Cameron: Cyber Security not an excuse for censorship

Donaldson Tan

David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, speaking at the London Conference on Cyberspace

LONDON – At the inaugural London Conference on Cyberspace, Prime Minister David Cameron told the distinguished audience yesterday that governments must not use cyber security as an excuse for censorship, or to deny their people the opportunities that the internet represents. After all, the Internet is a force for economic, social and political good.

“The Internet has changed the way we change our world. Go to Cairo or Tripoli and you’ll meet people whose lives have been transformed because technology gave them a voice. Go to the poorest parts of Kenya and you’ll find people accessing financial services for the first time via their mobile phones, finally getting a foot-hold in the economy,” the Prime Minister said.

The spread of connectivity between individuals, governments and organisations has brought benefits and opportunities on a vast scale. Studies have shown the Internet can create twice as many jobs as it destroys. For every 10 per cent increase in broadband penetration, global GDP will increase by an average of 1.3 per cent.

On safeguarding security and prosperity, the Prime Minister stressed that threats do not come from criminal gangs alone. There are daily attempts on an industrial sale to steal valuable information from individuals, companies and governments, as well as attempts to sabotage critical information infrastructure. “Governments cannot leave cyberspace wide open to the criminals and terrorists,” the Prime Minister stressed.

The Prime Minister also noted government alone cannot set the agenda for steering development in cyberspace. During the Conference, Foreign Secretary William Hague proposed on the behalf of the United Kingdom a set of seven principles as a basis for more effective cooperation among all stakeholders, namely states, businesses and organisations. They are:

  • The need for governments to act proportionately in cyberspace and in accordance with international law;
  • The need for everyone to have the ability to access cyberspace, including the skills, technology, confidence and opportunity to do so;
  • The need for users of cyberspace to show tolerance and respect for diversity of language, culture and ideas;
  • Ensuring that cyberspace remains open to innovation and the free flow of ideas, information and expression;
  • The need to respect individual rights of privacy and to provide proper protection to intellectual property;
  • The need for us all to work together collectively to tackle the threat from criminals acting online;
  • And the promotion of a competitive environment which ensures a fair return on investment in networks, services and content.

These principles are in direct contrast with the state-centric approach outlined in the Sino-Russian proposal for an International Code of Conduct for Information Security. In particular, the Code seeks to outline the rights and responsibilities of states to act on national interest, as well as to administrate national laws in the information space.

The London Conference on Cyberspace, held at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre on 1-2 November 2011, is hosted by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Unlike a traditional summit between governments, conference delegates include representatives from governments, industry, companies that own and operate international digital infrastructure, civil society, and major international organisations.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Yates, AFP Photo.