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The London Process Arrived in Budapest: Another Travel Circus for the Internet Community?

The Budapest Conference on Cyberspace brought together nearly 20 heads of states and ministers plus 700 high level experts from various stakeholder groups from 60 countries. However, after two days of discussion there is less clarity where the so-called “London Process”—established by the British Foreign Minister William Hague in November 2011 in London—will go. The next meeting is scheduled for October 2013 in Seoul. Another flying circus for another Internet Governance talking shop?

It is certainly difficult to disagree with the motto of the Budapest Conference on Cyberspace: “With Trust and Security for Freedom and Prosperity”. And indeed, the proposal of the British Foreign Secretary William Hague to move forward towards the elaboration of “Rules of the Road” for the Cyberspace got a broad support in Budapest. Hague’s seven principles—the Internet should be accessible to everybody, remain open for innovation, promote the free flow of information, protect privacy and property and governments should act proportionately in accordance with national and international law by providing an competition friendly environment which ensures a fair return on investment in network, services and content—are certainly a good starter for a discussion.

Hague got support from Estonian’s President Toomas Hendrik Ilves (we must find the correct balance between Internet freedom and Internet security) and Swedens Foreign Minister Carl Bildt (human rights offline have to be respected also online) to EU Commissioner Catherine Ashton and Koreans Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Han. In a video message Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, spoke in favor of the idea to build “an environment in which norms of responsible behavior guide state action, sustain partnerships and support the rule of law in cyberspace”. There is a need, she said, to deepen the dialogue also with emerging Internet Nations as China, Russia, India, Brazil and South Africa. But in Budapest it became also clear that those new emerging Internet nations have probably a different approach if comes to the question how “Rules of the Road” for the cyberspace should be elaborated.

For Russia, as expressed by Vladislw Sherstyuk, Deputy Secretary General of the National Security Council, the best solution would be legally binding international treaty. Last year, Russia signed an “International Convention on Cybersecurity” in Jekaterienburg with China, Tadshikistan and Uzbekistan. According to Sherstyik, the easiest way to agree on “Rules of the Road” for the cyberspace would be if the rest of the world would sign the Jekaterienburg Treaty. This agreement is based on a traditional understanding of the principles of national sovereignty and non-interference into internal affairs of other countries and introduces a vague defined concept of “information security” which would—at least in the eyes of western observers—open the door for the restriction and censorship of content. (see: http://www.thecre.com/fisma/?p=2173)

Huang Hui-Kang, Legal Adviser to the Chinese Foreign Minister, also welcomed Hague’s idea for “Rules of the Road” but countered the seven principles of the British Foreign Secretary with five own principles. Principle number one for him is “Cybersovereignty”. He said that Cybersovereignty is the “natural extension of state sovereignty into cyberspace. Every country is entitled to formulate its policies and laws in light of its history, tradition, culture, language and customs and manage the Internet accordingly”. The free flow of information would be another principle but in his eyes this is a “double edged sword” and it should not be used as an excuse for the “illegal and irresponsible information rampant on the Internet which threatened national security, social orders and the lawful right of peoples.” Huang made clear that for the government of the People’s Republic of China the “United Nations, as the most universal and representative organization, is the best forum for elaboration of international norms and rules in cyberspace.”

And the India Minister of State for Communication and IT, Sachin Pilot, said that “India is taking a far more nuanced position on the issue of cybersecurity and enhanced cooperation than in the past”. The concept of “enhanced cooperation” is a leftover from the UN World Summit on the Information Society “(WSIS) and means in clear language the control over critical Internet resources as IP addresses, domain names, Internet Protocols and root servers (the so-called ICANN issues).

It was certainly interesting so see how the different concepts were presented in Budapest. There was lot of good discussion, but it is difficult to see how those high level conflicts could be bridged in the near future. This raises also the question about the nature and future of the “London Process”.

All the issues discussed in Budapest are on the agenda of bodies and processes in the existing Internet Governance Eco-System: IGF, ICANN, IETF, W3C, RIRs, UN, WSIS+, UNESCO, WIPO, ITU and others. Will the “London Process” become an additional player in this Eco-System? Will it contribute to the IGF process and help to settle conflicts in the 1st and 2nd Committee of the United Nations General Assembly (UNCSTD and the Governmental Group of Experts/GGE)?

Furthermore, numerous organizations—from the G 8 via OECD, Council of Europe, OSCE, the Shanghai Group, IBSA, Global Network Initiative (GNI), ICC Basics, APC, the Standardization Organization and others—have adopted in the last two years round about 25 declarations with principles how to govern the Internet. Will the London process try to harmonize the various documents to overcome a situation where “patchwork regulations” allows “principle shopping” where everybody picks it’s most wanted principle to justify good or bad behavior in Cyberspace?

