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How Snowden's Revelations Are Helping Russia

With the United States no longer able to impose its position on Internet security and governance in the wake of the NSA spying scandal, Moscow is stepping into the void.

Snowden last month in Moscow
Snowden last month in Moscow
Elena Chernenko

Until now, the biggest winner after Edward Snowden’s revelations appears to have been China. The discovery of secret documents revealing that the United States spied on Internet users around the world has given Beijing a powerful argument against the US charges that it is hacking in to US computer networks.

But there are also signs that Russia is benefitting from Snowden’s revelations. The most concrete example was the United Nations General Assembly's approval last week of Moscow’s resolution regarding international norms on information security.

The non-binding resolution includes a number of principles that are important to Russia. First is the use of the term “information security” in a very broad sense, which Russia had supported in opposition to the much narrower US understanding of “cybersecurity.” It is more than a difference in terminology: the different expressions reflect fundamentally opposing approaches to the security problems arising from the Internet. The US is primarily worried about physical threats to the network (like viruses), while Russia is primarily worried about potentially dangerous content (that would destabilize the political situation).

Secondly, the document calls for the development of international norms and rules for the behavior of governments in the sphere of information technology. Russia has long insisted that the current norms were not enough to resolve international cyber conflicts. Russia introduced a similar project to the UN two years ago, but it lacked widespread support. In contrast, the current resolution had 40 co-sponsors, and the representatives from Pakistan even said it should be made stronger, suggesting that cyber warfare technology be classified as weapons of mass destruction.

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