GENEVA An idea is circulating in Geneva to create a round of disarmament talks for a new type of arms control: waging war in cyberspace. This time, however, the talks would encompass more than UN member countries and include what’s known in UN-speak as multi-stakeholders such as private companies and civil society.
Geneva is under consideration to host ICANN, the organization that assigns internet domain names when the US gives up its control next year. The city is already home to several bodies that monitor internet activities, including the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the Internet Governance Forum, to name a few.
In early April a new body, known as the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP), was launched with the support of the Swiss government. The man who inspired it, Jovan Kurbalija of the DiploFoundation, said the goal is to enhance cooperation between international organizations, the private sector, governments and civil society about the various risks faced in the age of digital innovation.
For veteran security expert Daniel Warner, the threats faced this century are as serious as the wars of the past. “The First World War had gas, which had to be outlawed. The Second World War had nuclear bombs, which had to be outlawed. Now we have cyber attacks as a new form of warfare, and another type of international treaty is needed to say that this is not acceptable.”
Warner, who joined the security watchdog group the Democratic Control of the Armed Forces (DCAF) in January 2011, believes the Geneva Platform is the perfect place to begin such talks. For him, what is needed is a type of code of conduct. This could be similar to the one recently reached at DCAF for military and private security companies to improve oversight and accountability, which has been signed by 708 security companies so far.
On 5 May, the Swiss Intelligence Service (SRC) noted in its 2014 report that the security of information lies at the center of its concerns. The report said that although the security situation in Switzerland is “quiet and stable”, the country continues to be targeted despite intelligence treaties with other nations.
Warner was not surprised. “The Snowden documents indicated that things have gone beyond whatever agreements Switzerland has with the US regarding surveillance activities. The fact is, the US is able to listen to communications between other governments and international organizations on Swiss territory and to intercept private communications.”
“We are learning that because advances in technology happen so fast, it is becoming more difficult to safeguard secrets,” he said, adding that although it may be possible to protect data on CDs or storage keys, shielding telephone communications is more difficult. “With some kind of code of conduct, you would at least have a means of going public, of naming and shaming, a piece of paper saying this is what was agreed upon that should not be done and you have violated it.”