The webinar discussed the use of search engines, Wikipedia, and the blogosphere in diplomatic information gathering. It also reflected opportunities offered by combining open data with advanced data-mining techniques.
Information gathering has been a core diplomatic activity throughout history. While in the past the main challenge was to gather information, today, the main challenge is to manage, validate, and analyse that information. The abundance of information in the digital era is as problematic as scarcity once was: important information can be lost in the sheer quantity of what is available. Fast and precise access to necessary information is conditio sine qua non of the proper functioning of diplomatic services.
In the context of the Snowden revelations, the webinar will reflect on the difference between lawful and clandestine information gathering, as well as between diplomacy and intelligence. Diplomacy and intelligence are two closely related but separate functions of a state’s foreign affairs apparatus. The VCDR draws a clear dividing line between diplomatic and intelligence functions. Article 3(1) specifies that diplomats should acquire information by all lawful means. Information gathering by diplomats can be conducted in a confidential way, but it should not be clandestine (espionage) and illegal.