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--------------- Print Magazine --------------
  May 2016
  April 2016
Cyber Space - SANJAY GADE
A civilised internet begins at home

All eyes are on London for the 2012 Olympics, but the city is quietly hosting a world gathering that travels far below the public radar. For the good of long-term global security, every participant must go for gold.

The London Conference on Cyberspace is a world-first. The British government has invited key countries, private enterprises and non-government organisations to begin talks on developing a set of agreed principles on how governments and others should behave on the internet. The need for standards to guide behaviour in cyberspace is urgent - and not just in the international sphere.

Threats from the internet, across the spectrum of its many uses, are proliferating at an alarming rate. Cyber attacks, especially by hostile nations, are considered enough of a threat to invoke the 60-year old ANZUS Treaty between Australia and the United States . Foreign Affairs magazine reported recently that 30 countries now have, or are establishing, cyber units in their militaries.

Globally, cyber crime is worth more than the illicit drug trade. And cyber bullying is fast growing into a menace as brutal as any on the non-virtual playground, leaving parents at a loss.

Britain is responding to the growing awareness on the part of governments around the world that, for all its benefits, there is a "darker side to cyberspace that arises from our dependence on it", as the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, put it this year.

Australia , which is due to publish its first "cyber white paper" next year, will attend the conference, as will some of the internet's more unscrupulous nations, such as China and Russia .

In trying to tame some of the most potent dangers of the internet through regulating government behaviour, Britain opposes the idea of a binding international treaty - unlike some other countries. Such a treaty would take years to negotiate, Britain says, and technology is moving too fast.

But there are other reasons for shunning this route, such as the problem of attributing blame for cyber attacks. How would you enforce a treaty when it is so difficult to pinpoint the source of attacks? With nuclear treaties, there are ways to verify compliance; it's not so easy with cyberspace.

Many of the countries that support the idea of a treaty - and who would be happy to know other countries were bound by it - would have no compunction, once signed up, about ignoring it. Treaties can lend the cloak of legitimacy to non-law-abiding governments or regimes.

It's tempting to think that the idea of writing global principles to regulate internet behaviour is a bit naive. Would they make any difference to countries that have no hesitation in hacking into other nations' defence networks? Would there be fewer cyber scams or less identity theft on the internet if such standards existed?

You would have to say it's unlikely. But the point is to begin earnest debate on what constitutes responsible, acceptable behaviour in cyberspace.

Hague gave an indication of the kind of principles he thought should govern internet behaviour. They include requiring governments to abide by existing national and international law; equal access to the internet; keeping cyberspace open to innovation and not using it for political oppression; protecting privacy and intellectual property rights; and co-operating with other governments and their law enforcement agencies to tackle cyber crime.

For such principles to be adopted, all countries, corporations and individuals have to believe it is in their interests to comply. The hope is, with global prosperity so closely linked to the internet, this won't be too hard an idea to sell.

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