On September 12 China, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan released a Resolution for the UN General Assembly entitled “International code of conduct for information security.” The resolution proposes a voluntary 12 point code of conduct based on “the need to prevent the potential use of information and communication technologies for purposes that are inconsistent with the objectives of maintaining international stability and security and may adversely affect the integrity of the infrastructure within States…” The Code seems to be intended to preserve and protect national sovereignty in information and communication. Its preambles are full of language taken from the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), such as the claim that “policy authority for Internet-related public issues is the sovereign right of States.”

Among the pledges that states subscribing to the code would make is “Not to use information and communications technologies, including networks, to carry out hostile activities or acts of aggression, pose threats to international peace and security or proliferate information weapons or related technologies.” That would be nice. Likewise, states would pledge “To cooperate in combating criminal and terrorist activities that use information and communications technologies, including networks.” That would be nice, too.

However, in the section just quoted governments would also pledge to curb “the dissemination of information that incites terrorism, secessionism or extremism or that undermines other countries’ political, economic and social stability, as well as their spiritual and cultural environment.” That section would give any state the right to censor or block international communications for almost any reason. Such as, let's say, Facebook mobilizations against dictators, dissident blogs, etc. “Undermining the spiritual and cultural environment” in particular could be used to filter out any views a government didn't like, and could even be used for trade protectionism in cultural industries.

So this resolution is yet another futile attempt to overlay territorial sovereignty on an internet that is fundamentally inconsistent with it. Just as in the Cold War states that felt weaker militarily called for international agreements on the arms race, it is now the developing rivals of the US who seek internationalized, sovereigntist constraints on the internet.Fortunately, the world's not-so-united nations do not have the means or the will to actually carry out that threat, and at any rate this is only a proposed voluntary code of conduct. But it does show you how a lot of states still think about the Internet. The UN should not be allowed to ratify language that attempts to cram the global Internet back into national boxes.  

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