Ashdown: Internet is a 'lawless space'

Ashdown: Internet is a 'lawless space'

Summary: Lord Ashdown, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, has warned of the increasing threat from cyber-terrorism, and called for a co-ordinated international response

TOPICS: Security

Former leader of the Liberal Democrats Paddy Ashdown has said that terrorism is being facilitated by a lack of oversight of the internet.

Speaking to ZDNet UK at an Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) press event, Lord Ashdown said cybercrime and terrorism rush "into the vacuum of a lawless space" if governance of internet activity by countries is too weak.

"Is the internet a lawless space? Of course," said Ashdown. "Effectively, there are no laws, except in places like China. I'm a liberal, so I believe in the free flow of information, but there are issues that need to be addressed."

Ashdown, a former high representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that, while international regulation is undesirable, a co-ordinated international response from governments is needed to mitigate the risk of cyberattacks by militants.

Ashdown was speaking at the launch of an IPPR report entitled Shared Destinies: Security in a Globalised World, delivered by the independent, cross-party Commission on National Security in the 21st Century, which Ashdown co-chairs. The report warns that web tools such as Google Earth have been used for "hostile surveillance and targeting purposes", while the internet has also been used by terrorists to radicalise people and incite violence.

The report also warns that fraud and theft are increasingly occuring online.

"National governments and global cyber-governing bodies have been overwhelmed by the ingenuity and pervasive online presence of organised criminal gangs in recent years," states the report.

Lord Robertson, who also attended the IPPR event, told ZDNet UK that the current economic crisis could lead to more cyberattacks on businesses.

"Threats to the global infrastructure have been magnified by economic fragility over the past few months," said Robertson, a former secretary general of Nato. "The magnification of threats has been caused by interconnectivity, where one incident can trigger others. The interconnectivity of enterprises has to be taken into account. The business world has to wake up to what could happen to it."

Robertson recommended that businesses perform exercises to test the vulnerability of their systems.

Conservative MP Ian Taylor also said that interconnectivity was the key to understanding cyber-risks. "We have become so interconnected. Non-government players' failure to understand the threats that can be exploited by terrorists has become a threat to society," said Taylor.

Topic: Security

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

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  • Yes it is, and that's the way it should stay

    Yes, the Internet is a lawless place, and thank god for that too. The reality is that with encrypted communications and TOR networks, criminals who know what they're doing will still be able to communicate freely. Of course these same technologies allow dissidents in oppressive regimes to keep their struggle going, and allow whistleblowers to uncover the bad things done more often than not by the same governments and big corporations who want more control over the internet. Apologies Mr. Ashdown, but I'm not falling for it.

    The Internet MUST remain free from any governmental or pseudo-governmental oversight and control, otherwise it will become a tool for oppression. Trying to regulate the Internet under the guise of added security is just the thin end of the wedge for western governments, a few of which must wish they could control the web in the same way as China, Iran etc
  • What he said ...

    : a few of which must wish they could control the
    : web in the same way as China, Iran etc

    .. and Australia don't forget. Oh and I think what you meant was in the way that these countries *think* they control the internet. There is nothing stopping them opening encrypted connections to proxies outside the repression zone and getting all the content they want.

    I always try and think of a real world equivalent of computing concepts that don't seem real to people because frankly, to 99% of the population, computers simply aren't real. For this one, as people seem to want the internet totally censored and monitored it would be, anything written to anyone by anyone, from post-it notes to text books would have to be approved by the local police before it could be shown to anyone else, plus there would be a security checkpoint at every street corner manned by "Papieren Bitte" jobs-worths. You don't want this in the real world (or at least I really hope you don't) just because you either don't use or don't understand the internet, why would you want to inflict this sort of totalitarian approach on those of us that do. Oh and do bear in mind that it won't actually stop anyone doing the things that you want banned.
    Andrew Meredith