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Do we need a digital Geneva Convention?

At the annual RSA Conference this week, Microsoft called for the establishment of a digital Geneva Convention. The company’s President and Chief Legal Officer, Brad Smith, asked for technology companies to step up and work together to protect the public from nation-state sponsored cyber attacks.

In the same way that the Geneva Convention contains rules to protect people during times of armed conflict, this pledge by tech giants would adhere to ground rules to protect users from cyber attacks, in the absence of government.

Silicon Valley is no stranger to standing up to the government, as last year for example, Apple rejected the FBI’s push for access to an iPhone linked to the San Bernardino attacks, in the name of privacy and user protection.

The question is: do we need a digital convention in reality? Smith does make a good case for it in his blog post and our current political climate vs. the rapid growth of technology has led to public concern when it comes to state-sponsored hacking:

We suddenly find ourselves living in a world where nothing seems off limits to nation-state attacks. Conflicts between nations are no longer confined to the ground, sea and air, as cyberspace has become a potential new and global battleground. – Brad Smith, Microsoft

So perhaps a Digital Geneva Convention is not a bad idea after all. The key will be that the promise to protect users from nation-state attacks and the vow to never mount offensive cyber attacks, are taken seriously.

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