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Net Politics

CFR experts investigate the impact of information and communication technologies on security, privacy, and international affairs.

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Dangers Multiply for Human Rights in Cyberspace as RightsCon Approaches

by David Fidler
Protesters walk past a mock gravestone that reads "RIP Freedom of Speech" during a protest against new licensing regulations imposed by the government for online news sites, at Hong Lim Park in Singapore June 8, 2013. (Edgar Su/Reuters)

RightsCon takes place later this month in Brussels. Since its inception in 2011, RightsCon has been one of the primary gatherings where human rights activists, politicians, technologists, scholars, and businesses discuss issues at the intersection between human rights promotion and the internet. Unlike previous iterations, the stakes for this year’s event are undeniably higher given the current disruptive political environment that threatens human rights in real space and cyberspace.

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President Obama’s Pursuit of Cyber Deterrence Ends in Failure

by David Fidler
U.S. President Barack Obama (L) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G8 Summit at Lough Erne in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland June 17, 2013. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters).

The Obama administration responded to Russia’s cyber operations against Democratic National Committee officials last week. The punitive measures seek to deter Russia, and other adversaries, from cyber-related interference with U.S. elections. This strategy connects to the importance President Obama placed on deterrence in cybersecurity. His administration tried to strengthen cyber defenses (deterrence by denial), clarify international law’s application in cyberspace and develop international cyber norms (deterrence by norms), and threaten punishment for hostile cyber operations (deterrence by punishment). However, the election hacking episode highlights how the president’s efforts to achieve deterrence for cybersecurity have failed.

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The Year in Review: Major Setbacks for Digital Trade in 2016

by David Fidler
TPP e-commerce chapter Net Politics Cyber CFR A worker gathers items for delivery from the warehouse floor at Amazon's distribution center in Phoenix, Arizona November 22, 2013. (Ralph D. Freso /Reuters)

What a difference one year makes. When 2015 ended, prospects for digital trade looked good. In bilateral, regional, and multilateral contexts, initiatives were advancing that were, in part, designed to increase opportunities for digital commerce and strengthen rules for it. The European Union launched its Digital Single Market strategy and was negotiating the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement with the United States. In addition to TTIP, the United States concluded the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement with eleven countries, and was negotiating the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) with over twenty nations and the European Union.

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The UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Revisits Terrorism in Cyberspace

by David Fidler
Twitter hashtag for UN Counter-Terrorism Committee meetings on ICT terrorism, Nov. 30-Dec. 1, 2016 (D Fidler)

Last week, the UN Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee held meetings on preventing the exploitation of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for terrorist purposes. These meetings, like similar ones in December 2015, focused on the self-declared Islamic State’s use of the internet and social media and highlighted increased activities during 2016 against ICT terrorism by international organizations, governments, civil society, and tech companies. However, problems exposed in 2015 appeared again in these meetings, raising questions about what impact the increased actions have had.

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Democracy and Digital Technology After the 2016 Election

by David Fidler
CFR Cyber Net Politics U.S. President-elect Donald Trump greets supporters during his election night rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 9, 2016. (Mike Segar/Reuters).

Efforts to understand the causes and consequences of Donald J. Trump’s victory are underway, and this election illuminates features about the relationship between democratic politics and digital technologies that require attention. In this campaign, the template of digital progressive politics pioneered by the 2008 and 2012 campaigns of Barack Obama failed Hillary Clinton. In its place, Trump produced a digital populism that repudiated the Obama template. The 2016 campaign also revealed problems with cybersecurity that undermine notions the United States made progress in this domestic and foreign policy realm over the past eight years.

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Is Hacking Hillary Clinton Russian Payback for the “Freedom to Connect”?

by David Fidler
CFR Cyber Net Politics Russia DNC Hack A protester in Moscow in 2011. (Sime Simon).

Allegations the Russian government hacked the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and the Hillary Clinton campaign have generated intense attention, especially concerning the implications of possible Russian efforts to use the fruits of cyber espionage to influence the U.S. election. Although Russia rejects the allegations, these hacks might constitute payback for Clinton and Democrats, who championed direct U.S. cyber support for opponents of authoritarian regimes during the Obama administration. China and Russia have long complained the United States manipulates cyberspace to interfere in their domestic political affairs, and, under this perspective, airing the DNC’s digital dirty laundry through Wikileaks courtesy of Russian intelligence perhaps means turnabout is fair play.

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The Cyber Act of War Act: A Proposal for a Problem the Law Can’t Fix

by David Fidler
CFR Net Politics Cyber President Woodrow Wilson asks Congress to declare war on Germany in 1917.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed this week, Senator Mike Rounds argued the United States urgently needs “a clear and concise definition of when an attack in cyberspace constitutes an act of war.” To produce this definition, Rounds introduced the “Cyber Act of War Act” to remove “dangerous ambiguity” in U.S. policy and better prepare the United States “to respond to cyberattacks and better deter bad actors from attempting an attack on the U.S. in the first place.” Unfortunately for Rounds, his proposal would neither produce the definition he believes is critical nor advance policy from where it presently stands.

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