We are two years into a process that began in London in 2011 to address one of the greatest challenges facing our generation: building a new international consensus on the future of cyberspace. There is more that unites us as nations than divides us on this issue. We all want to benefit from secure and reliable access to the internet as a driver of growth, development, good governance and innovation in our societies, and to protect our citizens from crime and terrorism on-line.
But there is a divide emerging in the international community that we must confront.
On one side are countries like the UK and many others like Korea who argue that the internet must remain open and borderless, and benefit from collective oversight between governments, international organisations, industry and civil society. In our view this is the only way to ensure that the benefits of the digital age are expanded to all countries; that ingenuity and competition flourish and investment and enterprise are rewarded; and that the creativity that spurs economic growth is nurtured not stifled by excessive regulation.
On the other side are countries calling for an international legal framework for the internet that would enable governments to exercise exclusive control over the Internet’s content and resources.
I am convinced that placing the controls of cyberspace entirely in the hands of governments would be a drastic error that would have profound social and economic consequences. The dead hand of state control would be as stifling for the internet as it has been for many economies in the past. It would erect barriers that impede the free flow of ideas, and would lead to a ghettoized or two-tier cyberspace that hinders free trade and holds back economic growth and development. This world of closed, fragmented Internets would certainly be less free and democratic – but it would also be less creative, less innovative, less progressive and, ultimately, less prosperous than a world with a single and open Internet.
The Internet is the heartbeat of the global economy, linking businesses that are based thousands of miles apart and constantly creating new markets, industries and technologies. Over the last 5 years, it has accounted for one fifth of GDP growth in advanced economies, with vast potential for future growth in countries where many people are now coming online for the first time.
It provides an environment where ideas flourish and barriers to market entry are removed, enabling innovators and entrepreneurs in every corner of the globe to turn those bright ideas into financial gain. It is improving the delivery of public services such as health and education, which heighten the skill and efficiency of workforces the world over.
It is facilitating the development of smart grids, smart buildings and smart cities, which support green and sustainable growth.
And it is creating more attractive investment climates by widening accountability and increasing transparency.
For these reasons, and more, societies that embrace an open and vibrant internet will be the ones that develop and prosper most in the 21st century.
And let us be clear – human rights apply online as much as they do offline. We should have no illusions about the motivation of those who call for a regulated internet stem from a desire to control the expression and curtail the political freedoms of their citizens.
We do all face sophisticated and persistent threats in cyberspace from terrorists or organised criminals. We will not compromise on the United Kingdom’s security or give free rein in cyberspace to those who wish to harm our country. With my full support our security and intelligence agencies will continue to address threats in cyberspace and to help our allies and partners to do the same – and the UK will remain at the centre of the debate on how we tackle those threats more effectively. But countries who seek to hide behind firewalls and erect artificial barriers on the internet will ultimately reduce their security, not enhance it. A fragmented Cyberspace would reduce trust and cooperation, making malicious or subversive activity more likely and harder to detect.
So our challenge is to work together to build confidence and engrain norms of behaviour which govern state behaviour online and support our collective security, while upholding the values of openness and freedom which have been integral to the success of the internet and are our core values as democratic nations.
We need a more transparent and inclusive model of governance; one where no single body controls all of the functions that govern the Internet; which is flexible, adaptable and can keep pace with the lightning speeds at which technology is advancing.
The London process, a process that began two years ago, is designed to achieve that objective and we have made some important progress:
We have brought the debate on the future of cyberspace to the front of the international agenda. We have taken strides towards agreeing principles that can form the basis of widely accepted norms for behaviour in cyberspace, which are captured in the “principles and guidelines” document put forward by Korean hosts. And we are making progress on capacity building to help all states tackle challenges in cyberspace. In the UK, this includes the establishment of the Global Cyber Security Capacity Centre which will open in Oxford next month and help other countries to build their own resilience and security.
Nevertheless, we have still not reached agreement on international ‘rules of the road’ or set of standards of behaviour.
To all those states that are uncertain where their interests lie between these competing visions of the future of cyberspace, I say that there is no stark choice between an open Internet and a secure Internet. But there is a choice between an Internet which continues to create growth and prosperity on all continents, and one which does not. We must agree to take steps to increase the confidence and trust that governments, companies and citizens all have in the Internet while preserving its transformative dynamism and creativity.
At a time of such global economic uncertainty, making the wrong choice would have profound consequences for the future. We must come together and ensure that the Internet is not only secure, but remains an engine for progress all over the world.