Columbia International Affairs Online: Policy Briefs

CIAO DATE: 01/2015

The Digital Economy: Potential, Perils, and Promises

John Villasenor

March 2014

Center for International Security and Cooperation


While improving the quality of life for people around the world, advances in digital technology and the growth of the digital economy have also led to a rise in illicit activities including drug trafficking, money laundering, human trafficking, and sexual exploitation of children. Technologies that facilitate online anonymity, such as bulletproof hosting, anonymizing networks, and anonymous payments systems, offer a particular challenge: balancing their use for positive social impact against their potential misuse by those who perpetrate illicit activities. Confronting exploitation and other misuses of digital technology can be effective if it is precisely targeted and methodically carried out. At the same time, these behaviors should be addressed in a broader context that includes consideration of both the unlawful uses, as well as the many benefits of digital technology tools. Combating unlawful uses of online technology must also be balanced to protect the rights and privacy of law-abiding people, and to retain access to the many economic and social benefits afforded by their use.