Russia and China, two figureheads for internet censorship, collaborated to create a cybercrime convention and present it before the United Nations. The United Nations General Assembly has approved their resolution and agreed to create a committee to oversee the initiative sometime in 2020. On the surface, this looks to be a step in the right direction to keep citizens of the modern world safe in the digital age. A deeper dig reveals that this initiative may not be as innocuous as it appears.
How the Convention Appears
The resolution in its own words bills itself as “a comprehensive international convention on countering the use of information and communications technologies for criminal purposes” and that particular terminology would give the impression that it is both useful and necessary. There is a healthy precedent for UN resolutions aimed at curbing international crime, making this resolution appear to be commonplace. The problem only arises when the broader definition of the words “criminal purposes” means, especially in the two countries that have presented and backed the bill.
What The Convention Will Actually Do
Russia and China are both strong censorship states. Accessing websites and social media networks that aren’t monitored by the government is technically illegal. China has relied exclusively on an intranet for quite some time. Russia’s intranet, RuNet, is in the early stages of its implementation. Both countries aim to isolate their populations from the outside world.
Circumventing these blocks or bypassing restrictions could easily be regarded as using information and communication technologies for criminal purposes. This is hardly something that most governments would consider to be criminal. The governments of most first world countries, like the United States and most of Europe, have expressed concerns over the language of this resolution. Simply creating a social media posts that states dissatisfaction with a regime’s political move may become a UN recognized crime if the wording and design of the resolution are allowed to stand.
A United States official stated “It is precisely our fear that [this resolution] 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.” Human Rights Watch also called attention to the bill’s advocates, noting that every country on board has a history for repressing their population through severe internet censorship.
The Budapest Convention
In 2001, the UN adopted the Budapest Convention. The Budapest Convention is a less problematic version of the same concept. It gave other countries power to stop fraud, child pornography, and copyright violations that took place across borders. The language was clear, defined, and useful. Russia has always been an adamant opponent of The Budapest Convention, citing national sovereignty as a concern. Russia would rather push forward with their resolution that makes nearly anything online they don’t agree with a criminal offense.
The United States has voiced strong opposition to Russia’s current resolution, instead stating that the Budapest Convention should be fortified and expanded to cover more types of universally recognized crime. Keeping the language and procedure as specific as possible would prevent abuse of power and bar governments from adopting and utilizing bastardized interpretations of lax language to criminalize the mere act of free speech on the internet.
Russia’s move may render the effective and widely adopted Budapest Convention as redundant, as the current resolution contains language that would overtake the specific language already put in place.
What Can People of the World Do?
Free speech is in danger of being criminalized internationally. The best way to stay protected while utilizing the internet is to connect exclusively through a stealth VPN like TorGuard. Using an alias online can also prevent prying eyes from associating your activity with your identity. VPNs are more important now than ever – especially if you feel as though your freedom and the truth are being stifled by your oppressive government.