Staff members of the Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy pose with Secretary of State Antony Blinken (center). The staff represents more than 60 Civil and Foreign Service officers, and the bureau plans to hire more than 50 employees in the coming year, April 4. Photo by Ron Przysucha
By Wren Elhai
The Department of State established the Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy (CDP) in April 2022 to advance national security, economic prosperity, and human rights in an age increasingly shaped by digital technologies. As the Department’s new bureau, CDP is elevating cyberspace and digital policy issues across U.S. diplomacy and deepening worldwide partnerships to help Americans, and people everywhere, thrive online and in the physical world.
The CDP team includes three policy units. The international information and communications policy team focuses on international digital policy issues and promotes connectivity and vibrant digital economies across the globe that are underpinned by resilient, diverse, and secure telecommunications ecosystems. Through bilateral and multilateral engagement, the team promotes the free flow of data across borders while protecting privacy; supports a multistakeholder approach to internet governance; bolsters consensus-based, private sector-led Information and Communications Technology standards development; and encourages the responsible development and deployment of emerging digital technologies.
The second unit, the international cyberspace security team, focuses on promoting a stable cyberspace by strengthening adherence to the framework of responsible state behavior in cyberspace. All United Nations member states have endorsed this framework, and the team musters partners and allies to call out and impose consequences on states that engage in destructive, disruptive, or otherwise destabilizing cyber activity. It also helps countries build their capacity to defend their networks and participate in international cyber policy conversations, and provides foreign policy guidance on U.S. cyber operations.
Finally, the digital freedom team coordinates within and across CDP, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and others in the Department, and the interagency, to promote a positive vision for digital freedom and inclusion. In support of the longstanding U.S. commitment to an internet that benefits all, CDP’s digital freedom efforts promote meaningful internet access everywhere, open and interoperable digital ecosystems, and respect for human rights in emerging digital contexts, including a dedicated policy focus on commercial surveillance technology, privacy protections, online content issues, and information integrity.
The CDP bureau also has a dedicated strategic planning and communications unit and an executive office. Through the combined efforts of these teams, the bureau is positioning itself as the hub within the U.S. government for international cyberspace and digital policy.
The design, use, and governance of digital technologies are already influencing global affairs. The foreign policy stakes will only continue to increase in an era defined by ideological contests between authoritarian and democratic societies.
Speaking at the 2021 Munich Security Conference, President Joe Biden said, “We must shape the rules that will govern the advance of technology and the norms of behavior in cyberspace, artificial intelligence, [and] biotechnology so that they are used to lift people up, not used to pin them down.”
Doing so will require strong international partnerships and consistent diplomatic engagement—which, on cyberspace and digital issues, CDP is leading for the Department.
However, CDP is not alone in carrying out its mission. Across the Department, diplomats are working to prevent and resolve international conflict, promote commerce, and protect human rights while grappling with the ways digital technologies are transforming the Department’s work. CDP’s mission includes helping colleagues across the Department reckon with new policy dilemmas as cyberspace and digital technologies are influencing the course of events around the world.
Before and since Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified further invasion of Ukraine began in February, CDP collaborated throughout the U.S. government to address the cyber and digital issues Russia’s actions brought into stark relief. Well before February, CDP team members liaised with international allies and partners to understand the scope of Russia’s use of malicious cyber activity leading up to and during its further invasion. Through cyber officers at embassies worldwide, they shared cybersecurity advisories and mitigation steps to help international partners bolster their cyber defenses. Since Russia’s further invasion, the CDP bureau has worked with colleagues in the U.S. government and around the world to shed light on Russia’s cyber activities and build a global coalition to condemn them.
Meanwhile, CDP team members also worked to help Ukraine defend its networks and stay connected to the internet despite a barrage of kinetic and cyber attacks. CDP partnered with others across American and foreign governments, as well as in the private sector, to understand Ukraine’s needs and respond to them swiftly with foreign assistance or through public-private partnerships. CDP also worked to ensure that actions taken to hold the Kremlin accountable for its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine did not unintentionally degrade access to the internet (and with it, access to independent sources of information) for people in Russia.
Speaking at the bureau’s launch on April 4, Secretary of State Antony Blinken underscored his commitment to infuse expertise on cyber and digital issues throughout the Department.
“Because cyber and tech issues are so critical,” he said, “I’m determined to not just build a new bureau, but to invest in our workforce, making sure that we recruit, that we train, that we retain diplomats who understand and can navigate this new frontier.”
The CDP bureau is a major investment toward this commitment. The bureau currently has a staff of approximately 60 people, and it plans to hire 50 more in the coming year, using all available mechanisms from career development details, to short tours and fellowships, to internal and external permanent hires. For Civil Service and Foreign Service staff, an assignment in the CDP bureau offers on-the-job training and hands-on experience working on issues that will shape U.S. and global security and prosperity in the coming decades. Serving in CDP also represents a chance to contribute to the modernization of the Department—leaving behind an impact that will pay off in the years and decades to come.
For more information on the Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy, visit its website or follow the bureau on Twitter. Department employees can also visit the CDP Bureau’s SharePoint site (internal link.)
Wren Elhai is a senior advisor for strategic communications and change management in the Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy.