On October 17-28, 2013, present and former Citizen Lab research fellows Tim Maurer and Camino Kavanagh attended the Seoul Conference on Cyberspace. It was the third conference in the series launched by the UK government in 2011, followed by the 2012 Conference in Budapest, Hungary. This year participants hosted by the South Korean government included some 43 ministers and vice-ministers as well as delegates from some 87 countries — the highest number yet, making it one of the most high profile international conferences on cyberspace policy to date.
Panel topics ranged from economic growth to cybersecurity and human rights with a particular focus on capacity building. Another panel focused on the international security dimension of cyberspace and its uses, and progress on different norms and confidence building measures (CBMs) processes. While presentations during the opening ceremony included hawkish language such as “a single click can cause an airplane to crash,” Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt offered seven principles to guide states surveillance activity outlined here.
Two of the key open questions debated prior to the conference were: (1) what would the outcome look like and (2) would there be a fourth conference?
In terms of results, the conference outcomes include a “Seoul Framework for and Commitment to Open and Secure Cyberspace,” which is available here. The organizers also announced that a fourth conference will take place in the spring of 2015 in The Hague, Netherlands.
The Seoul Conference therefore did achieve its goal of becoming more outcome-oriented. However, some civil society groups expressed criticism over the lack of inclusion of civil society organizations at the conference. It also remained unclear how the conference series relates to other existing institutions and processes such as the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) taking place only a week later in Bali, Indonesia. This has led to the arguably paradoxical situation in which a conference series that was initiated and has been hosted by governments supportive of broader participation in discussions and debates on cyberspace and its uses, is increasingly being perceived as top-down, dominated by and reinforcing the role of governments.
Notwithstanding, one of the side meetings held in the margins of the Conference and hosted by ICT4 Peace included a strong focus on how to ensure broader participation of a range of stakeholders from industry, civil society and academia, particularly as a means to provide expertise input to ongoing processes on the norms and CBMs processes. The report from the meeting is available here.
Apart from these important open questions, the conference has undoubtedly raised the level of awareness among senior political leaders about the different and complex challenges that have emerged with regard to cyberspace and its uses thus far. What remains unclear is what this level of awareness will result in.