Seminar Shows Continued Divergence Among Nations On Regulating Internet

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It is generally considered that internet governance and cyber safety issues should be addressed in a multilateral way, but several points remain highly controversial, such as the adoption of rules and modifications of internet governance to be made. These issues were the subject of a panel at the UN Institute for Disarmament Research this week.

Is it widely recognised that the fast-growing development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) also leads to the emergence of new threats to international stability as demonstrated recent massive attacks on bank accounts in South Korea or the Stuxnet virus in Iran in 2010.

United Nations General Assembly resolution A/RES/68/243 [pdf] of January 2014 calls on member states to “promote further at multilateral levels the consideration of existing and potential threats in the field of information security, as well as possible strategies to address the threats emerging in this field, consistent with the need to preserve the free flow of information.”

This challenge was broached by panellists on a 10 February “cyber stability” seminar of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), entitled, “Preventing Cyber Conflicts.

The event addressed issues such as enhancing stability and predictability of the cyber security environment, avoiding risk of escalation in cyber conflict, and the need to “develop mechanisms for discussion, education and constructive engagement on how to improve cyber security in the multilateral environment.”

The main proposals to enhance cyber stability pointed out throughout the seminar are transparency and confidence-building measures (TCBMs).

Caroline Baylon, research associate in the International Security Programme at Chatham House, outlined that there is criticism against an Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) monopoly over name assignment. This could lead to excessive US influence over the internet, she said. ICANN is the internet domain name system technical oversight body, located in California, operating under an agreement with the US Department of Commerce.

During the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) of December 2012, there were leaks about a proposal of 18 countries (led by Russia and China) to shift this task from ICANN to the UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Some delegations denied that the proposal existed.

Baylon said that as the UN system is based on the principle of “one state one vote,” depending of the composition of member states, such a proposal could lead to a “race to the bottom” and thus to a more controlled internet.

But if nations choose to stay with the ICANN system, then it would have to improve its accountability and the transparency of its decision-making process, she said.

Representatives of Russia and China were on hand at the seminar to make a push for their proposal.

Panellist Nadezhda Sokolova, an expert in the field of information security of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, argued during questions that the “one state one vote” procedure is standard for all issues.

Shen Jian of the mission of China presented a draft Cyber Code of Conduct [pdf] jointly addressed to UN General Assembly with Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in 2011. He emphasised the need for traffic rules on the internet. The purpose of its draft code is to “identify the rights and responsibilities of States in information space, promote their constructive and responsible behaviours and enhance their cooperation in addressing the common threats and challenges in information space.”, the code states.

The draft code contains issues like peace, security and openness of cyber space and emphasises the relevance of UN Charter principles in the field of the internet governance. Responding to Baylon’s intervention, Shen Jian outlined that sovereign countries have the right to regulate information on the internet given that some misuses of the information space can cause social instability. As there are differences of interpretation on this issue, he said he hoped that cultural, historical and political differences can be recognised. This draft code is a good starting point for international discussions, remains open and is not in competition with TCBMs, he asserted.

Several panellists emphasised the importance of the June 2013 report [pdf] of the Governmental Group of Experts on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security (GGE). The UN General Assembly recently decided to create a new GGE to further explore this issue (resolution A/RES/68/243 [pdf]).

Maëli ASTRUC is an intern at Intellectual Property Watch. She has a Master’s Degree in International Law from Aix-en-Provence University and a LL.M from Ottawa University. During her studies, she developed a high interest in intellectual property issues in particular related to agriculture and traditional knowledge.

 

Maëli Astruc may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

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