It is rather unclear what the London process plans to achieve. Just to open a new channel and to duplicate discussions which are underway since the end of the 1990s is too little and a waste of limited (time and money) resources. It is certainly good that with the London Process the higher political level becomes involved in the debate. But the risk is also that the wheel is reinvented and the “Conference on Cyberspace” ends in a colossal cyberconfusion.

And there is also a question where the legitimacy of the London Process comes from. A lot of references to the Multistakeholder Internet Governance model as the best way to move forward were made in Budapest. This is good. As we know this model is based on a bottom up policy development process, transparency, openness and inclusion. But the London process is mainly top down (led by governments), rather in-transparent, not open (participation is by invitation only) and not real inclusive. While a lot of private sector and technical community organizations and experts—from ICANN to ISOC, from Microsoft to Google—came to Budapest, there was no speaker from Human Rights Watch, Reporter without Frontiers, Freedom House or APC invited to speak at one of the workshops. Probably those speakers would have countered the presentation of today’s Hungary as a “Country of Freedom”, as it was done by Hungarians Prime Minister Victor Orban, who certainly is for freedom in the world but does not like critical media at home (see: Hungarian opposition radio wins court case)

But coming back to the main issue? Wouldn’t it make more sense to link the London Process to the Internet Governance Forum (IGF)? The best thing, the three foreign ministers of the United Kingdom, Hungary and Korea could do, is to go to the 7th IGF in Baku next months and to bring the “Messages from Budapest” to the IGF process. One message could be to invite IGFs steering body, the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) to set up a working group of experts at its next meeting in February 2013 in Paris with a mandate to produce a working draft for a multistakeholder framework of principles for Internet Governance. Such a document could be used as a consolidated platform for further discussions at the planned Seoul Conference in October 2013 and the 8th IGF in November 2013.

By Wolfgang Kleinwächter, Professor Emeritus at the University of Aarhus

He is a member of the Global Commission on Stability in Cyberspace, was a member of the ICANN Board (2013 – 2015) and served as Special Ambassador for the Net Mundial Initiative (2014 – 2016).

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The Budapest convention is not new at all :) Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Oct 14, 2012 4:26 AM

Opened for signature in 2001, ratified in 2004, with the EU and several OECD economies signing on.  It is the first international treaty for cybercrime - facilitating things like a system of mutual legal assitance treaties where, say, prosecution of a botnet gang from the netherlands, targeting US citizens, was far easier (no need to route everything through Interpol, adding months to the process). 

Dual criminality - which means it has to be against the law in both countries.  So, if glorification of Nazis is a crime in Germany, and protected speech under the first amendment in the USA .. that isn’t within the scope of this convention as far as the USA is concerned.

Several of the others have not been focused on “internet governance” as they have been on practical, on the ground sharing of best practices and building of personal relationships between regulators.  http://www.londonactionplan.net/ for example since 2004, with industry and non governmental stakeholders quite actively participating.  Entirely like the IGF, a talk shop - and that can, and is, extremely useful when you have different sets of stakeholders with varying levels of knowledge, engagement and different ideas / working environments.

The fun thing about there being a diversity of these is that with a single large process you are absolutely not going to get consensus, and nor is it going to deal with every single issue focused on sometimes quite niche areas of regulatory policy.

And conventions at the head of state level tend to focus on adopting declarations that every single state can live with - and these are largely going to be mom and apple pie as a result.  Platitudes and very little scope for extreme viewpoints to gain widespread adoption.  Moreover, such conventions have to be individually signed by various countries, who can (like in the budapest convention over the last several years) specify just which parts of the convention they will sign on to, and which they will refuse to ratify.  That won’t change here either.

It also won’t change the fundamental policy and exercise of such policy of any government within its borders and according to its existing laws.  That’s entirely unlikely to happen.

So, some slightly broader perspective here might be a good idea.

^ the same comment about choosing whether or not to ratify also applies to the ITRs Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Oct 14, 2012 4:29 AM

In other words, most if not all the submissions to the ITR process from associations of european telcos, countries with restrictive regimes etc will remain just that. No broad consensus, and countries can, at their discretion, refuse to ratify these even if they do get adopted. You should expect something like this in every single process - just like you will expect a private members' bill to bring back fox hunting in the UK, or efforts to deny evolution, defund abortion NGOs etc in the USA.

Yet another stovepipe Anthony Rutkowski  –  Oct 26, 2012 9:23 PM

Well written overview of yet another venue set up by yet another set of players to cover mainly political topics that are scattered aross many others today.  Your theme questioning value seem sage.

By the way, this does NOT arise from any existing treaty instrument.  It is confusing because the Convention on Cybercrime was done at Budapest in 2001.  However its secretariat is based at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and its signatories hold an independent event, the Octopus Conference.  It seems as if the organizers of this event you are writing about, obscured that distinction to provide PR.

The event you are describing here seems like yet anoter stovepipe of activity describing diverse dialogue.  As time proceeds, the environment seems to expand and get more divergent - perhaps emulating the physical universe what we observe.

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