Expert Group Coalesces on Cyberspace

By Farnsworth, Timothy | Arms Control Today, July/August 2013 | Go to article overview

Expert Group Coalesces on Cyberspace


Farnsworth, Timothy, Arms Control Today


A group of governmental experts from 14 countries, including the United States, Russia, and China, produced a "landmark consensus" report affirming "that international law, especially the UN Charter, applies to cyberspace," according to a State Department statement released June 7.

"This consensus sends a strong signal: States must act in cyberspace under the established international rules and principles that have guided their actions for decades-in peacetime and during conflict," the statement declared.

The report, which has not yet been made public, came out of a meeting held June 3-7 at the United Nations. The meeting was the last of three held since August 2012 by the UN Group of Governmental Experts on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security. The panel examined existing and potential threats from behavior in cyberspace and possible cooperative measures states can undertake to address them.

In a June 19 interview, a State Department official familiar with the discussions said the United States had fallen short of gaining consensus on the applicability of international law to behavior in cyberspace during meetings of an earlier group of governmental experts in 2009 and 2010. This time, the United States achieved its original goals and more, the official said.

The UN experts affirmed that the law of state responsibility applies to cyberspace, which means states must hold nonstate actors-terrorists, criminals, and activist hackers-accountable for wrongful acts in cyberspace that originate from the states' territory, the official said. It also means that states should not use these actors to commit wrongful acts in cyberspace on their behalf, the official said. According to many experts, both of these issues have long divided the United States from Russia and China with regard to establishing norms for behavior in cyberspace.

The report contains detailed recommendations on transparency and confidence-building measures that states can implement to help reduce the risk of conflict in cyberspace, the official said, emphasizing that this is an important difference from the report that resulted from the 2009-2010 meetings. The new report, the official said, calls for "increasing predictability and reducing misperception" by establishing highlevel communication and timely sharing of information on potential malicious activity between countries.

The official said the report by the experts group would provide a basis for further discussions by the international community about how to apply international law to cyberspace. …

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