Conference Produces Cyber Framework

Timothy Farnsworth

Delegates from 87 countries meeting in Seoul in mid-October agreed on a framework for developing international cyberspace norms.

The agreement calls for the United Nations to play a leading role in bringing countries together to develop common understandings of the use of information and communications technologies, promote confidence-building and transparency measures, and support building and improving information technology infrastructure in developing countries.

The Seoul Framework for and Commitment to Open and Secure Cyberspace acknowledges the recent finding of a UN group of governmental experts that current international law, specifically the law of armed conflict, applies to cyberspace. (See ACT, July/August 2013.) The document calls for further study of how current norms apply to state behavior in cyberspace and how additional norms could be developed.

The Oct. 17-18 meeting was the third international cyberspace conference in a series launched by UK Foreign Minister William Hague in 2011 in London. (See ACT, December 2011.) The Seoul framework is the first document to come out of the conferences that identifies specific elements for an open and secure cyberspace.

“The realization of the need for norms on cyberspace in London two years ago has taken concrete shape in the Seoul framework,” South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, the conference chairman, said in his closing remarks. The results of the Seoul conference “represent the best common political denominator” of the conference participants, he said.

Yun expressed hope that the work completed in Seoul “will pave the way for further progress in The Hague in 2015” when the next international conference on cyberspace is scheduled to take place.

The agreement by the delegates on the Seoul framework did not conceal differences among the countries attending.

The international community “must confront” a “divide” on cyberspace policy, Hague said during his opening remarks to the conference. One side insists that the Internet “must remain open and borderless and benefit from collective oversight between governments, international organizations, industry, and civil society,” Hague said. The other side is “calling for an international legal framework” for the Internet that would “enable governments to exercise exclusive control over…content and resources.”

Hague placed himself firmly in the first camp, saying that “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.”