* London conference brings together governments, industry
* UK hopes meeting will set agenda for future talks
(Updates with start of conference, quotes)
By Adrian Croft and Georgina Prodhan
LONDON, Nov 1 Britain rejected calls from China
and Russia for greater Internet controls on Tuesday at the
opening of a major cyberspace conference but was criticised for
suggesting curbs on social media after recent riots.
Ministers, tech executives and Internet activists are
meeting over two days in London to discuss how to tackle
security threats and crime on the Internet without stifling
economic opportunities or freedom of speech.
While Western states worry about intellectual property theft
and hacking, authoritarian governments are alarmed at the role
the Internet and social media played in the protests that swept
the Arab world this year.
"Too many states around the world are seeking to go beyond
legitimate interference or disagree with us about what
constitutes 'legitimate' behaviour," Foreign Secretary William
Hague told the meeting.
"We saw in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya that cutting off the
Internet, blocking Facebook, jamming Al Jazeera, intimidating
journalists and imprisoning bloggers does not create stability
or make grievances go away ... The idea of freedom cannot be
contained behind bars, no matter how strong the lock."
In September, China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan
proposed to the United Nations a global code of conduct
including the principle that "policy authority for
Internet-related public issues is the sovereign right of
An anti-censorship group, however, accused Western
governments of double standards, pointing out Prime Minister
David Cameron briefly considered restricting online social
networking media after riots swept English cities in August.
"It's very easy to defend this case of black and white human
rights against dictatorships around the world, but as soon as
our own Western-style stability of the state is called into
question then freedom of expression is expendable. There should
be one rule for all, including western governments," John
Kampfner, chief executive of Index on Censorship, told the
Cyber security experts say western states are hoping to
regain the initiative in the debate with this conference.
NO IMMEDIATE AGREEMENT LIKELY
"The agenda is so broad and the topic is so vast, so don't
expect it to be sorted out at this conference," Swedish Foreign
Minister Carl Bildt told reporters, adding that he believed over
time some form of international agreement would come.
"We are all going to be so dependent on the networks of the
world that we will have increasing recognition over the years to
come that we need some global standards."
Around 60 countries, including China, Russia and India, are
represented at the conference as well as tech industry figures
such as Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, and senior executives
from Facebook and Google.
Wales told the conference he believed many current attempts
to regulate the flow of information -- such as British court
"superinjunctions" which celebrities have used to block
discussion of certain embarrassing stories -- were "bad law".
"We see all the time these kinds of laws," he said. "Maybe
there are better ways than to rely on government control."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cancelled due to her
mother's illness. Her planned afternoon speech would be given by
teleconference by Vice President Joe Biden, officials said.
One area where there are better prospects of international
agreement is cooperation to tackle conventional crime and child
A closed session will deal with the aspect of the Internet's
rise that has seized most attention -- threats to international
security including hacking and potential "cyber warfare".
On the eve of the conference, the head of Britain's
communications spy agency said UK government and industry
computer systems faced a "disturbing" number of cyber attacks,
including a serious assault on the Foreign Office's network.
(Additional reporting by Georgina Prodhan, Peter Apps, Michael
Holden; Editing by Robert Woodward)