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The United States and its Western allies are urging opposition to a Russian-led resolution at the United Nations that they warn is a thinly veiled effort to create global norms that endorse state control of the internet.

The resolution, to be voted on today, would pave the way for a global treaty on cybercrime. Though the resolution itself is worded innocuously, the United States, its allies and human-rights groups see it as an opportunity for countries such as Russia and China to create a U.N.-approved standard that would permit the blocking of websites deemed critical of government authorities and allow the use of digital technologies to monitor dissidents.

"The big picture is that Russia and China are seeking to establish a set of global norms that support their view of how the internet and information should be controlled," said a European official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue. "They're using every means they can in the U.N. and elsewhere to promote that. This is not about cybercrime. This is about who controls the internet."

Russia has framed the treaty as an alternative to the Budapest Convention, a 2001 treaty whose aim is to foster international cooperation in cybercrime matters. That treaty is subject to rule-of-law and human-rights safeguards.

Russia has criticized the treaty as an infringement on state sovereignty. Despite the fact that 64 nations -- including the United States, Japan, Morocco, Costa Rica and all but two of the European Union states -- have ratified the treaty, a Russian official at the U.N., Maria Zabolotskaya, has argued the global community has no "full-fledged international legal basis for cooperation" on cybercrime. Russia and China have not joined the Budapest treaty.

Though a U.N. treaty would not be binding for members that do not sign and ratify it, State Department officials fear its creation would give authoritarian states such as Russia and China a global U.N.-endorsed standard they can point to, an agency official said. "That's what they're shooting for," the official said.

Russia's goal for more than two decades has been to achieve a global treaty that establishes principles of sovereignty in cyberspace. This month, a "sovereign internet" law took effect, allowing the Russian government to block internet traffic from outside Russia "in an emergency" and to require internet service providers to install software that can filter and reroute traffic, part of an effort to establish what one U.S. official called a "digital Iron Curtain."

The sovereignty debate has been most active in the realm of national security, where U.N. member states have for years debated norms governing cyberespionage and cyberwarfare and where Western officials have for the moment succeeded in keeping the Sino-Russian approach from prevailing.

The proposed resolution contains statements about the rise in digital crimes and their effect on the stability of critical infrastructure. But it does not define how digital technologies are used for criminal purposes, an omission that "opens the door to criminalizing ordinary online behavior that is protected under international human rights law," a coalition of human-rights groups wrote in a letter to the General Assembly.

A Section on 11/18/2019

Print Headline: U.N. measure called internet-control bid


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