Most people who advocate for the United States to support a Paris-based, multilateral agreement are talking about the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Incidentally, the city is also the namesake for another important initiative pending U.S. support. This one, however, is about the internet.
The Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace is a non-binding initiative calling on adopters to “unite around…nine common principles to secure cyberspace.” Announced in November 2018, the principles range from protecting infrastructure to prohibiting hack-backs. They represent high-minded ideals of what an open, well-regulated internet should look like. While the U.S. has yet to support the agreement, the call currently has 75 nations as signatories, representing almost every continent.
Perhaps most crucially, the Call has drawn more than just nations. Microsoft, Facebook, and Google are among the 626 companies and private sector entities which support the agreement. 342 civil organizations, such as the Center for Democracy and Technology, have also endorsed the Call. Even in the U.S., Virginia, Colorado, and Washington state have independently signed onto the Call. Unlike the U.N.’s working groups on cybersecurity, the Paris Call makes a strong appeal to private sector organizations and even municipalities. These entities are critical to the future of an open and safe internet, and it is heartening to see the Paris Call recognize this.
Of course, the Call is still missing the valuable support of the U.S. The State Department has stated that while the U.S. supports the objectives of the Paris Call, the drafting process did not allow them to “shape the text or clarify certain ambiguities.” This should not stop the U.S. from taking this precious opportunity at global leadership on cybersecurity.
Indeed, the U.S. knows how difficult progress on international cyber standards can be. In 2017, the U.N.’s Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on information and communications technologies (ICT) – led by the U.S. – failed to come to agreement on a final report. The next year, the U.N. created two groups for the same purpose. One is led by Russia, the other by the U.S. Competition is expected. Significant agreements are not.
This is not to say that the U.N. groups are impractical; rather, they are grounds for competitive, pragmatic negotiations between competing interests. Joining the Paris Call, alternatively, would allow the U.S. to stand by its highest ambitions for an open, free internet. This would distinguish the U.S. from China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea; authoritarian adversaries which have refrained from joining the Call.
Additionally, the U.S would stand alongside important European and Five Eyes intelligence allies. As the U.S. attempts to promote its values on technology issues like 5G security, strengthening these relationships will prove invaluable.
The Paris Call is a statement of principles, supported by a broad coalition of states and private organizations. It may not have enforcement mechanisms, but that is not its purpose. Rather, it serves as a call to our highest hopes and ambitions for the internet. The U.S. should heed this call.