Statistically, there’s (almost) certainly a correlation between chandeliers and successful diplomacy. I might not be able to prove it, but over the years, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has conducted its high-level business in high-ceilinged rooms, chandeliers all a-glitter above the men in suits.
So the upcoming London Conference on Cyberspace is a very different beast indeed to the sort of discussions this department is used to. The FCO has an ‘approach’ to the digital world – put simply: in favour of freedom of speech, keen on the social andprosperity upsides to the medium, concerned about possible threats to individuals and countries by misuse. But there is no policy about the digital world, written down on parchment and carrying the whiff of sealing wax.
So an FCO-hosted conference on ‘cyberspace’ is going to be unusual, to say the least. Discussing behaviours that are ungoverned, and possibly even ungovernable, and ways to encourage, but not demand, good behaviours over bad is a different approach – this is not one set of governments trying to reach agreement with another set. There is no government of the internet, as such, nowhere to turn to find certainty or agreement.
What the conference is supposed to be about is kicking off debates that need to happen, but without setting out an outcome. So the conference, on November 1st and 2nd, is about discussing some key themes – prosperity; social good; freedom of access and expression; cyber crime and international security. Conclusions won’t be drawn, but themes and aspirations will be fleshed out as to how to secure the benefits while tackling threats to personal and national security. It is not an arena in which treaties and firm agreements really work – the technology is moving too quickly for hard and fast rules, but it is an area in which the FCO can lead international debate by explaining how we see the rules of digital emerging – developing into the ‘London Agenda’, a set of approaches to help shape the digital landscape.
Given that it’s debate, not outcome, that will be the most important thing, it’s important that as many people as possible get involved. The event itself is full, and includes Hillary Clinton, but there are opportunities for contributing – tweeting questions to the conference, raising points on Facebook, writing your own blogs. Because we’ll be paying attention. Questions put using the #londoncyber hashtag and the Foreign Secretary’s Facebook channel will be put to speakers in each of the sessions as we go along. Blog posts and tweets will be added to our Storify links. All debate is useful and helpful and we’ll try and encourage and curate it as we go along.
After all, you know this better than we do.