Cyberspace code of conduct

Updated: 2014-01-30 08:27

By Shen Yi (China Daily)

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Effective cyberspace governance needed to prevent US from abusing its advantages and to safeguard majority interests

The lack of an explicit code of conduct for cyberspace poses a threat to global security, but forging a set of rules is proving a challenging test.

The "preemptive cyber strikes" doctrine robustly pushed by the United States in cyberspace has caused widespread concerns across the international community.

At a time when cyberspace is still in an anarchic state, the US-advocated doctrine, which is in essence built on national power, will inevitably mean those with technological and power advantages abuse their positions in pursuit of their own interests, as can be seen by the Prism Program implemented by the US.

The unequal power distribution in the real world is also manifest in cyberspace and was a key factor behind the US' omnipresent global surveillance. In both the offline and online worlds the US is the sole superpower, but in the real world its superiority is no longer as absolute as it was in the past, and some countries, including its allies, are unwilling or reluctant to do its bidding.

As a result of such a change in attitude, they no longer acquiesce in the US' freedom of actions, which ignore the international rules that were made under Washington's own leadership.

However, the US still holds an unshakable superiority over other countries when it comes to the online world. The key facilities that bolster global cyberspace are mainly in the hands of the US. Washington is still incomparable in terms of its cyber technologies, the making of cyber strategies and policy coordination.

Cyberspace code of conduct

Such an overpowering cyber superiority has consequently acquired for the US exceptional freedom of action, well above and beyond that of any other country. This sense of superiority has contributed to the US' failure to rein in its notorious cyber spying despite the condemnations from countries around the world.

The widespread dependence of the world's major power on global cyberspace, the imbalanced distribution of global cyber power and the serious lack of trust that exists between the US and other countries have further aggravated concerns among other countries over their cyber security. Even the European Union and other US allies have expressed deep concerns over the US' abuse of its superiority.

In October 2013, Germany and Brazil jointly filed a proposal to the UN General Assembly, demanding a clause be added to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights for the better protection of Internet privacy. Such a proposal was a moderate countermeasure to the US' excessive use of cyber monitoring.

All countries face a huge and growing challenge from cyber threats, which are not just from other countries but also from non-state entities and individuals that are utilizing new technologies and cyberspace to challenge sovereign states. Such challenges have increased the uncertainties and complexities in the global security environment.

By November a total of 35 countries had promulgated or announced they would promulgate a national cyber security strategy. It is expected global games involving cyber security will further expand in 2014.

The booming information technologies also empower some individuals and non-state entities to utilize new technologies and the cyberspace to challenge sovereign countries. How to effectively perceive and prevent attacks by non-state parties, especially how to prevent their attacks in the cyber world from triggering tensions or crises in the real world, will be a pressing task in the coming years.

Meanwhile, Edward Snowden's revelations about the US National Security Agency's surveillance programs show that the US has chosen to abuse its cyber advantages to spy on other countries instead of exercising self-restraint. Washington's ill-advised actions have not only aggravated anxiety about cyberattacks by another country, they have also raised concerns that non-state parties may be able and willing to follow the US' lead.

For the international community, one of the priorities in the years ahead must be to set up guidelines on effective cyberspace governance as soon as possible and push for the substitute of the "sovereignty of data" principle and other effective cyber operation rules for the US-advocated "freedom of the Internet".

The author is an associate professor with the School of International Relations and Public Affairs, Fudan University.

(China Daily 01/30/2014 page8)