The proposed code of conduct would be voluntary, but it is clearly aimed at staking out more ground for nation-states when it comes to the Internet. As the document's preamble states, “policy authority for Internet-related public issues is the sovereign right of States”—not of the IETF, or of ICANN, or of a multistakeholder process that includes business and civil society.
The code demands that countries show respect for “human rights and fundamental freedoms” and pledges support for “combating criminal and terrorist activities that use information and communications technologies, including networks.” States would also pledge not to use Internet tools to “carry out hostile activities or acts of aggression.”
But the document commits its signatories to “curbing the dissemination of information that incites terrorism, secession-ism, or extremism, or that undermines other countries' political, economic, and social stability, as well as their spiritual and cultural environment.”
Governments will also have the responsibility to “lead all elements of society, including its information and communication partnerships with the private sector, to understand the roles and responsibilities with regard to information security.”
This is all quite general, but it's not hard to see how curbing information that undermines “social stability” is going to lead to problems; indeed, the generality of the wording is part of the problem. Would other signatory countries be asked by China to start cracking down on pro-Falun Gong posts, for instance?
Syracuse professor and Internet governance expert Martin Mueller warns of the dangers such codes of conduct could pose. “That section would give any state the right to censor or block international communications for almost any reason,” he writes on the Internet Governance Project blog. “Such as, let's say, Facebook mobilizations against dictators, dissident blogs, etc. ‘Undermining the spiritual and cultural environment’ in particular could be used to filter out any views a government didn't like, and could even be used for trade protectionism in cultural industries.”
For Mueller, the code of conduct “is yet another futile attempt to overlay territorial sovereignty on an Internet that is fundamentally inconsistent with it… The UN should not be allowed to ratify language that attempts to cram the global Internet back into national boxes.”