Jacob Wallis), was the first report to analyse the 3.6 million tweets linked by Twitter to a Chinese disinformation campaign targeting Hong Kong, and received global coverage. Following on from that in June 2020, Retweeting through the Great Firewall (Dr Jacob Wallis, Tom Uren, Elise Thomas, Dr Samantha Hoffman, Alert Zhang, Alexandra Pascoe, Danielle Cave) analysed a persistent, large-scale influence campaign linked to Chinese state actors on Twitter and Facebook. This team is continuing to analyse online disinformation and information operations taking place during the Covid-19 pandemic and has conducted research into information operations conducted by other state actors, including Russia, and by non-state actors involved in pushing conspiracy theories online.
In November 2019, The China Defence Universities Tracker (Alex Joske) was released as a tool to help universities and researchers make more informed decisions about their collaboration partners. It provided details on the defence links of 160 Chinese universities. The report has been used to inform policy in several countries, including Australia, the US and Japan.
Building upon our previous publication, Mapping China’s tech giants, ICPC continued to contribute to the global discussion on the expansion of key Chinese technology companies through the publication of Mapping more of China’s tech giants: AI and surveillance.
In April 2019, we published a policy report on weaponised deep fake technologies, including their implications for national security and democracies, authored by former ICPC researcher Hannah Smith and ANU National Security College adviser Katherine Mansted. The report was launched via an oversubscribed online event and attracted a lot of online debate.
In October 2019, Dr Samantha Hoffman released Engineering global consent: the Chinese Communist Party’s data-driven power expansion, which revealed that the party is using technology to understand and control global debate in a far more sophisticated manner than previously thought.
Provide an alternative source of strategic policy ideas and advice
Our written research was supplemented by ongoing engagement with government, industry and civil society across Australia and with key Australian partners internationally. This included public events, private roundtables and closed-door meetings. In October 2019, Fergus Hanson facilitated two consultations, in Sydney and Melbourne, on behalf of the Department of Home Affairs. The consultations were held to give industry experts the opportunity to discuss and provide advice and direction on the next national cyber strategy.
In October 2019, ICPC hosted public and private events with Peter W Singer, who is a strategist and Senior Fellow at the New America think tank.
The centre’s growing focus on information operations and information warfare—across a range of countries in the Indo-Pacific—was credited multiple times during the ADF’s Information Warfare Conference (iWar), and ICPC’s input is regularly sought by government officials, politicians and the media in Australia and overseas.
In December 2019, ICPC launched the new Indigenous Engagement Program, running a cybersecurity workshop for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. ICPC has received Australian Government grants to expand and continue that work through to 2022.
Promote international understanding
Before the Covid-19 lockdown, the ICPC supported the development of cyber confidence-building measures across the region and worldwide through a number of activities. From February 2019 to March 2021, through a project supported by DFAT and the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the centre is promoting international cyber norms and confidence building in the ASEAN region via in-country training workshops. During 2019–20, we held workshops in Hanoi and Jakarta.
We also hosted a Track 1.5 cyber dialogue in Taiwan which included representatives from government, social media and cybersecurity organisations. Staff also conducted trips to Europe, India, Singapore and the US to talk about 5G, foreign interference, online disinformation and defending democracy initiatives.