Foreign secretary William Hague has described the need to build international consensus on "norms of behaviour" online as equally important as the need to eradicate poverty and address climate change.
"Building this consensus is one of the great challenges of our time. It must be pursued with the same intensity as efforts to eradicate global poverty or tackle climate change," he said.
"The international dimensions of the misuse of digital networks […] requires new forms of cooperation and collaboration, especially as the internet changes," he said. "More of its vital infrastructure of the Internet is moving East, and its future users will be different too."
Hague described the positive vision of the future of the Internet as "one in which we are able to use new technologies to the full to spur economic growth in developing countries, to narrow the digital divide, to give our citizens greater choice, to find new ways of addressing conflicts, to protect cultural diversity and the free flow of ideas, to root out and prevent grotesque human rights abuses, and to make successful prosecutions against cyber criminals the norm, rather than the exception as it is today."
But he added that "unless we begin to take action to ensure that positive future a darker scenario could well prevail.
"For the private sector, rising costs to business from cyber crime, barriers to trade and commerce, companies being held to ransom by hacktivists, and the theft of intellectual property sapping prosperity and innovation and driving investment away from countries whose systems are seen to be insecure."
Hague described seven principles that the UK has proposed to guide international consensus.
“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
the need for users of cyberspace to show tolerance and respect for diversity of language, culture and ideas;
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;
the promotion of a competitive environment which ensures a fair return on investment in networks, services and content”
Hague took the opportunity to promote the commercial benefits of the government’s policy on cyberspace. “In Britain we are significantly increasing our national cyber defences and have created a new four year programme with significant new government funding,” he said. “We want to make the UK the pre-eminent, safe space for e-commerce and intellectual property online.”
Speaking at an earlier session on international cybercriminal law, former defence secretary Lord John Reid discussed the need for a "doctrine” on cyberspace, a common conceptual framework for Internet-related issues.
“’Cyber’ is not just a technology, it is a new environment; it is like the sea or the air, it runs through everything,” he said. “We know how difficult it was to assert legal agreement on the sea – it took two centuries, and then only because we had empires to enforce it."
He proposed that rather than waiting until international law can be agreed upon, it would be better to have “a flexible series of principles that could be adopted nationally […] without the obligations of legal framework.”
Panellists welcomed the proposal, as it far as it might apply to ‘cybersecurity’ (i.e. state or politically-related issues), but argued that as far as cybercrime is concerned, formal legal conventions are essential. “When we talk about crime, we do need a legal basis,” said Zahid Jamil, a legal expert for the Commonwealth’s Cyber Crime Initiative. “For example, one thing that is essential is a legal basis of requesting electronic evidence fromcanother country. Without that sort of mechanism, its not going to be possible to get that evidence.”