Arguing for the Need for a Global Strategy for Cyberspace
In recent decades cyberspace has witnessed an unprecedented expansion in the human history supported by the excessive technical boom in the field of information and communication technologies. However, this huge development has created serious challenges related to human life including the need to be safe and secure and fully enjoying the rights as a human to have access to global cyberspace. Possession and control of information is a vital arm that states use to protect their national security. Accordingly, international consensus on global cyberspace governance is a necessity to prevent slipping into a global cyber war.
In this essay, I will try to shed some light on these aspects and analyze the contentious relationships between the different actors in cyberspace and the lack of a common global strategy to govern it. Also, to what extend measurements applied by states within the context of national security and emerging threats could affect preserving and protecting human rights in a negative way.
The dynamics of cyber technology and the continuous development of the Information and Communications Technologies ICT considered to be the most challenging and complexed task that faces world’s stakeholder at the present time. In fact, the digital technology has contributed positively in all different social, economic, and political dimensions. It has a great effect on the development of people’s life, such as establishing and preserving democracies and prohibiting the use of force, integrating the world’s society, spreading of knowledge and sciences, protecting and protecting human rights. No doubt, obsession and control of information became a new fierce battle between states. Therefore, they resort to exercise power control over the flow of information and communications between individuals or groups. Having said that democratic states in Europe, America and North America have applied the laissez-faire policy, contrarily, to some Asian and African dictatorship regimes, however, the Western liberal democracies are getting closer to state control approach. Specially, after September 11th attacks and war on terror where states progressively exercise a significant control pressure on private sector entities who operate and own ICT infrastructure and provide internet services. Since the states are the key elements of international norms, it is quite imperative to examine their dynamics and their conduct within the global context of the human rights project. States are part of a global order which has important consequences for the constitutive norms, and the regulative norms. The dynamics and relationships between states in interacting with each other in cyberspace can be described as inconsistent. It could be, whether, constructive dynamics in terms of sharing experiences, skills, and technologies. Or, harmful dynamics in terms of competing against each other. And consequently, perceptions of hostile intentions and threats can influence the decisions they make in terms of security concerns. Yet, globalization is provoking national regulations. The concept of national sovereignty is under challenge and it became more difficult to outline what is an ‘internal affair’ of a state which is protected by national law against ‘foreign interference’. Cyberspace is like global highways, which certainly need rules to organize the flow of traffic on the roads in order to avoid crashes and to preserve the interests of different traffic participants. In fact, there are very fundamental issues need to be addressed, such as, safety, data protection and privacy, intellectual property, and obviously human rights and freedom of expression which must be protected by law. Therefore, the consensus on a system for global governance of cyberspace has become a necessity in order to avoid rising of cyber wars.
Cyberspace is the new world nerve system by virtue of human dependency on technologies at present time, which made the world interdependent and connected to each other. Internet and communication systems wiped off boundaries between nations and countries and the whole world became like a small village. Cyberspace could be defined as a platform for communication over computer networks within a state boundary. It includes computers, networks, software, storage devices ‘hard disks, USB disks’, the Internet, web sites, emails, ATMs, cell phones, etc. According to the Oxford Lexeco Dictionary, the word ‘cyber’ is derived from the word ‘cybernetics’, which means the science of communications and automatic control systems for both machines and living beings. And the origin of the word is from the Greek ‘kubernētēs’ ‘helmsman’, from ‘kubernan’ – ‘to steer’. The word was first introduced by the American scientist Norbert Winber.
The impact of technology in human affairs is very old and could be traced back to the17th century. The invention of the printing press then offered since ever the possibility to exchange ideas and information massively inside and between countries and assert the right to freedom of expression which connected to political freedom. In this regard, we have witnessed the significant effect of the internet and cellular phone uses worldwide in promoting democracy and led to achieve the big changes in different parts of the world. Obviously, ICT has incredibly supported human rights and played extraordinary political role in so many countries in the last decades. This can be seen in the unexpected collapse of the USSR when ICT facilitated the flow of information from outsider resources such as Western radio broadcasts by Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and by the facsimiles trafficked in for copying and distributing political opposition’s documents. Also, the protests in Indonesia, which led to resignation of President Suharto in 1998, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine 2004, the Saffron Revolution of 2007 in Burma, where the Internet and camera phones were reported to have played a critical role in anti-government protests, the Twitter Revolution in Iran 2009 during presidential elections, the Arab Spring in many countries such as the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia stepped President Ben Ali down in 2011, the Tahrir Square protests in Egypt and the falling of President Mubarak in 2011. And last year during the April revolution in Sudan which led to oust President Omar Al-Bashir after 30 years of harsh dictatorship ruling regime. In fact, open access to information is alleged by strict regimes as a national security threat. Consequently, many countries upheld censorship over the use of the internet. This practice is not limited to a few countries with bad human rights record, but many democratic states have recently made efforts to control and oversight certain types of content. Yet, ICT companies in several counties are forced to store some personal information about their subscribers. European countries collect internet data and screen e-mail traffic, not necessary with legal merit. In the United States after the 11 September terrorist attacks, internet scrutiny programs have been applied without legislative and judicial ground. These measures implemented by some states are certainly violating Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which provides: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks”. And Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR): “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honor or reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks”.
However, states are asserting their commitment to regulate, control, and taking specific measures of censorship over the internet which would have a negative impact over individuals’ freedom of expression and the right for privacy. However, it’s a complexed task to define boundary between national security obligations and human rights, and that refer to the intersection and overlapping relationship between the two principles and the difficulty to outline the limits between the individual’s right to freedom of expression and the government’s responsibility to preserve and safeguard national security, public order, and protect the rights of individuals.
Cyberspace has expanded tremendously via the globe and operates through a large complex universal infrastructure for ICT. And in order to join in communication processes within the cyberspace, there are critical elements in the process which could be defined as: 1) the capacity and skills of the users required to convert data into information, and benefit from the content of the information; 2) the technological tools and equipment, which includes hardware and software; 3) the access to network and this includes also access to technology, however, device alone is not useful without access to the networks and benefits of the global information will remain inaccessible. The challenge yet, is how can we managed to set a common strategy that consider the big variations between states in respect of these elements? Therefore, it is quite essential that states, main actors, and stakeholder engage in an inclusive dialogue in order to establish a unified cyberspace strategy according to these principles:
And certainly, the global strategy must be adopted by the United Nations General Assembly as an international binding treaty within the context of the international law. However, the unwillingness of states to adopt a legally binding commitments in this area is expected and that due to the universality of the cyberspace which has important implications on security, economy and political stability of states. Generally, global cyber governance is characterized by concerns and fear of commitment to international obligations. Americans and Europeans are concerned with protection against copyright breach, industrial spying, and protection of freedom of expression, while some states such as Russia and China are carefully concerned with flow of information within the context of national security. Also, the rival nature of different national agencies, ICT multinational corporations make reconciliation on cyber governance quite challenging. Many countries are now adopting cyber legislation covering cybercrime and data protection at national level. Despite, the necessity for international law on cyberspace has been asserted by the establishment of the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in 2004, however, the challenge remains significant on how the international law can be applied. It’s important when policymakers draft the international legal instruments to consider the balance between the need for governing global cyberspace and protecting human rights.
Everybody has the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas disregarding of frontiers. In the last decade the world has witnessed incredible expansion of cyberspace and struggles between opposing interests in the field of information and communication. This requires a consensus on a global unified strategy to govern the cyberspace with a vision of serving the humanity and protecting the human rights and freedom of expression, on one hand, and meet the serious challenges related to global peace and security and counter terrorism on the other hand.
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