Hague lists cyber 'rules of the road'

The UK government has specified seven 'rules of the road' that governments should follow to promote internet security and innovation, according to foreign secretary William Hague

Governments should follow seven cyber 'rules of the road' in deciding how to act and regulate behaviour online, UK foreign secretary William Hague has told a UK government cybersecurity conference.

William Hague at London Conference on Cyberspace

Foreign secretary William Hague has outlined seven 'rules of the road' in regulating online behaviour at the London Conference on Cyberspace. Photo credit: FCO/Flickr

These rules would include governments respecting international law, individual rights of privacy, and intellectual property, Hague told the London Conference on Cyberspace at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre on Tuesday.

"Behaviour that is unacceptable offline is also unacceptable online, whether it is carried out by individuals or by governments," said Hague. "In place of today's cyber free-for-all, we need a list of rules of the road."

Governments should act proportionately and "in accordance with international law", and respect intellectual property and privacy, said Hague.

The remaining five rules of the road, according to Hague, should be: that everyone should be able to access the internet; that users show tolerance and respect for diversity of ideas; that governments should ensure the internet stays open to innovation and the free flow of information; the promotion of a competitive online environment; and the need for collective action against cybercrime.

Online crime

"The best and the worst of human behaviour finds expression online, and the technology lends itself to misuse as well as great benefit," said Hague. "This particularly applies to online crime, which is growing exponentially."

The best and the worst of human behaviour finds expression online, and the technology lends itself to misuse as well as great benefit.

– William Hague

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales told the conference that some people engage in scaremongering about e-crime, but that the greatest threat to freedom on the internet is not cybercrime, but "misguided and overreaching government policy".

"Government control is possibly not the best answer," said Wales.

Wales gave the example of the US Stop Online Piracy Act, an industry-backed bill that has created controversy for the powers it seeks to give rights holders. Wales described the act as "really badly designed", and said it would prevent editors from updating Wikipedia posts clearly, which would be "really dangerous".

Facebook's director of policy for Europe, Richard Allan, told the conference that he was generally optimistic about the use of the internet, but said his great fears were a "catastrophic failure" of internet security, and that security costs could "spiral out of control".

"My first fear is that the bad guys can somehow cause a catastrophic failure in some or all of our systems," said Allan. 

The notion of internet road rules has become popular among policy makers. In 2010, former US Department of Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff advocated a cyber 'cold war' including such rules, while William Hague in February called for agreed online conduct in the wake of a Zeus Trojan attack on the UK government.

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