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From Telegraph to the Internet: Spot the difference between St. Petesburg (1875) and London (2011)

Published on 01 November 2011
Updated on 19 March 2024
Photo from ITU Conference 1875

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How many things have changed between 1875 when the ITU held its historical telegraph conference in St. Petersburg and today, when, many participants are attending a cybersecurity conference in London. Not much. In 1875 one of the most controversial issue was the balance between the protection of free communication and the need to protect security and public order. A compromise was reached through an age-old diplomatic technique: diplomatic ambiguity. While Article 2 of the St Petersburg Convention guaranteed the privacy of telegraph communication, Article 7 limited this privacy and introduced the possibility of state censorship. The USA refused to sign the Convention because of the censorship Article 7.

As in 1875, the 2011 London Conference started by stating the need to strike the right balance between freedom of expression and cybersecurity. Although, many argue, and rightly so, that freedom and security do not excluded each other, it is very likely that when it comes to the policy formulations this balancing act need to be established.

The first morning of the London Conference showed an interesting focus on cybercrime (not military security) on the security side of the scale, and freedom of expression (not privacy) on the human rights side of the scale. Let us see how the balance will shift by the end of the conference …..

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