UN Convention on Countering ICT Criminal Use: Doomed for Success

In contrast to Russia, Washington advocates maximum harmonization of the UN and Budapest conventions.

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The flag of the United Nations flying on the opening day of 65th general debate of the General Assembly in New York City on 23 September, 2010. [UN Photo/Mark Garten]

The objective transition of humankind to the virtual environment is accompanied by a breakdown of many existing stereotypes about the functioning of the mechanisms of interaction between states, society and business. This, in turn, requires adjustment and creation of new contours for ensuring the security of states.

At the same time, there are changes associated with the transformation of the global information order. The leading industrialized powers are trying to maintain their status as the dominant force in the information field and slow down the transition to a polycentric model of its management based on legally binding norms, rather than on some rules that can be changed to suit the political conjuncture.

The absence of relevant universal international legal treaties in this area has led to a huge wave of crime in the information space, with serious damage to the economic activity of states and the well-being of millions of people. Thus, according to independent international experts, the annual damage from the activities of criminals in the information space of EU Member States alone is about 5.5 trillion euro.

ICT crime has become a profitable business. There has been a tendency of incitement by some states to take illegal actions against others, and to place ready-made malware in the public domain of the Internet by these states. The prospects for the global digitalization process as a whole, the effectiveness and dynamics of which depend on ensuring security, are in question.

It is against this background that the work of the UN Ad Hoc Committee for the Elaboration of a Comprehensive International Convention on Countering the Use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for Criminal Purposes is taking place. This negotiating mechanism was established at the initiative of Russia, with the co-sponsorship of 46 and support of 87 states, by UN General Assembly resolution 74/247. It is aimed at creating by the world community the first ever universal and legally binding instrument to combat crime in the information space.

Paradoxically, even in the current political realities, the work of the Ad Hoc Committee, due to the cross-border nature of ICT crimes, has become even more relevant and in demand for most states of the world. The sessions were attended by subject matter experts from more than 160 states and 200 non-governmental organizations representing political and law enforcement agencies, as well as academic, scientific and business communities.

Since the very establishment of the Ad Hoc Committee, Russia has been and is still in favour of elaborating such a comprehensive treaty that would lay the foundations for effective and transparent international cooperation to combat this threat.  The Convention to counter the use of ICTs for criminal purposes, drafted under the auspices of the UN, should give consideration to the interests of all states without exception and be based on the principles of state sovereignty protection, equality of parties and non-interference in the internal affairs of states. It should also provide for a broad scope and criminalization.

At the same time, the United States, the EU and their allies, at all stages of the discussions, strongly opposed the establishment of such a specialized UN body in general and the development of a convention in particular, and voted against the establishment of an ad hoc committee at the UN General Assembly. One of the formal arguments of the West countries was that “the world is not yet ready for such a convention.”

The hidden informal reason for rejecting the very idea of a UN treaty was the 2001 Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime, developed at the instigation of the United States, known as the Budapest Convention, whereby Washington undermines state sovereignty and controls the Member States information space. After all, the future universal UN treaty becomes a direct competitor to the Budapest Convention and can put an end to the “chosenness” and ambitions of technologically developed states.

Having lost the vote for the “minds and hearts” of the developing world at the 74th session of the UN General Assembly, the United States and its allies completely changed their approaches, declaring that “the world needs such a convention.” They tried to quickly realign themselves and take the lead in drafting the UN convention. Thus, Washington and its allies moved from direct rejection of the idea of a future convention to tactics of covert sabotage and emasculating the content of the international treaty from within.

In contrast to Russia, Washington advocates maximum harmonization of the UN and Budapest conventions. This means that instead of a comprehensive approach, as enshrined in the mandate of the Ad Hoc Committee, the countries of the collective West are agitating for a narrow scope and criminalization, and are aggressively imposing gender and human rights issues. Thus, the United States is trying to breathe life into a regional document of the Council of Europe written more than 20 years ago, which is already thoroughly outdated and is not in demand among developing countries. Does the world need such a treaty? Apparently not.

Besides, all of the Ad Hoc Committee’s work is accompanied by an aggressive media background of the US-controlled media, which claims that “with the help of the convention, Russia and China are going to control the whole world,” or “the convention will create a dangerous precedent that plays into the hands of authoritarian regimes.” Then a rhetorical question arises: who controls the Internet and the global information space now?

Another important reason for the strong opposition to the new UN treaty is the fact that the UN process does not fit into the US-imposed paradigm of a “rules-based order.” Equal international cooperation is not implied. The main role in the future search for ICT criminals is assigned to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is seen by the West as another alternative to the UN Convention on Countering the Use of ICTs for Criminal Purposes.

Giving the ICC broad powers to conduct ICT investigations and create an attribution mechanism, Washington plans to use it to deliver verdicts and assign responsibility. That is why the West is trying to bracket out extensive criminalization in the future UN treaty, assuming that all these “complex” acts, including ICT terrorism, will not be considered in the UN, but in the US-controlled ICC. The responsibility of finding traces and providing evidence, on the other hand, will fall to American IT giants. Bypassing the mechanisms of mutual legal cooperation between states, citizens of any state suspected of committing crimes in the information space will be “hunted”. Thus, the mechanisms of international cooperation of the UN in decision-making will be substituted.

Based on this, we can conclude that there is no alternative to a future comprehensive convention under the auspices of the UN. Russia, for its part, will continue to provide technical assistance to countries in need based on the principle of protecting State sovereignty and to debunk any manifestations of neo-colonial practices in the global information space.

The Ad Hoc Committee is to submit the final text of the convention to the UN General Assembly at its 78th session (in 2024).

Ernest Chernukhin

Ernest Chernukhin, the Deputy Head of the Russian Delegation to the Ad Hoc Committee to Elaborate a Comprehensive International Convention on Countering the Use of ICTs for Criminal Purposes, head of section of DIIS of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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