A 7th International Safer Internet Forum, the industry’s prime annual online security conference, took place in Moscow at the Rossiya Segodnya press centre on April 27, 2016. Organised by the Safe Internet League, the event for the first time hosted a Russia-China Information and Communication Technologies Development and Security Forum which featured a delegation of 50 IT experts and government officials from China. The two Forums culminated in a roadmap document providing for a set of joint Russia-China moves in matters of ICT development and safety. In particular, a joint research project is scheduled for 2016, which is to lead to joint steps to improve international ICT legislation and concerted international initiatives. The results will be submitted to the two countries’ leadership, as well as made public at the next Russia-China Forum (to be announced).
On top of that, the Roadmap provides for coordinated action to ensure the safety and stability of operation of the two nation’s top-level domain zones within a ‘pilot’ zone.
The bulk of the responsibility for implementing the Roadmap rests on Russia’s Safe Internet League and China’s Cybersecurity Association.
The concrete measures envisioned by the document were discussed by the two Forums’ delegates. ‘Governments have their own online interests. To hope that we could promote those interests through transnational IT corporations [like the US-based ICANN], ignoring our own domestic capabilities, would be folly. This matter is directly related to national security. The dominance of transnational corporations leads to monopolisation of markets, whose national boundaries have not been defined’ said Aide to President of the Russian Federation Igor Schegolev in his opening address. Mr Schegolev also noted that the Internet in its present state did not meet the purpose for which it was created — namely, advancing the humanitarian development of mankind — and that to return it to its true purpose was the job of governments.
A similar view was expressed by Head of General Office of the CPC Central Committee’s Central Leading Group for Internet Security and Informatisation Lu Wei, who was leading the Chinese delegation: ‘The Internet is placing an ever increasing value on the individual, their personality and personal data. This is precisely why our nations ought to foster favourable conditions for their citizens online. Online freedom is also a great responsibility for each citizen. Complete freedom can bring not only the threat of terrorism, but also threats to the life and freedom of citizens. Our countries are facing a robust campaign of information propaganda. That is why we must give serious attention to checking and filtering incoming information. Without regulation there can be no standing up against online scams and terrorist propaganda.’
Specific measures both in place and yet to be enacted to ensure the safety of Internet users were spelled out by Head of Roskomnadzor Aleksandr Zharov. ‘Russia has already taken exceptional steps to ensure the safety of its citizens: the law, according to which all Russian Internet users’ personal data must be stored on Russian soil. Most of the companies processing personal data of Russian citizens have already complied. And, by the way, Chinese companies were among the first to confine the handling of Russian personal data to Russia. But there is still the issue of Internet encryption to be tackled. In Russian-language Internet up to 30% of traffic is encrypted. This aspect requires us to find a golden mean of regulation. Moreover, the growing popularity of mobile devices calls for a unified set of rules to govern their function and the principles by which they should be regulated, as it is with websites’ said Mr Zharov.
Information sovereignty of citizens was the subject of a speech by member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and chief architect of China’s Golden Shield Project Fang BinXing. ‘One cannot claim the Internet to be a space of absolute freedom where there is no place for national sovereignty. How are we to combat online fraud and crime if there are no boundaries, no rights, no duties? This is a mistake. Sovereignty in general, and digital sovereignty in particular, is the inherent right of every nation and its citizens. For example, the United States of America is actively developing its sovereignty, despite the outward rhetoric supposedly rejecting the idea.’
A nation’s right to digital sovereignty was also the point made by Safe Internet League Chairman of the Board Konstantin Malofeyev: The Internet was unveiled by ICANN in 1974, 17 years after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, and 13 years it put the first human in space. Still, even to the Soviet Union it never occurred to try to be the sole nation regulating the cosmic space. The Internet is a space, too, a novel, digital space. And yet, the one nation who invented the Internet somehow aspires to govern it, refusing to let other nation partake in its regulation. Within the International Telecommunication Union there have been attempts, by, among others, Russian and Chinese delegations, to prepare a UN-level convention providing for some kind of Internet regulation. These attempts were consistently derailed by the US and their client states, so to this day no such convention exists.’
Another way of protecting Russian digital sovereignty, according to Senator Yelena Mizulina, would be to implement provider-level pre-filtering. ‘As time goes on, there are more and more arguments in favour of introducing nation-wide pre-filtering. That way we would protect our digital sovereignty, our traditional values. It is time to move from words and discussions towards real actions. Given the controversial nature of the question, I suggest augmenting the working group for industry representatives established by the Safe Internet League [a working group for discussing the idea of Internet pre-filtering was established by the League in February 2016, which included representatives of Rostelecom, Ashmanov & Partners, Information Democracy Development Foundation, pro-family organisations, and NGOs — ed.] with a similar working group within the Federation Council.’
Children’s Ombudsman Pavel Astakhov was also speaking of the need for Internet regulation: ‘The development of new technologies, of mass media is, on the one hand, opening immense possibilities for education, research, scientific discovery etc. Yet, on the other hand, it hold unprecedented risks and threats to security, to moral, physical, and spiritual development of Internet users, most especially children. Criminals are using every modern tool provided by the Internet to corrupt the children, to lure them into prostitution, to exploit them sexually etc. Unfortunately, in the last five years there has been a 63% increase in the number of registered cases of online distribution and trafficking of child pornography, and the number of child victims of these crimes grew six-fold.’
Besides the quality of Internet content, guests of the Forum discussed problems with the quality of the high-tech equipment used for providing access to the Internet. ‘Such equipment could be sidestepping the necessary certification and reporting procedures, failing to match the declared technical specifications, or, indeed, have undeclared capabilities. This, too, can affect our Internet security’ commented Head of Russia’s Federal Communications Agency Oleg Dukhovnitskiy.
Summing up the two conferences’ agendas, President of Information Democracy Development Foundation Ilya Massukh stated: ‘Cooperation with the People’s Republic of China will provide us with a serious impetus to stand against the efforts of some nations to usurp Internet ownership. The tasks at hand are: defining national online jurisdictions; hammering out a unified set of requirements for user agreements that would show the users the state is protecting them; proactively protecting our citizens online, promoting on the international stage open-source encryption protocols that could be developed jointly with, for example, our Chinese colleagues; protecting personal data of Internet users.’
The 7th International Safer Internet Forum also hosted workshops for Russian and Chinese IT experts, with topics like Media and Communication Services Security, Import substitution, Personal data safety, Quality of Internet content, Combatting cybercrime, Preventing suicidal behaviour online, Countering new religious movements’ online activities, E-Democracy etc.
The Russia-China Forum on ICT Development and Security is the result of a cooperation agreement signed last December by the Safe Internet League and the Cybersecurity Association of China. Its goals are strengthening the cooperation between the two nations in the sphere of information security, sharing best practices, laying the groundwork for concerted ICT development, research, and wargames.