William Hague rejects government suppression of internet

William Hague called for a global consensus on internet freedom at the London Cyber Conference today, opposing the “heavy hand of state control”.

Despite considerations at a COBRA meeting to turn the lights off on social networks at the peak of the summer riots in the UK, Hague demanded less intrusion and censorship online. 

“We reject the view that government suppression of the internet, phone networks and social media at times of unrest is acceptable,” he said in speech today, which had Euro Commission Digital boss Neelie Kroes and other internet policy makers in attendance.

“In fact we would go further, and boil this concept down to a single proposition: that behaviour that is unacceptable offline is also unacceptable online, whether it is carried out by individuals or by governments.”

Hague even took a swipe at nations where state intrusion and censorship is rife, despite calls of British hypocrisy over the government’s own monitoring of the net.   

“We know that this is not a view that is shared by all countries,” he said, failing to include ‘or other Cabinet members’ for that matter.

“But states will find it harder and harder to try to restrict their citizens’ demands for the freedom to express their ideas.”

“I believe we must aspire to a future for cyberspace which is not stifled by government control or censorship,” he continued.

Following comments over the growing number of online criminality, which GCHQ spy-boss Iain Lobban described as “disturbing”, Hague also warned of the threat of cyber attacks.

He said that Britain is increasing its defences with a four year programme aided with £650 million of government funding in order to build “cyber security infrastructure”.

He warned that if action wasn’t taken to protect the government and businesses then a “darker scenario” could prevail.   For the private sector this was seen as piling extra costs to business due to cyber crime or companies being held to ransom by hacktivists, as well as driving investment away if the country is viewed as insecure.

For the government Hague warned of “critical” threats to infrastructure, loss in tax revenue or defrauding of government services, as well theft of confidential information of national importance, as Lobban noted recently.

Hague called on all governments to join in his “model for internet governance”.  As part of this he put forth seven central principles as basis of cooperation between states, businesses and organisations to fight problems facing the web.

These included acting within international law; ensuring access to internet where possible; respecting privacy and individual rights; and promotion of a competitive business environment.

Hague said that building such a consensus between states is a “great challenge”, which requires the same effort as eradicating poverty or tackling climate change.