Xi Jinping and Laws for Cyberspace

by edwardmroche

At the recent World Internet Conference, held in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, the President of China Mr. Xi Jinping gave a speech setting forth priorities for Internet Governance.  The view of the Government of China is that each country should control its own Internet and set its own rules for cyberspace.

This means that the Chinese government sets a priority on monitoring the Internet to ensure that it is not used for unlawful activity.

It is hard to argue with a government that does not wish for the Internet to be used for unlawful activity.  All governments agree with this view.  The Internet should not be a free zone for criminals.

The only issue, then, is what is criminal activity.  Obviously this varies from nation to nation.  What is protected speech in one country might be illegal in another.  What is protected journalism in one country might be illegal activity in another.

This distinction is a source of conflict in debates over Internet governance.  People on outside of China might criticize Chinese monitoring of the Internet inside China, but in essence what they are criticizing is Chinese law as it is written or interpreted or enforced inside China.

An international issue arises if activities take place on the Internet outside of China, but those activities if carried out inside China would be considered criminal.  In those cases, China reserves the right to block those activities from crossing through the Internet into China.  Again, this is a question of Chinese sovereignty.

And here we are using the example of China, but national sovereignty is an important issue for all nation states.

A complication arises in cases where China cuts off entire services from being provided in the Chinese market.  For example, Facebook is not allowed in China.  This is not a question of Chinese law, but instead is a matter of non-tariff barriers to trade in services.  Many are of the view that it should be condemned because there is no reason why Facebook or any other outside provider of Internet services could not be monitored for criminal activity the same way that services inside China are monitored.

These are issues that need to be considered in negotiations concerning international trade in services.

It also is true that it is illegal to hack in China.  This means that if one is in China and they hack a Chinese website, then a law is broken.  It is not clear if it is a violation of Chinese law if a person inside China hacks a computer that is located outside of China. There might be a potential to further international discussions on this issue.

These discussions on Internet censorship and control, and its connection to national sovereignty are interesting and important, but are outside the scope of consideration regarding cyber weapons.  The reality is that development of cyber weapons will always be legal within a nation state the same way the development of any other type of weapon is legal.  Cyber weapons are an integral part of the right of self-defense of a nation.

There is a cyber arms race now, and people need to be thinking about how to control the proliferation of cyber weapons.