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Countries Back the Paris Call to Secure Cyberspace

In an attempt to develop a set of shared principles for securing cyberspace, France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, launched the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace at yesterday’s UNESCO Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

The Paris Call has the backing of more than 50 countries. Notably missing from the list are Russia, China and the United States. In addition to the many countries that have signed the declaration, private and civil organizations have made a commitment to support the collective effort to work on several initiatives, which include increasing prevention against and resilience to malicious online activity, protecting the accessibility and integrity of the internet and cooperating in order to prevent interference in electoral processes, according to the France Diplomatie.

“We condemn malicious cyber activities in peacetime, notably the ones threatening or resulting in significant, indiscriminate or systemic harm to individuals and critical infrastructure and welcome calls for their improved protection. We also welcome efforts by States and non-state actors to provide support to victims of malicious use of ICTs on an impartial and independent basis, whenever it occurs, whether during or outside of armed conflict,” wrote the Paris Call.

The willingness of supporting states to work together to prevent and recover from malicious attacks is indeed an admirable promise, but Paul Bischoff, privacy advocate at Comparitech.com said, “To be clear, countries who signed the pact did not agree to any specific rules, goals, or penalties. Instead, they agreed to figure all that out together at a later date. So the pact is mostly symbolic.”

A realistic concern Bischoff noted is the strong likelihood that Russia and China will not sign. “Many of the pact's measures imply taking action against them. Russia and China are the source of most of the world's malware and cyber-attacks, many of which are state sponsored. Russia in particular is at the forefront of everyone's mind when it comes to election hacking. The pact says it will try to 'prevent malign interference by foreign actors.' Who does 'foreign actors' refer to if not the Russians? 'Prevent ICT-enabled theft of intellectual property' is a finger-wag at China.

“The US is also involved in a fair deal of cyber-espionage, and it has its own interests to worry about. The US is home to most of the world's largest and most profitable tech and internet giants, many of which served as a medium for previous election hacking campaigns. This pact could seek to regulate them. And after seeing Trump walk away from the Paris Climate Accord, I'm not sure why anyone would be surprised at this result."

Though the intent of the call is to apply international humanitarian law to cyberspace, Colin Bastable, CEO of Lucy Security, said, “This is grandstanding by a politician, a nothingburger, made no more appetizing when juxtaposed with today’s other, more ominous, announcement that French civil servants will be embedded in Facebook. We can rest assured that personal cyber insecurity, the consumer issue of our times, will not be enhanced by either of these announcements from Paris.”

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