Hague: Open Internet On A Par With Climate Change

Foreign Secretary says preserving online rights is as important as tackling poverty or climate change

Foreign Secretary William Hague opened the London Conference on Cyberspace today with a speech that described the Internet as a mirror for society, likening the importance of preserving human rights online to eradicating global poverty and tackling climate change.

“Just as our climate is ever-present and all-pervasive, our way of living dependent on our environment and our prosperity inseparable from that of the global economy, so we are all linked by the innumerable connections of the networked world,” he said.

The Foreign Secretary stressed that government censorship would not be tolerated, and that the Internet should be a place where innovation and competition flourish and investment and enterprise are rewarded.

“The Internet must remain open and not become fragmented and ghettoised, subject to separate rules and processes in different regions set by isolated national services; with state-imposed barriers to trade, commerce and the free flow of information and ideas,” he said.

“It would be deeply counter-productive to import into the digital world barriers to trade that we have spent years trying to negotiate away across the world.”

Hague set out seven ‘rules of the road’ for cyberspace, which are as follows:

  • Governments must act proportionately and in accordance with international law;
  • The ability to access cyberspace should be open to all;
  • Users must show tolerance and respect for others’ languages, cultures and ideas;
  • Cyberspace must remain open to innovation;
  • Privacy must be respected, and intellectual property must be protected;
  • Countries must work together to tackle the threat from cyber crime;
  • There must be healthy competition to ensure a fair return on investment in networks, services and content.

Striking a balance

Hague’s words were echoed by UK Prime Minister David Cameron and US Vice President Joseph Biden, who were drafted in to make a short speech after US secretary of state Hillary Clinton was forced to pull out of the conference when her mother was taken ill.

Cameron emphasised the positive effects that web connectivity has had on people’s lives around the world, describing it as a force for economic, social and political good.

“Go to Cairo or Tripoli and you’ll meet people whose lives have been transformed because technology gave them a voice,” he said. “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.”

However, Cameron also warned of that threat posed by hacking and malware, reminding attendees that cyber crime costs the UK £27 billion a year. He said that Britain will shortly set out a new approach for better online security, crime prevention and public awareness, but added that the world needs to act together on a solution.

“We cannot leave cyber space wide open to the criminals and terrorists that threaten our security and prosperity. But at the same time we cannot go the heavy-handed route. Governments must not use cyber security as an excuse for censorship, or to deny their people the opportunities that the internet represents,” he said.

“The balance we’ve got to strike is between freedom and a free-for-all. Getting there needs everyone in this room to play their part.”

Protecting opportunities in cyberspace

The London Conference on Cyberspace is being held at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre on 1-2 November, and brings together political leaders with leading cyber security experts and technology entrepreneurs from around the world. The aim is to develop a better collective understanding of how to protect and preserve the opportunities offered by cyberspace.

The news follows controversial comments made yesterday by the Prime Minister’s special representative to business on cyber security, Baroness Neville-Jones, who accused China and Russia of carrying out cyber warfare attacks aimed at stealing national security secrets from other countries.

Iain Lobban, director of GCHQ, has also warned that the number of attacks on government and industry systems has reached “disturbing” levels, referencing a “significant” but unsuccessful attempt on the The Foreign Office over the summer.

Meanwhile, a group of privacy campaigners have written to the Foreign Secretary, stating that Britain’s desire to promote freedom of expression and online privacy is currently being undermined by domestic policy. They heralded the conference as “an historic opportunity to support technologies that promote rather than undermine people’s political and social empowerment”.