The contest of rules: US, China, Russia rival in setting the norms of behavior in cyberspace

//Alexandra Kulikova, program coordinator at the PIR Center in Moscow, discusses implications of and processes for creating soft law on ICT governance. 

The shift of cyberspace governance discussions towards a normative framework demonstrates states’ efforts to formulate ‘rules of the game.’ Recent multinational and bilateral agreements on cyberspace governance fall under the domain of non-binding soft law, in which norms agreed upon are not set in stone. As fundamental differences exist amongst individual state’s visions of cyber governance (for example views on state sovereignty in cyberspace), and with the uncertainties a rapidly developing cyberspace brings, hard laws often imply commitments that are difficult to honor. Non-binding agreements and norms leave room to maneuver as seen in the recent UN Group of Governmental Experts on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security report and talks between the US and China.

While the United Nation’s bureaucracy is typically perceived as ill paced for dynamic ICT governance, in June 2015 a major breakthrough occurred. Representatives from twenty countries formed the fourth Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security. The GGE agreed on a range of non-binding norms for state behavior as well as confidence and capacity building measures in cyberspace – something many were skeptical about. The agreements, reflected in the report published in August, outline some important commitments which states have refused to recognize since the late 1990s when the Russian Federation started promoting the norm building process through the creation of the UN GGE. These include, inter alia, the commitment to not attack each other’s critical infrastructure and cyber emergency response systems (CERTs and CSIRTs); to not knowingly allow illegal third party cyber activity from within their territory; to carry out due investigation on malicious activity before counteractions are taken; to assist in investigations of cyberattacks and cybercrime launched from the country’s territory; and to commit to peaceful use of ICTs as a cornerstone of peace and security in cyberspace and beyond. Building on the success of the previous UN GGE in 2013, which acknowledged the applicability of international law to cyberspace and encouraged future elaboration of norms and confidence building measures (CBMs), the current GGE managed to build upon and agree on some minimum conditions for international cyber stability.

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THE BIRD’S EYE VIEW OF CHINA’S TWITTER COMMUNITY ON INTERNET CENSORSHIP

As part of CGCS’s Internet Policy Observatory, Wayne Weiai Xu, a PhD candidate at the State University of New York, Buffalo, and Yoonmo Sang, a PhD candidate at the University of Texas at Austin, developed a visualization tool that captures the network of Chinese-language Twitter discussions on China’s internet censorship issues. Click here to view the visualization.

This week we rolled out a visualization tool that captures a community of Twitter users active in discussing China’s internet censorship. The visualized network, in many ways, provides the bird’s eye view of the social fabrics of this community.

On the homepage, you will find a network of Twitter users. These users have two things in common: They are Mandarin-speaking, many of them live in China, and they used hashtags related to China’s censorship issue. The data for the current network captures user activity between May 16, 2015 and May 22, 2015. This data will periodically be updated. Hashtags that were used in the selection criteria include: “f***gfw”, “翻墙“, “被墙“, “被封“, “科学上网“, “防火墙“, “greatfirewall”, “真理部“, “审查“, “屏蔽“.

Users are represented by dots on the graph. They are connected by lines which indicate documented Twitter interactions (i.e., Twitter mention and reply) during the study period. When your click a user, you will see the user’s degree centrality (DoC), that is, how many times a user is connected through Twitter mention and reply.

On the website you will also find information about…

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Security v Access: The Impact of Mobile Network Shutdowns on Human Rights Case Study: Telenor Pakistan

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//A new report published by the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB), with support from the CGCS Internet Policy Observatory, highlights the practice of mobile network shutdowns in Pakistan and the wider implications for human rights of such practices by governments around the world. Click here to read the full report.

While many States recognize the economic and social benefits of investing in and improving access to Information and Communication Technology (ICTs), some are reaching for the communications “off” switch at times of civil unrest, or in the name of national security. Although country-wide network shutdowns on the scale of Egypt during the Arab Spring in 2011 are extremely rare, shutdowns may target a specific geographical area of mobile coverage, internet access, or a specific service such as Facebook or WhatsApp. This can potentially impact millions of people, as happened in the Gujarat state in India recently.

However, network shutdowns adversely affect a range of human rights, and in the view of many experts, such shutdowns are neither necessary nor proportionate responses to potential violent activities. Experts are concerned that network shutdowns are becoming the norm, rather than an exception. They say shutdowns are being utilized as the main strategy to curb terrorism, when instead states can do much more to improve other methods of investigation.

Network shutdowns indeed affect freedom of expression, but they also impact other rights, including life, access to health services, education, and work. In particular, IHRB’s report stresses the importance of ensuring access to emergency services (ambulance, police and fire) even at the time of a shutdown so that these services can continue to operate. The report also highlights how disruption has a wider impact on companies, schools, universities and colleges, and online commercial and public services.

This study was published by the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB), with support from the CGCS Internet Policy Observatory. Click here to read the full report.

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On the Geopolitics of “Platforms”

//Robyn Caplan is one of the ten 2015 Milton Wolf Emerging Scholar Fellows, an accomplished group of doctoral and advanced MA candidates selected to attend the 2015 Milton Wolf Seminar. Their posts highlight the critical themes and on-going debates raised during the 2015 Seminar discussions.

In the last year, questions about the roles that both non-traditional and traditional media play in the filtering of geopolitical events and policy have begun to increase. Though traditional sources such as The New York Times retain their influence, social media platforms and other online information sources are becoming the main channels through which news and information is produced and circulated. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Weibo, and other micro-blogging services bring the news directly to the people. According to a study by Parse.ly, the era of searching for information is ending—fewer referrals to news sites are coming from Google, with the difference in traffic made up by social media networks (McGee, 2014; Napoli, 2014).

It isn’t just news organizations that are finding greater success online. Heads of state—most famously President Obama—have used social networks to reach…

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