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FCO rep: Best argument for net freedom is cold hard cash

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LCC When a country restricts its population's freedoms on the internet, and you want to do something about it, point out to the heads of state how much money their nation is potentially losing as a result of the web clampdown - that's the advice from a top UK Foreign Office bod.

John Duncan, who is the Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative at the London Conference on Cyberspace (LCC), said freedom of information on the internet would be just one of the debates between countries and businesses at the get-together, which will take place in two weeks.

"In simple terms, if one is looking at a country that is trying to be more autocratic and shut the internet down, the simple response to them is 'what about your industry?'" he said.

"If your industry is actually using the internet to promote economic growth, what's going to be the impact economically if you start going down this path? It's a much more powerful argument than saying you shouldn't do it because it's wrong.

"You shouldn't do it because it's not in your interest to do it actually gets people to listen a bit quicker. That's still a valid argument, that it's wrong, but if you want people to come to the centre ground then you have to try to find other arguments," he added.

Telling it like it is might not always seem like the best idea, but it's what the UK reckons is needed to get countries, businesses, individuals and NGOs to start coming to a consensus on cyberspace.

The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said he organised the conference to try to get all these people together to work out how to maintain the economic and social benefits of the internet, as well as how to guard against criminal and security threats online.

"More international consensus is urgently needed. And this needs to be a collective endeavour, involving the major actors in cyberspace," he said in an op-ed piece on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website on Tuesday.

"This is one of the great challenges of our time. Nobody controls the internet, and we can’t leave its future to chance. We have the opportunity to secure a bold and innovative future but we also face the risk that the internet is used as a force for harm."

The conference hopes to have debates on the digital divide and cyber-security, as well as more contentious issues such as internet freedoms.

It is hoped that some of the discussions could lead to agreement, or even actual accords, although there's no sign that the UK is feeling ready to sign anything binding just yet.

Back in February, when Hague first began to talk about the conference in a speech in Munich, the talk was all about "standards" and "norms" rather than treaties.

"We believe there is a need for a more comprehensive, structured dialogue to begin to build consensus among like-minded countries and to lay the basis for agreement on a set of standards on how countries should act in cyberspace," he said at the time.

And when politicians throw words like "begin to build" and "basis" around, you know they usually mean, "let's start to talk about it, but let's not be too hasty".

The event will be held on 1 and 2 November, watch out for The Register's foray into live-tweeting from the conference floor by following @regvulture. ®

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