Britain and the US strongly rejected calls from China and Russia for greater internet controls yesterday at a major conference on the future of cyberspace, even as western states came in for criticism on allegations of double standards.
While concerns of western governments centred around intellectual property theft and hacking, authoritarian regimes were worried over the increasing role the internet and social media was playing in rallying public opinion as seen in the protests that swept the Arab world this year.
China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan proposed in September, that the UN evolve a global code of conduct including the principle that "policy authority for Internet-related public issues is the sovereign right of states".
According to cyber security experts, western nations hope to sidestep calls for a "cyber treaty" and to prompt China, Russia and others to rein in hackers.
Speaking by video link, after US secretary of state Hillary Clinton could not attend the two-day London meeting, for family reasons; vice president Joe Biden was particularly direct.
"What citizens do online should not, as some have suggested, be decreed solely by groups of governments making decisions for them somewhere on high," he said. "No citizen of any country should be subject to a repressive global code when they send an email or post a comment to a news article. They should not be prevented from sharing their innovations with global consumers simply because they live across a national frontier. That is not how the internet should ever work in our view."