Open letter to President of the UN General Assembly on International Code of Conduct for Information Security

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Nairobi, September 28, 2011
H. E. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser
President of the 66th UN General Assembly

Dear Mr. President,

On behalf of a group of non-governmental and civil society organizations assembled in Nairobi for the 6th Internet Governance Forum (IGF), we want to draw your attention to an issue which has raised our concerns.

Four member states of the UN have proposed under Item 93 of the provisional agenda of the 66th UN General Assembly an "International Code of Conduct for Information Security" (A66/356). While we share a number of visions as that it is of great significance that Internet security "should be dealt with through international cooperation and in the spirit of mutual respect" and "highlighting the importance of the security, continuity and stability of the Internet and the need to protect the Internet and other information and communications technology networks from threats and vulnerabilities", we have concerns in particular with three paragraphs of the proposed code of conduct which touch key issues of Internet Governance and human rights.

The Tunis Agenda, adopted by Heads of UN member states at the 2nd phase of the World Summit on the Information Society has defined Internet Governance as "the development and application by Governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet."

What we miss in the proposed code of conduct is any reference to the multistakeholder approach, established by the Tunis Agenda as best practice in internet policymaking, and the role of civil society in strengthening the security and stability of the Internet as proposed by the Code of Conduct.

In Paragraph (g) of the proposed code, the need is underlined to establish "a multilateral, transparent and democratic Internet management system to ensure an equitable distribution of resources, facilitate access for all and ensure a stable and secure functioning of the Internet." While we agree with the general idea we believe that a stable and secure functioning of the Internet  can be reached only by involving all stakeholders, including civil society.

In Paragraph (d) it is proposed that states should "lead all elements of society, including its information and communication partnerships with the private sector, to understand their roles and responsibilities with regard to information security, in order to facilitate the creation of a culture of information security and the protection of critical information infrastructure." Our concern is that this excludes civil society which plays an important role in the creation of a culture of information security.

We welcome the commitment, in Paragraph (a) of the letter, to the Charter of the United Nations, including "respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms", but would like to caution that the reference to "respect for the diversity of history, culture and social systems of all countries" might be interpreted as diminishing the commitment of the UNGA to the universality of human rights.

We further acknowledge international efforts to combat online crime and curtail online terrorist activities, as states would pledge under Paragraph (c) of the proposal. However, we would like to draw the attention of the General Assembly to the broad language that provides for cooperation in "curbing the dissemination of information that incites terrorism, secessionism or extremism or that undermines other countries’ political, economic and social stability, as well as their spiritual and cultural environment". This language exceeds the permissable limitations on the freedom of expression outlined in Article 19 (3) of the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and could be easily interpreted by governments as allowing them to severely limit within their countries the right to freedom of expression.

In a context of multiple new initiatives from governments, through domestic and various multilateral fora, towards new laws and frameworks of principles on the control of online communications, we urge the UN committee which addresses whether to take the proposed document further, to consider our concerns and uphold and defend the rights of all citizens.

Yours sincerely,

Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus (IGC)
Bits of Freedom
Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) Bangalore
Consumers International
Digitale Gesellschaft e.V.
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
Electronic Frontier Finland
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
European Digital Rights (EDRi)
Mediterranéan Federation of Internet Associations (FMAI)
Internews International
IT for Change
Juliagruppen (The Julia Group)
La Quadrature du Net
May First/People Link Leadership
NURPA - Net Users' Rights Protection Association
Open Rights Group
Pacific Young Professionals Training Development Forum
World Press Freedom Committee of Freedom House

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