China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are asking you to trust them with your Internet.
Last week, the four countries proposed an Internet “code of conduct” at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Their document calls on signatories to curb “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.”
That makes sense coming from some of the most repressive Internet climates on the planet. Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders lists Uzbekistan and China as “internet enemies.” Tajikistan regularly blocks critical sites.
Syracuse professor and Internet governance expert Martin Mueller warns of the dangers such codes of conduct could pose. “That section would give any state the right to censor or block international communications for almost any reason,” he writes on the Internet Governance Project blog. “Such as, let's say, Facebook mobilizations against dictators, dissident blogs, etc. ‘Undermining the spiritual and cultural environment’ in particular could be used to filter out any views a government didn't like, and could even be used for trade protectionism in cultural industries.”
For Mueller, the code of conduct “is yet another futile attempt to overlay territorial sovereignty on an Internet that is fundamentally inconsistent with it… The UN should not be allowed to ratify language that attempts to cram the global Internet back into national boxes.”
Just in case the code of conduct doesn’t work out, the Moscow-led CSTO, which includes Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, has begun military exercises reportedly designed to counter Arab Spring-like threats. The Arab Spring, recall, was fueled by that pesky thing called the Internet.
If nothing else, this initiative offers at least one reason for hope: Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, who often look on the verge of war, have actually agreed on something.