A perspective focused in World Internet Conference 2015 By Nabeel Tirmazi (This article was published in International Diplomatic Journal from Pakistan ‘Centerline’ in Feb 2016 issue)
The critics of cyber freedom say that it is a kind of cyber utopianism that Internet favors the oppressed rather than the oppressor. In the past the cyber world was bombarded with various carefully designed propagandas which led to many social imbalances and even hatred amongst societies.
Cyber sovereignty is described as governments’ desire to exercise control over the internet within their own borders, including political, economic, cultural and technological activities. It has been one of the key themes for the recently held World Internet Conference at Wuzhen, China. The conference aimed that all countries have the right to administer cyberspace in accordance with their own law, and the cyber sovereignty of all countries should therefore be respected and maintained.
According to social scientists, Internet is a network that magnifies the power and potential of all others which can be beneficial or even harmful for the societies.Internet freedom activists define Internet freedom as a liberty to pursue their own tastes and interests online, and it’s the fundamental human right.
Currently, throughout the world there is a huge dilemma between Internet freedom versus cyber sovereignty, though freedom of expression is termed as a human right, recent cyber crimes and hackers prove that anonymity in cyber surfing is coming at a huge cost. Also, various incidents of kidnapping, assault, fraud, defamation, identity thefts have lately been observed.
On a macro level, each year millions of hackers attack government sites to either obtain data, or manipulate it which has potential to destroy economy and destabilize security. Websites likes WikiLeaks, OpenLeaks, GlobalLeaks etc have already caused enough damage to various countries and affected their foreign relations. Also, in past few years we had seen cyber warfare and hackitivism (politically motivated hacking of computer networks to promoted agendas) scenarios between and within different countries, like Russia-Georgia cyber war in 2008, project Chanology (2008), Tulip Revolution II (2009-2010), Jasmine Revolution (2011) etc.
In the 2nd World Internet Conference organized by China in Wuzhen, over 1200 Internet tycoons and officials from 100 countries and regions participated. Pakistani, Russian, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan Premieres represented their countries, along with senior officials from the United Nations who delivered speeches on “cyber sovereignty”. The conference also covered other 22 topics, including Internet cultural transmission, Internet innovation and development, digital economy cooperation, Internet technology standards and cyber space management. During the opening speech of World Internet Conference, Chinese President Xi Jinping emphasized the primacy of cyber sovereignty. He tied the concept to the “principle of sovereign equality enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations,” saying that sovereignty “covers all aspects of state-to-state relations, which also includes cyberspace.”
“We should respect the right of individual countries to independently choose their own path of cyber development and model of cyber regulation and participate in international cyberspace governance on an equal footing,” Xi addressed.
Chinese president also remarked, “Each country is unique and its Internet governance models will reflect this.” For example, “the Chinese government and IT companies trawl the Internet looking for online rumors, pornography, gambling and other cyber crimes to protect the lawful interests of its citizens,”.
President of Pakistan, Mamnoon Hussain, in his speech agreed to Xi’s concerns regarding cyber threats and said, “We are here together to deliberate on how to make our cyberspace more responsive to our needs, more secure and reliable in use, more robust in terms of technology and more conducive in promoting innovation.”
Prime Minister of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, supported the idea for the creation of an international organization for regulating the Internet with maximum participation of existing bodies such as United Nations. “We support the strengthening of the international community’s role in managing the Internet, as well as the development of a global strategy in this sphere. We maintain that this must be done under the aegis of leading international institutions, including the United Nations and the International Telecommunication Union,” Dmitry Medvedev said.
Prime Minister of Tajikistan, Kokhir Rasulzoda, termed the conference as important measure for promoting the Internet development and resolving the urgent problems and challenges on the cyberspace. We are all confronted with new threats and challenges including ethnic conflicts and extremism. It is necessary for the countries to step up coordination on the global scale.” Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan, Temir Sariyev, said, “I want to emphasize that this conference is of great realistic meaning to our present world. Each of us should understand how to protect our world when the globe becomes smaller and more fragile amid the development of communications technologies and the perfection of infrastructure.”
Globally, many stakeholders of cyberspace and private industry had been observing these ideas of regulating Internet according to geographical needs, as there seems to be broad acceptance that the issues call for more extensive security measures. However, many issues still complicate effective securitization of threats in cyberspace. For example, not all stakeholders agree on the priorities related to cyber security, according to them, cyber security is a “trans-sovereign” issue affecting both developed and developing countries in an interdependent manner.
Currently in China, government is not only investing hugely in Internet infrastructure, but also working on such internet applications which are related to online to offline technology. According to a report, more than 40,000 Internet police monitor the Internet and any inappropriate comments are removed within minutes. More than 500,000 websites are blocked by Chinese government. Even if we take case studies from different developing countries of Asia, we see that countries like Indonesia has more than 73 million Internet users with vibrant bloggers, but government has strict rules regarding defamation and misleading information specially if it is aimed at inflicting hatred regarding certain community.
In Thailand, concept of e-commerce is quite popular among their 19 million Internet users, but still many laws have been devised to avoid any illegal business transactions, moreover, there are many strict laws related to image manipulation and any offence against the Kingdom’s security is treated as criminal code.
In Philippines, there are 39 million netizens, crowd funding is very popular in various projects, but there are very high penalties on libel committed through computers and similar means. Also, law enforcement authorities, in special cases, are authorized to collect or record data by technical or electronic means traffic data in real-time.
Though peers of Internet freedom activists count the benefits of remaining anonymous, as free to express behaviors can generate economic opportunities, anti corruption efforts (whistle blowing), organized political activities but also highlight that most of the countries have flawed Internet laws which are resulted into very harsh punishments for online crimes and public awareness is too low. Regarding online censorship they demand that parental empowerment and education should be preferred, industry self-regulation is more important than censorship. There has been quite talk regarding Internet privacy and surveillance as many people are concerned that regulations often create, or tend to foster, most monopolies. Internet freedom activists also propose that there should be a bridge between Internet policy and public policy, ensuring check and balances through independent regulators, due process. And improvement in public awareness should be done through public education initiatives.
In conclusion of this conference, five suggestions were presented by Internet experts to all countries: • Speed up the process of building cyber infrastructure so that information can travel smoothly, thus preventing any information gap. • Build an online platform for cultural exchange and mutual learning. • Promote innovative Internet technologies for economic development. • Maintain cyber security according to countries’ own law and culture. • Form Internet governance for fast justice and equal society.