Trump administration has taken yet another distant step, contradicting the opinion of several others. While 51 countries signed the international cyber agreement limiting the use of certain cyber weapons, the United States joined the few Western nations and declined to sign the non-binding declaration, this week.
On Monday, the French President Emmanuel Macron released a “Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace” at the Paris Peace Forum, preceding the armistice centennial that marked the end of World War I. It is a latest initiative in a string of efforts towards the “digital Geneva Convention,” which prohibits the attacks aiming at civilians.
The Paris statement is designed to establish international norms for the internet, and would prohibit “indiscriminate or systemic harm to individuals and critical infrastructure,” including shutting down an electric grid.
It also demands to “prevent malign interference by foreign actors aimed at undermining electoral processes though malicious cyber activities.”
The declaration was signed by 51 counties in total, including all the members of the European Union. Besides, over 130 companies as well as 90 universities and nongovernmental group also backed the international cyber agreement.
Macron’s accord was aimed particularly at the democracies, which mainly includes the countries that are most often accused of conducting state-sponsored attacks. However, some such countries — Russia, North Korea, China and Iran — didn’t participate in the process.
Israel is another country that has conducted one of the most delicate cyber attacks in history — the Stuxnet attack on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program — and has also declined to sign the declaration.
Moreover, Australia and Turkey also joined these few countries that didn’t sign the accord.
On the other hand, three of the five countries — Britain, Canada and New Zealand — that are a part of the ‘Five Eyes’, the English-speaking victors of World War II who share intelligence information, signed the accord.
Some key players considered the fact that several companies and governments came together on the vision for keeping the internet free of any malicious activity, as a breakthrough.
The president of Microsoft, Brad Smith said, “Most of the world’s democracies are rallying around the need to protect all democracies from cyber attacks. You have to start by building a strong coalition among the democracies themselves.”
Moreover, companies and nongovernmental groups surpassed the governments as signatories. While the Trump administration declined to sign the cyber agreement, several prominent technology companies of the US — Microsoft, Facebook, and Google — are backing it.
Most principles of the Paris agreement are to restrict actions like attacks on “the public core of the internet” and heft of intellectual property, including trade secrets and industrial designs. The Washington has also condemned such violations, and has alleged Chinese, North Korean, Iranian and Russian hackers for offenses, in the past.
However, the Trump administration didn’t give any reason for its decision to not sign the declaration. The New York Times reported that one diplomat, who is not authorized to speak publicly on policy issues, said that the country may possibly sign the principles later. Some have speculated that the administration’s antipathy to international agreements may have made it doubtful about joining the accord.
While the Trump administration has always condemned Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, it has also been a victim of interference in foreign elections in the past, including Italy, Latin America and Iran. Most probably, the Trump administration is leery about the cyber agreement, as it would restrict the illegal activities like data manipulation, espionage, or attacks on infrastructure, and the administration might use it in the future conflicts with other countries.
The United States declining the international call to protect civilians against cyber attacks and discourage digital meddling in elections largely reflect the reluctance by the Trump administration. While it has several times expressed dissent with other countries who have committed cyber crimes, the administration is itself afraid to limit its options of offensive cyber weapons.