Categories
Government Internet

Misguided Priorities for Internet Governance

Server room, courtesy of Torkild Retvedt/flickr
Server room, courtesy of Torkild Retvedt/flickr

This is a cross-post from the Lowy Institute’s blog, The Interpreter.

If you had to choose between human rights and governance, which one would you pick? Most might go for human rights, but when it comes to the internet, that would be the wrong answer.

In February, the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) held its last preparatory meeting before the 2011 annual meeting, due to take place in Nairobi. The IGF was created following the UN World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) held in Tunis in 2005. The summit was an attempt to internationalise internet governance and make it more open.

The summit had four principal goals: ensuring the access, openness, development and security of the internet. The WSIS attempted to shape a new form of internet governance, that would give more power to international organisations and less power to the private sector organisations like the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Since no agreement was reached in Tunis, UN member states agreed to mandate the IGF to continue discussions on internet governance.

Categories
Government Foreign policy

Race for the UN Security Council

Kevin Rudd, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Australia addresses the UN GA, courtesy of UN Photos/Marco Castro

The race for the 2013/14 election for non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council is raging among a group of countries, including several EU countries, Australia, Switzerland, and Turkey.

Luxembourg and Finland are the official EU candidates and enjoy the support of the EU member states and have the advantage of not having been regular UN SC members. Luxembourg was never elected and Finland was elected twice, the last time in 1989-1990. In an attempt to win more votes for the election, the two countries have engaged in ‘cash-diplomacy‘ by increasing their aid money abroad, especially in Africa, amongst countries that form the most influential grouping in the UN General Assembly.

Recently, Australia also declared itself a candidate for the council. Some analyst says that Australia’s chances are low. It already lost against two EU members (Sweden and Portugal) in 1996, it does not have the EU’s support, it entered the race later than its opponents, and is less engaged in a cash-diplomacy than Luxembourg or Finland. According to the Lowy Institute, Luxembourg and Finland respectively gave $137 and $237 million in aid money to Africa while Australia only gave $80 million.

At first glance it seems that Luxembourg and Finland have a better chance to win the race to the UN SC. But if we look a bit more closely, the election might actually be much tighter.

Categories
Government Security

Hacktivism Goes Global

Hacktivist, courtesy of José Goualo/flickr

Since the beginning of renewed unrest and protests in Tunisia, the ‘hacktivist’ group Anonymous has joined in support of the actions of Tunisians hacktivists by blocking some Tunisian websites.

As they say on one of their websites, Anonymous has entered the fight in Tunisia because “The arrests of several free speech activists and bloggers in recent days was deplorable.  The punishing of people for simply expressing themselves politically was vile.” They also claim to be a “legion” that “cannot be stopped with the arrests of a few.” Or as one of the member of the group put it: “Tunisians can fight on the streets and Anonymous can’t. Anonymous can fight online but Tunisians can’t.”

This global “cyber-solidarity” with Tunisia is not surprising. The internet is a global good that is being used the world over. Moreover, it is not dangerous or particularly risky for people outside Tunisia to block government’s website there via Denial of Services (DDoS) attacks. It also makes sense for the “legion” of Anonymous hackers to be active in Tunisia as a way to promote free speech, free information and citizen-journalism. It is a globally visible, potentially effective and cheap way for this new breed of cyberactivists to make their mark on an issue that matters.

Some say that DDoS attacks like these are simply the cyber-version of doing a sit-in in front of a bank or a governmental building to make sure no one enters it. Although I disagree with this metaphor because doing a sit-in requires more political and organizational will than just clicking on a button on your computer, the mass of foreign hacktivist involved in Tunisia through groups such as Anonymous do believe they are showing solidarity with the Tunisian people and acting in accordance.

I had the chance to quickly chat with some of the Anonymous hacktivists on their channel, and many said that they believed that they have won a victory by forcing the Tunisian government to restrict the access to their website to Tunisians only. Anonymous are now moving to disrupt the e-mail accounts of government employee in an attempt to reduce their internal communication.

Categories
Government Foreign policy

As Cyberparanoia Spreads

All Rights Reserved? Courtesy of Paul Gallo/flickr

A new fear is engulfing Switzerland and this time its about cyberspace.

True, the threat of ‘cyberwar’ and cyber-attacks is real and sometimes very difficult to prepare for. Recent events, like the hacking of political parties’ websites or the recent distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS) on Postfinance, the bank hosting Julian Assange’s account, point to a future where sometimes crippling cyber-attacks are an all-too common occurrence.

The Swiss parliament recently passed a motion asking the government to develop the legal framework for responding to and defending against cyber-attacks. The government, however, is not really convinced that a legal basis to fight ‘cyberwars’ should be the priority and I agree with them.

A solid legal framework is certainly needed for cybercrime. But when it comes to cyber-attacks, having a legal framework is of no help. What legal measures could you take if someone launches a cyber-attack on your country, key industries or public figures?  This also links up to the equally tricky debate about attribution in the case of such attacks. Who attacked and from where? Who is behind the attack and who should be held resonsible? Moreover, we still lack a clear definition of what a cyber-attack even is. Experts still disagree on this and I don’t think that the Swiss government will be able to break this definitional deadlock.

The legalization of cyberspace is generally speaking a dangerous trend. So far, no international treaties exist on the subject, and attempts to “nationalize” part of it by promulgating a national legal framework for hostile acts on the internet is creating borders and limits on a ‘global good’. The internet cannot be structured on the basis of national borders and it should remain so: common, shared, unlimited and open. Indeed, legalizing cyberspace from a national standpoint is not only inefficient; it also sets a dangerous trend for the fragmentation of cyberspace.

Categories
Journalism Government Security

“Cyberguerillas” on the March

Cyberwar? © Chappatte/Globecarton
Cyberwar? © Chappatte/Globecartoon (permission to reproduce granted by creator, 10.12.2010)

Fans of WikiLeaks have launched numerous, high-profile Denial-of-service attacks (DDoS) on sites that turned against WikiLeaks recently. Targets as varied as Sarah Palin, Mastercard, the Swedish government, and the Swiss bank Postfinance have come under attack for either criticizing WikiLeaks or for refusing some services to Julian Assange.

I don’t know the details of all the services that have been refused to Assange, but in the Swiss case, Postfinance closed down the Swiss bank account of Julian Assange because Assange had provided a fake postal address in Geneva. The bank simply followed normal procedures vis-a-vis account holders that provide false information. The client may have been high profile, but the procedure was normal.

In revenge for a variety of acts designed to curtail WikiLeaks’ space for maneuver by the above-mentioned institutions, a group, calling themselves „Anonymous,“ has been waving a kind of cyberbattle in the name of free speech and in support of WikiLeaks. These attacks by “Anonymous” are problematic for several reasons: