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White House Reveals “International Strategy for Cyberspace”

In a presentation this afternoon, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled the International Strategy for Cyberspace, which outlines the goals and strategies that the White House will pursue with regard to the Internet. Key amongst these were enhancing security, ensuring a space for economic activity, and protecting the freedom of users.

Introducing the document on the White House blog, White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard A. Schmidt writes:

[…] the United States will build an international environment that ensures global networks are open to new innovations, interoperable the world over, secure enough to support people’s work, and reliable enough to earn their trust. To achieve it, we will build and sustain an environment in which norms of responsible behavior guide states’ actions, sustain partnerships, and support the rule of law.

The document is either a specific set of guidelines nor a law, but rather an overarching statement that will guide the operations of governmental bodies and defines the the White House hopes to achieve. While very broad, it does contain some interesting nuggets. For instance, the plan states that use of military force will not be ruled out as a response to a cyber attack. From the plan:

When warranted, the United States will respond to hostile acts in cyberspace as we would to any other threat to our country.  All states possess an inherent right to self-defense, and we recognize that certain hostile acts conducted through cyberspace could compel actions under the commitments we have with our military treaty partners.

The document also places the protection of intellectual property as a key priority to continued economic security. The language of this section focuses primarily on industrial espionage and the interaction between nations, staying well and safely away from divisive discussions about file-sharing and pirating.

Throughout the document, a theme of standardization runs over many different sections. One particular area, that of law enforcement, sites the Budapest Convention as the cornerstone on which the administration will build its policies. Ratified by Congress in 2006, the treaty sought to define international standards and definitions for Internet crime. Many of these have already been made law in the U.S., but the White House aims to go further.

During the presentation of the document, some references were made to the recent uprisings across the Middle East as part of the so-called Arab Spring. Readers will recall that the governments of many of these countries sought to limit or completely shut down electronic communications as a means to suppress protests. The policy does not repudiate these actions specifically, but does maintain the primacy of free-flowing information online. Again, from the document:

We encourage people all over the world to use digital media to express opinions, share information, monitor elections, expose corruption, and organize social and political movements, and denounce those who harass, unfairly arrest, threaten, or commit violent acts against the people who use these technologies Such cultures of fear discourage others in the community from using new technologies to report, organize, and exchange ideas.

[…]The United States will be a tireless advocate of fundamental freedoms of speech and association through cyberspace; will work to empower civil society actors, human rights advocates, and journalists in their use of digital media; and will work to encourage governments to address real cyberspace threats, rather than impose upon companies responsibilities of inappropriately limiting either freedom of expression or the free flow of information.

This is just a small sampling of what’s covered in the document, which goes on to discuss spreading and strengthening Internet connectivity across the world, and the further development of defenses against cyber attacks at home. For those interested, the entire 25-page strategy document as well as an explanatory blog post are available at the White House website. Worthy in its own right, the true test will be in seeing how White House applies these priorities in the years to come.

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