GCHQ chief warns internet is at risk of ‘splintering’ due to increasing Chinese control

GCHQ chief warns internet is at risk of 'splintering' due to increasing Chinese control

GCHQ chief warns internet is at risk of ‘splintering’ due to increasing Chinese control

 
 
Dominic Nicholls
 
 
Jeremy Fleming, the Director of GCHQ. -  HANNAH MCKAY/Reuters
Jeremy Fleming, the Director of GCHQ. – HANNAH MCKAY/Reuters

The internet is at risk of “splintering” due to increasing Chinese control, the head of GCHQ has warned. 

Jeremy Fleming, the Director of Britain’s cyber spy agency, said the future would be characterised by “fundamental strategic competition for Western liberal democracies”.

Speaking at Chatham House the Director of GCHQ said the increasing willingness of authoritarian states to seek confrontation in cyberspace through the theft of intellectual property, denial of information and dissemination of misinformation could see a global splintering regarding use of the internet. 

 

“We need to work out how to work with China: where we want to [and] where it is sovereign only or only with allies because of security issues,” he said.

If the West fails to understand properly how to conduct safe everyday online interaction with China whilst also protecting security concerns the internet could “splinter” he warned.

Differing policies in the West and China over how the internet functions could impede access to information and lead to privacy issues.

Global online business activity could be disrupted if rules and regulations differed markedly around the world, for example over the handling of intellectual property.

Countries engaging online with less scrupulous regimes may face calls from their societies to lower standards in order to compete. 

“Only half the global population are currently on the internet and the half that aren’t are in rural China, Sub-Saharan Africa and rural India broadly,” Mr Fleming said.

“As we look to the future, we see a landscape which has Chinese technology very prevalent in it, where they are offering at a good price, and from a complete technology perspective, solutions to countries right around the world. 

“This is an area of fundamental strategic competition for Western liberal democracies going forward. 

“The whole point about this technology landscape is that it connects the world, it underpins commerce, it encourages cooperation and communication. 

“As Western allies and as the UK, we need to focus much harder in this area.”

A major weakness of the global use of the internet today is the absence of accepted rules for operating online.

Without commonly understood norms of behaviour, trust will be eroded making access to information, commerce and everyday activities harder. 

Cyber experts have warned of a ‘splintering’ or ‘balkanisation’ of the internet, with differing systems in use around the world. 

The UK is playing a fundamental role in setting the rules for the next generation of technology, but “there’s a lot to play for in that space” Mr Fleming said. 

“The UK wants a secure and profitable relationship with China, but equally, at times our security interests are in play.

“We want to have the sort of relationship where they understand that [stealing intellectual property and data] is not acceptable.”