Russia and China after your internet


Nothing good ever comes of when these two take interest in something:

The United Nations on Friday approved a Russian-led bid that aims to create a new convention on cybercrime, alarming rights groups and Western powers that fear a bid to restrict online freedom.

The General Assembly approved the resolution sponsored by Russia and backed by China, which would set up a committee of international experts in 2020.

The panel will work to set up “a comprehensive international convention on countering the use of information and communications technologies for criminal purposes,” the resolution said.

The United States, European powers and rights groups fear that the language is code for legitimizing crackdowns on expression, with numerous countries defining criticism of the government as “criminal.”

China heavily restricts internet searches to avoid topics sensitive to its communist leadership, as well as news sites with critical coverage.

A number of countries have increasingly tried to turn off the internet, with India cutting off access in Kashmir in August after it stripped autonomy to the Muslim-majority region and Iran taking much of the country offline as it cracked down on protests in November.

“It is precisely our fear that (a new convention) would allow the codification at an international and global level of these types of controls that’s driving our opposition and our concerns about this resolution,” a US official said.

Any new UN treaty that spells out internet controls would be “inimical to the United States’ interests because that doesn’t tally with the fundamental freedoms we see as necessary across the globe,” he said.

It would be nice to think that countries like Russia and China genuinely care about online crime, as corruption and crime ridden as they themselves are, but one does not have to be too paranoid to suspect that the cybercrime they are most concerned about combating is cybercrime against the state. As the article mentions, China is world-infamous for its “Great Firewall” and a tight grip on what goes on online within its borders (often, hypocritically, assisted by the Western tech giants). Russia, on the other hand, has been conducting tests of its own internal internet, Runet, which could be used to cut the county off from the rest of the world.  It’s not hard to guess what sort of websites and online activity could be banned by the Kremlin on its national intranet.

This comes just weeks after Putin’s government approved a law that will require all electronic devices in the country to have a suite of Russian-made apps preinstalled. It frames the law as a way to promote Russian business and make phones easier to use. However, it may be more about getting people to use services over which the government has control. These apps would also be more likely to work in the event Runet takes over for the open internet.

These aren’t the sort of regimes that have the best interests of a free, liberal, democratic society at heart. And the way the international politics work, they can almost always rely on a majority against the West in forums like the United Nations, which is why the UN is such a joke, and a potentially dangerous one at that. The UN resolution in question passed by a 79-60 vote with 33 abstentions.  Human Rights Watch’s Louis Charbonneau called its list of sponsors “a rogue’s gallery of some of the earth’s most repressive governments.” He notes that “If the plan is to develop a convention that gives countries legal cover for internet blackouts and censorship, while creating the potential for criminalizing free speech, then it’s a bad idea.”

All the world’s rogue regimes, particularly those with aspirations to international influence, have been taking what and where they can, but let us not forget that in an effort to appear like a “good global citizen”, the United States has been unwisely giving away, such as relinquishing three years back all control over the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.  The lesson is never learned that no one out there actually is appreciative of such gestures, and in the long term they come back to bite the West.