Sunday, February 07, 2010

Google and China: the fallout continues

Since I wrote my last post suggesting (rather speculatively) that Google's apparent willingness to pull out of China might be linked to US state fears of (and pressure concerning?) cyber espionage against data held by Google about US citizens instead of/as well as Chinese dissidents, the world has become very interested in the succeeding revelation by Google that they are now working with the NSA to improve their cyber defenses.

This raises all kinds of further questions: doesn't Google have as much expertise in computer security itself as the Spooks? Or as someone put it even more conspiratorially on Twitter: hadn't we always assumed Google was working with the spooks? In which case what drove a public admission of it now?

All fun stuff and clearly far beyond the ken of a mere academic lawyer. But t0day's Grauniad has an interesting quote:

"Google is unlikely to be turning to the NSA for technical advice. Why then is it calling in the spooks? One reason could be that the world's dominant internet company is now in the crossfire of early skirmishes of the next cold war.

This thought was reinforced by Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman. He'd been to the International Institute for Strategic Studies for a briefing on its annual survey, Military Balance. "The thing I found most interesting," he said, "was the confirmation that cyber-security is the hot issue … John Chipman, the head of the IISS, says the institute is about to launch a study of cyber-security which raises all sorts of issues. What if a country's infrastructure could be destroyed as effectively by a cyber-attack as by an invasion of tanks? How do you defend against that? How do you identify the culprits? What does international law have to say – might we have to revise our definitions of what constitutes an act of war?"

"Chipman argues, plausibly, that we are now at an equivalent period to the early 1950s. Just as strategists had to devise whole new doctrines to cope with the nuclear age, so they will have to come up with new ideas to cope with the information age."

I've noted before that I find it difficult to see how current international law can define cyber attacks and especially cyber espionage as armed attacks justifying, eg, the doctrine of self defense. But I've also now been to several events where military lawyers seemed to be if not saying then at least moving toeards exactly that. It is clear we are entering the era of what is sometimes called "justificatory discourse" regarding cyber war, or PR in less elevated circles. (The irony of the fact this is playing out as the Iraq inquiry goes on is not lost on Pangloss. Nor that MI5 appears to be trying to get in on the action by revealing what bad stuff Chinese cyber spies have been doing inthe UK too.) The same thing, is, of course, happening in China too: one report from there notes that the average Chinese citizen is mostly apathetic to the loss of Google but Chinese news coverage has " focused not on Google but on what is perceived as US "information imperialism." "

And meanwhile, the ever excellent Ray Corrigan points out (I think - lots of interesting stuff packed in here) that cyberwar may be becoming the latest bogeyman, following hard on pedophiles and alQuaeda to justify incursions into our civil liberties. And that we are hardly ones to condemn China's Great Firewall, when we do an awful lot of net censorship ourselves. (See further, dare I say, my own chapter here, which is the basis of the paper on cyber filtering and free speech I'm giving in a few days.)

OT: Looking at B2fxx reminds me I have been derelict of duty not to mention my collague Chris Marsden's much awaited book on 'Net neutrality: towards a co-regulatory solution' is not only just published by Bloomsbury but also available for free download under a creative commons licence at . Lordy lordy such wondrous times we live in!!

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