Wednesday

27th Jan 2021

Opinion

Cyber space needs stronger rule of law

  • 'It would be wise to designate specific elements of the cyber domain to be off limits for cyber-attacks' (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

On 16 and 17 April, the global cyber community will gather in The Hague for the Global Conference on Cyberspace.

The Internet brings people together, generates ideas and helps shape our future. We are convinced that we should protect the Internet and its innovative power, but should also deal with the challenges that cyber confronts us with.

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  • Cyberspace has become the most important strategic asset of modern societies

We can only reap the full benefits of the Internet if we are able to make it a safe place to do business and to protect human rights, including privacy and freedom of expression online, as they are protected off line.

The world community has a lot to gain from a free, open and secure Internet.

We are calling on governments, the business community, civil society, the academic and technical communities, who are present in The Hague, to work together to promote this vision and find a good balance among rights that have all to be protected.

New realities

The development of the Internet has created new realities for all of us.

Governments have come to the table rather late in recognizing the importance of the Internet to their traditional roles and responsibilities, but now see the challenges before them more clearly. It is only by working closely with all Internet stakeholders that we can effectively safeguard the cyberspace for future generations.

The cyber hijacking of TV5 Monde, the attack last year against Sony Pictures, and constant cyber-attacks on financial services worldwide show that cyber operations have become a tool for power manipulation and political coercion for states and non-state actors alike.

These incidents illustrate that we need to clarify how existing international law and the norms of responsible behaviour contribute to trust and confidence in cyberspace.

Is cyberspace then a lawless area? Not quite.

Agreement was reached by a global group of cyber experts under the UN auspices that international law, and notably the UN Charter, applies to cyberspace.

The Organisation for Co-operation and Security in Europe has adopted a first set of confidence building measures in cyber security. Global efforts continue to further develop cyber confidence building activities.

The Global Conference on Cyber Space (GCCS) this week offers a broad multi-stakeholder platform to discuss new ideas in this field. We must strive to ensure that our fundamental values that our open societies rest upon are also upheld in the digital sphere.

Cyber security

In order to address cyber challenges, states should take action against threats emanating from territory under their control. It would be wise to designate specific elements of the cyber domain to be off limits for cyber-attacks, in the same way that hospitals cannot be attacked in times of war.

Examples could be critical infrastructure providing essential civilian services, civilian incident response structures and certain critical components of the global Internet.

States should also refrain from undermining the fundamental security of the vital cyber infrastructures.

Governments can’t act alone. They will have to rely on other partners. We should therefore find ways to broaden the discussion on international rules and norms in cyber space to capture a broader range of interests, including the public and private sector.

The Global Commission on Internet Governance, a broadly composed group that studies the similarly complex issue of Internet Governance, could offer a good model.

If we acknowledge the fact that cyberspace has become the most important strategic asset of modern societies, then we must look beyond narrow short term interests in order to create more lasting stability.

We need to re-invent ourselves and bring all who are affected to the table.

Bert Koenders is the Dutch foreign minister. Federica Mogherini is the head of the EU foreign service

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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