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Russia and China Propose UN General Assembly Resolution on "Information Security"

Milton Mueller

On September 12 China, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan released a Resolution for the UN General Assembly [PDF] entitled "International code of conduct for information security." The resolution proposes a voluntary 12 point code of conduct based on "the need to prevent the potential use of information and communication technologies for purposes that are inconsistent with the objectives of maintaining international stability and security and may adversely affect the integrity of the infrastructure within States..." The Code seems to be intended to preserve and protect national sovereignty in information and communication. Its preambles are full of language taken from the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), such as the claim that "policy authority for Internet-related public issues is the sovereign right of States."

Among the pledges that states subscribing to the code would make is "Not to use information and communications technologies, including networks, to carry out hostile activities or acts of aggression, pose threats to international peace and security or proliferate information weapons or related technologies." That would be nice. Likewise, states would pledge "To cooperate in combating criminal and terrorist activities that use information and communications technologies, including networks." That would be nice, too.

However, in the section just quoted governments would also pledge to curb "the dissemination of information that incites terrorism, secessionism or extremism or that undermines other countries' political, economic and social stability, as well as their spiritual and cultural environment." That section would give any state the right to censor or block international communications for almost any reason. Such as, let's say, Facebook mobilizations against dictators, dissident blogs, etc. "Undermining the spiritual and cultural environment" in particular could be used to filter out any views a government didn't like, and could even be used for trade protectionism in cultural industries.

So this resolution is yet another futile attempt to overlay territorial sovereignty on an internet that is fundamentally inconsistent with it. Just as in the Cold War states that felt weaker militarily called for international agreements on the arms race, it is now the developing rivals of the US who seek internationalized, sovereigntist constraints on the internet.Fortunately, the world's not-so-united nations do not have the means or the will to actually carry out that threat, and at any rate this is only a proposed voluntary code of conduct. But it does show you how a lot of states still think about the Internet. The UN should not be allowed to ratify language that attempts to cram the global Internet back into national boxes.

By Milton Mueller, Professor, Georgia Institute of Technology School of Public Policy
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Internet and the notion of "sovereignty". Jean-Jacques Subrenat  –  Sep 20, 2011 7:10 PM PDT

Thank you Milton for bringing this to the fore. The worldwide Internet community should develop an enhanced awareness of what is at stake, especially for the general user:
- that, under the guise of defending their populations against anything THEY deem inappropriate, some states crave the indecent prerogative of doing so under the aegis of a universal "code" which would legitimize the rape of liberty;
- that, considering the extent to which the Internet has permeated human activity, some states (even some democratic polities) are tempted by the comfort they think they would derive from a general anaesthesia of a nation's nervous system.

It is high time to challenge the misuse of the word "sovereignty". In international relations, the notion of sovereignty is crucial, as it marks the bounds within which national law is paramount. Sovereign rights are those that allow a state to preserve its independence, and to repel aggression. But those who seek to restrict freedom of expression and, more generally, human and civic rights, will have the general public believe that sovereignty should also apply to state structures ABOVE their own people. This is the what is really at stake.

We should all strive to be Swiss, I don't mean citizens of the Alpine Confederation, but in requiring governments to heed the most fundamental rule of all: in Switzerland, the expression "The Sovereign" applies not to a person, not to an administration, not to an institution, but to the people.

Regards,
Jean-Jacques S.

What if these intrusions by other governments were for the good of the United States? Virendra Gandhi  –  Sep 20, 2011 8:21 PM PDT

What if these intrusions by other governments/individuals were for the good of the United States? to say prevent something as drastic as 9/11, than I would be all for "International code of conduct for information security." Again as you say 'Facebook mobilizations against dictators, dissident blogs, etc'. Yes I agree with you. Sure the intentions of these governments who has brought this proposal are definitely questionable, the proposal is not entirely bad. The individuals rights are to be defended in some of these countries, but some regulation is needed for e.g.if my bank account is hacked and is emptied by someone in another country?

As regards Switzerland, A very law abiding country and law abiding enforcers, I have heard that they can imprison people indefinitely without producing them before a judge, is it not possible even in that country that right has been misused even once . What would be your take on it? Some sort of checks and balance are required, today the net is wild west and should defend the ordinary Joe is all I am saying and that will never happen if there is no regulation.

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