WIC in Wuzhen: Cyber security is the challenge

By Shastri Ramachandaran
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, November 16, 2016
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The just-ended U.S. election, won by Donald Trump to become the 45th President, brought to the fore the issue of cyber security. U.S. accusations of Russia hacking the former's networks, followed by Washington's fears that Moscow's cyber intrusions could influence the presidential election - regardless of the truth of the charges - underscore that cyber security is a matter of global concern today.

In fact, the high state of cyber alert on the part of both the U.S. and Russia to ward off any attack on polling day is a reminder that this is the new frontier where states would be pitted against each other in safeguarding national sovereignty and security. A nation's "territorial integrity" is no longer merely geographical - it extends to its cyber world as well. Actually, the cyber territory is the first line of defense.

The growing recognition - and importance - of this new reality is all too evident in cyber security emerging as the principal focus of the third World Internet Conference (WIC) being held in Wuzhen from November 16-19.

Wuzhen, an ancient water town in Zhejiang Province to the south of the Yangtze River, is the permanent venue of the WIC Summit, a Chinese platform for international exchange, which is a landmark in the history of Internet development worldwide. This year's WIC brings together 1600 cyberspace tycoons and officials from governments, international organizations, corporations, technical communities and non-governmental associations from across the world.

This year's theme is "Innovation-driven Internet Development for the Benefit of All - Building a Community of Common Future in Cyberspace." However, the hot topic that may dominate is expected to be cyber security.

At the WIC last year, President Xi Jinping spoke of "Internet sovereignty" and exhorted the world to "respect each country's Internet sovereignty, respect each country's right to choose its own development path and management model of the Internet." The second WIC released the Wuzhen Initiative, calling on all countries to promote Internet development, foster cultural diversity in cyber space, share the fruits of Internet development, ensure peace and security in cyber space, and improve global Internet governance.

Xi's proposals on global Internet governance to "jointly build a community of shared future in cyberspace" were a signal that China would work to usher in an "orderly system." As an Internet power - with 710 million Internet users and broadband access in all cities and towns, and 95 percent of the villages - China is in a position to pursue its agenda. And, in keeping with the thoughts of President Xi, it was inevitable that cyber security would emerge as a priority sooner rather than later.

Thus, on November 7, China's top legislature adopted a cybersecurity law to safeguard sovereignty in cyberspace, national security and citizens' rights. Predictably, this law, avowedly to combat hacking and terrorism, has triggered protests by foreign business and Western interest groups.

The controversial clauses which are being objected to include requirements for "critical information infrastructure operators" to store personal information and important business data in China, provide unspecified "technical support" to security agencies, and pass national security reviews.

Although Chinese officials have reassured that it would not interfere with foreign business interests, the debate continues with over 40 global business groups still protesting some of the provisions in the draft law. However, the law does provide individual protections by restricting the amount of personally identifiable information that can be collected, how it can be transferred, and giving individuals the right to seek removal of information.

Interestingly, many of the cyber security law's provisions have been used previously as they are common to other laws on public security and national security. Thus, there is merit in China's claim that the new law is formal codification of what is already in practice, and equally applicable to all - domestic and foreign - businesses.

Equally true is China's statement that the law is similar to rules in other countries, at least when compared to India's National Cyber Security Policy unveiled in July 2013. Although India has a different political system from that of China, the government hastened to draft its Cyber Security Policy after whistleblower Edward Snowden's disclosures revealed that much of the U.S. National Security Agency's surveillance was focused on India's domestic politics, and its strategic and commercial interests.

The vision, mission, objectives and strategies of India's Cyber Security Policy are not very different from that of China's; and, like in China's cyber security law, "Protection and Resilience of Critical Information Infrastructure" is an important strategic element of India's policy, too.

Laws and restrictions relating to cyber space are bound to be resisted and, for that reason, would always be controversial because historically individual freedom has always been at odds with the interests of the state. Much like this historical tension, ambiguities in national policy and legislation will also persist.

In the event, the WIC at Wuzhen cannot end the debate for all time, but it may serve the purpose of clarifying the new law. And, towards that end, state agencies are expected to release details about the regulations related to implementation of the law.

Shastri Ramachandaran is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:


Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.

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