If you see the president of France, Emmanuel Macron, scratching his head, chances are it has something to do with Trump’s latest visit to Paris. Aside from a few rain-related snafus, the biggest American-made thorn in the side of fellow diplomats—all gathered together to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the World War I armistice—was the lack of a united front on the topic of cybersecurity.
Noticeably absent from the list of over 50 countries, 130 private companies, and 90 charitable groups and universities, the U.S. failed to sign an international agreement on the basic principles of digital security, recently revealed through the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace.
What does the agreement say exactly?
Everyone knows the internet can be a dangerous place, and this international agreement as part of the Paris Peace Forum outlines the need for companies to work in conjunction with governments to clean up the mean streets of cyberspace. Here are the basic tenets:
- Put a stop to election hacking.
- Private sector groups, sit up and fly right.
- Cease and desist on the theft of intellectual property.
- Uphold human rights, dignities, and privacies online.
- Implement basic security practices, including addressing vulnerabilities and reporting in a timely fashion.
All in all, not such a big ask in the cybersecurity world. And really, not even a list of specific demands—just a list of basic, common sense suggestions, which is why the non-cooperation of certain countries is so baffling and more to point, disturbing. The main principle of the pact, to “condemn malicious cyber activities in peacetime, notably the ones threatening or resulting in significant, indiscriminate, or systemic harm to individuals and critical infrastructure and welcome calls for their improved protection,” is seems like what all responsible governments and organizations around the world should begin focusing on, especially if we hope to create a safer future for the digital age.
Who did what to whom?
Aside from the U.S., two of the biggest names in the hacking world—Russia and China—both refused to sign on, as well as the highly restrictive governments of North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. As a bit of a lone wolf in the cybersecurity industry, Israel also declined. Considering the west typically assumes a more liberal attitude toward internet-related issues than more authoritarian nations, this move by America came as a surprise to many—including its own citizens.
Another key absentee from the agreement was Australia who, along with U.S., was one of the original founders of the powerful Five Eyes digital surveillance alliance. The other three countries of Canada, New Zealand, and the U.K., all signed on the dotted line.
While big players like Google, IBM, Facebook, Kaspersky Labs, and Microsoft all agreed to the pledge, while the Chinese firms like ZTE and Huawei (who have been accused of intellectual property violations in the past) refused.
What does this mean?
It’s a little hard to tell how this accord—or discord, as the case may be—will shake out on the world’s stage, but one thing is for sure: countries like the U.K. and France are positioned to grab the reins of cybersecurity regulations and start establishing norms in the industry and beyond. But the absence of the U.S. in this effort reflects more than just a negligent administration, it adds to the growing history of American separation from global unity, as was demonstrated by their withdrawal from the Paris agreement on climate change.
Some experts say this hesitance on the part of America is related to a simple game of cat and mouse, whereby Russian commits a blatant violation and the U.S. refuses to cooperate with anyone until they’ve had their comeuppance. And the fact that China also refused to play nice only makes Trump angrier, pushing him to “go rogue” with the other international cyber-miscreants. Regardless, this obvious violation of global understanding and trust will surely result in future resentment and unrest—and more practically, an increasingly dangerous online environment.