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Biden Calls On World Governments To Back Open Internet

  • RFE/RL

A number of authoritarian governments are alarmed at the role the Internet and social media have played in the protests that swept the Arab world this year.

A number of authoritarian governments are alarmed at the role the Internet and social media have played in the protests that swept the Arab world this year.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has urged governments around the world to join the United States in backing an Internet that is free and open.

Speaking by video link in Washington to a global cyberconference that began in London, Biden said the United States was betting that an open Internet will lead to a "stronger, more prosperous life" for all people.

Biden also told the London conference that building "global consensus around universal values and shared norms" would help preserve the Internet as an open space for everyone.

"What the United States offers today is an invitation for partnership. We're reaching out to countries around the world as well as the private sector and civil society to build a consensus around the ideals that I've mentioned today: security and openness, transparency and accountability, innovation, freedom, and above all a commitment to working cooperatively to govern cyberspace in a manner that is consistent with long-standing international principles," Biden said.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden

Officials from more than 60 countries, along with cyberspace activists and company executives, are in London for two days of speeches and debates about the future of the Internet.

Representatives from China, Russia, and India are attending the event, as well as tech-industry figures like Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia; Joanna Shields, a senior executive of the Facebook social network, and computer-virus expert Eugene Kaspersky.

'Sovereign Internet'

While Western governments have expressed concern about intellectual-property theft and computer hacking over the Internet, governments such as China and Russia are alarmed at the role the Internet and social media have played in the protests that swept the Arab world this year.

In September, China, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan proposed to the United Nations a global code of conduct that includes the principle that "policy authority for Internet-related public issues" is the sovereign right of individual states.

There also has been talk of creating a global code for the Internet. That has worried campaigners for a more loosely regulated Internet, who see such a code of conduct as a risk to freedom of speech on the Internet.

Biden said that "no citizen of any country should be subjected to a repressive global code when they send an e-mail or post a comment" online.

"There are some who have a different view, as you know. They seek an international legal instrument that would lead to exclusive government control over Internet resources, institutions, and content, and national barriers on the free flow of information online," Biden said.

"But this, in our view, would lead to a fragmented Internet, one that does not connect people but divides them, a stagnant cyberspace, not an innovative one, and ultimately a less secure cyberspace with less trust among nations."

'A Safe Cyberspace For All'

The London Conference on Cyberspace is being hosted by the British Foreign Office. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the conference was aimed at launching a dialogue on both the threats and opportunities of cyberspace.

Hague said he wanted to widen the number of nations and cyberusers who agree about the need for "norms of behavior," while also seeking a future cyberspace based on "opportunity, freedom, innovation, human rights, and a partnership between governments, civil society, and the private sector."

Hague added that there was "the need for governments to act proportionately in cyberspace and in accordance with international law; the need for everyone to have the ability to access cyberspace, including the skills, technology, confidence, and opportunity to do so; [and] the need for users of cyberspace to show tolerance and respect for diversity of language, culture, and ideas -- ensuring that cyberspace remains open to innovation and the free flow of ideas, information, and expression."

Hague said one of the greatest challenges was how to ensure everyone can reap the benefits of "a safe and secure cyberspace" for generations to come.

"It is in all our interests to ensure a future in which everyone can have safe and reliable access to cyberspace without fear they will be targeted by criminals," Hague said, "a future in which the rights, protections, and laws that protect us off line do so online, and those who abuse the Internet for crime, terrorism, or malicious attack find it harder to do so."

Meanwhile, the head of Britain's communications spy agency announced on October 31 that British government and industry computer systems were facing a "disturbing" number of cyberattacks -- including a serious assault on the computer network of the British Foreign Office itself.

Experts say the broad agenda of the London conference carries the risk that little will be achieved beyond a debate. But they say one area where there could soon be international agreement is the need for cooperation against conventional crime and child pornography over the internet.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had planned to speak but canceled her trip because of her mother's health.

with agency reports
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