There is also deep irony in the desire of nations to seek more control over cyberspace. Dictators have abused their existing abilities to restrict access in efforts to chill dissent. Hosni Mubarak shut down the Internet in just such an attempt. But he failed, because the Egyptian masses had been using cyberspace to share their anger and gather their courage for many months before the regime struck at the Net. Indeed, the shutdown was the signal to the people that it was time to go to Tahrir Square. Bashar al-Assad seems to have tried something similar over a week ago, when the Net went down briefly in Syria. He too will fail.
In the end, U.N. efforts to control cyberspace, aided and abetted by all too many nations, will fail as well. The virtual world is a vast wilderness - artificial, but beautiful and complex, and growing in size and direction in ways that almost surely lie beyond the ability of governments to control. The sooner this is realized, the better. It will save the world from a costly global struggle between balky nations and nimble insurgent networks.
There are better things for the United Nations to focus on if it wishes to play a productive role in the information age. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon, whose video address at the opening of the Dubai conference spoke of a desire to foster openness and Internet freedom, should act on his own words and reject the role of regulator. Instead, he should lead his organization as a negotiator, fostering behavior-based forms of cyber arms control -- as there is still time to head off an age of "mass disruptive" cyberwars.
Almost all IT is dual-use. Any laptop can be used to wage cyberwar. But it is possible to craft agreements not to use such weaponry first, not to use it against civilian infrastructure or in acts of "cybotage," as in the case of the Stuxnet worm attack on Iran. Many of the nations that have signed the chemical and biological weapons conventions can still make these terrible weapons, but promise not to do so, or to use them. If the United Nations wants a role, it should seek a similar behavioral approach to arms control in cyberspace. Russia first proposed something like this at the United Nations back in the ‘90s. The United States opposed it. Now the Russians are among the best cyberwarriors in the world, and American cybersecurity is in a parlous state.
What is to be done? Let me make a modest suggestion to Dr. Touré: Stream the remainder of the Dubai conference to the world in a live webcast. Allow a global discourse to commence, one in which nations and networks together will find the right way ahead. If you are for openness, then be open.