Friday 17 Aug 2018 | 23:40 | SYDNEY
Friday 17 Aug 2018 | 23:40 | SYDNEY

Australia's new cyber ambassador



21 April 2016 15:30

This morning, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull launched Australia's new cyber strategy, the first in seven years. Much has changed in that time in the world of cyber, and the internet in general. The strategy does a decent job in catching Australia up.

The new strategy and review calls for the Australian Government to invest an additional $230 million over the next four years in an effort to strengthen cyber security efforts. These resources come on top of the substantial increase in personnel and resources committed in the Defence White Paper.

The strategy also recognises the centrality of the private sector in cyber security.  An assisting minister will be appointed to help coordinate government and business efforts and the Australian Cyber Security Centre will be moved from the ASIO building into a more open and unrestricted location.

But what I think is the most important, and most interesting, aspect of the cyber strategy is the new role of cyber ambassador (an appointment is still to be made).  Ostensibly this position has been introduced to help coordinate Australia's cyber security efforts internationally, and primarily with its allies. But in the long-term, the more important aspect may be its other role, to lend an Australian voice to the growing global debate around internet governance. Specifically, the strategy states that Australia has a 'global responsibility' to advocate and 'champion an open, free and security internet' both in the Indo-Pacific region and globally.

The internet is a common global good. International digital connectivity and the free flow of information facilitate a range of political and economic activities. And while I don't agree with some advocates that portray it as a type of 'moon-shot' for developing countries, there is no doubt that the free flow of information and connectivity has been a good thing for humanity, even in the face of its numerous downsides.

This is where the cyber strategy makes up some time. There have been signs for a while that the internet is eroding and becoming 'balkanized': regulatory regimes, data localisaton, national firewalls and censorship are creating distinct national areas of the internet that risk harming the free flow of information (admittedly, this is an entirely liberal view of how the internet should be run). And then there are the risks to actual infrastructure of the internet itself.

Global institutions have fallen behind in governing one of the world's most important global commons. A multi-stakeholder model is slowly bringing itself together, but more can be done to institutionalise the existing efforts.

A cyber ambassador role is a good step forward in recognising that internet governance is an important foreign policy issue for Australia. Hopefully whoever who is appointed to the position can keep in sight the long-term goal of raising awareness around the importance of a sustainable and institutionalised internet governance architecture, rather than focusing purely on the, albeit important, cyber security aspects of the new  position.

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