The 4th Working Group Meeting (WGM) on International Law in Cyberspace was held in Hangzhou, China from 2– 4 September, 2019. The WGM saw the participation of 10 Member States of AALCO, namely, People’s Republic of China, Islamic Republic of Iran, Republic of Iraq, Japan, Pakistan, State of Qatar, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kingdom of Thailand, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were also present.
A welcome reception hosted by the Zhejiang Provincial Department of Foreign Affairs and Treaty and Law Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China preceded the formal start of the programme, on 1 September. H.E. Prof. Dr. Kennedy Gastorn, Secretary-General of AALCO elucidated the objective behind the conception of AALCO and emphasized that the Open-ended Working Group on International Law in Cyberspace functions as an excellent platform to facilitate the interaction between Member States for the progressive development of international law on cyberspace. The Secretary-General expressed appreciation to the Province of Zhejiang and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China for hosting the Working Group Meeting. Mr. Yao Guowen, Deputy Director-General, Zhejiang Provincial Department of Foreign Affairs, Counsellor Mr. Wu Haiwen, Treaty and Law Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and H.E. Dr. Abbas Bagherpour Ardekani, Director-General for International Legal Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affair, Islamic Republic of Iran and the Chairman of the Working Group also addressed the delegates.
The inaugural session on 2 September started with the Secretary-General inviting the Member States, in his opening remarks, to actively participate in the deliberations to facilitate a clear line of action for the future of the Working Group. The Chairman in his opening remarks highlighted the pertinence of the topic and appreciated the rigorous efforts of the Organizers in hosting the programme. Noting the questionnaire prepared by the Rapporteur to which responses were received from 11 Member States, the Chairman lauded the Secretary-General in steering AALCO in the best interests of its Member States and facilitating the smooth and progressive development of international law on this crucial topic.
Deliberations on the substantive topics started with the session on International Cooperation for Combating Cybercrime, which included matters pertaining to the Member States’ response to the questionnaire. The session began with the Rapporteur Prof. Huang Zhixiong presenting his initial report on the outcome of the Member States’ responses to the questionnaire. He stated that 9 Member States replied to the questionnaire by the end of June 2019 and responses of 2 States came towards the end of August. He highlighted that all the replies received provide a useful source for understanding the special need of AALCO Member States for international cooperation against cybercrimes. The Rapporteur elaborated specific aspects of the questionnaire and the responses in detail, on which States commented.
The topics covered by the distinguished panel of experts, following the Rapporteur’s discussion, included China’s approach to dealing with cybercrime, the steps taken by the Tencent Group in cooperating with the Chinese government to fight cybercrimes and the legal dimensions of non-intervention in cyberspace.
Member States actively participated in the deliberations, congratulating AALCO’s initiative on the topic, the efforts of the Rapporteurs and the Host Government of China for organizing the 4th WGM. The efforts of AALCO Member States in combating cybercrimes were explained in detail and areas of future cooperation were articulated. Member States highlighted the importance of non-intervention in cyberspace as a fundamental dimension of the topic and looked for future developments in the subject.
On the following day, the issues of data sovereignty, transborder data flow and data security; regulating online harmful content; and peaceful use of cyberspace were discussed by a stellar array of panelists from Peking University, Alibaba Legal Department, ICRC and Cyber Security Association of China. The legal, operational and technical nuances of data sovereignty, transborder data flow and data security were elucidated, and the challenges faced by States in defining online harmful content and regulating the same were explored. The application of international humanitarian law to cyber operations and the challenges being faced by States in dealing with cyberwarfare were also deliberated upon.
The delegations actively participated in the Working Group discussions, and referred to their domestic legislations on various aspects dealing with cybercrimes. They were, in general, supportive of measures to develop the international law framework on cyberspace.
Not only did the discussions during the Working Group meeting assert the continued relevance of the topic of international law in cyberspace, but also underlined the necessity of further in-depth discussions in order to finalize the way forward for the Working Group. It was proposed by the Chairman that the Member States ought to be more active in responding to the questionnaire of the Rapporteur. Pursuant to this proposal, a reminder for the replies to the questionnaire has been circulated by the Secretariat to the Member States.
It was further suggested by the Chairman that the Member States ought to seek the guidance and assistance of the Secretary-General to explore the drafting of a non-binding general document, a zero draft, clarifying the consensual basic principles of international law applicable in cyberspace. This proposal was supported by the Member States. The Summary Report and the Chairman’s proposals were unanimously adopted at the end of the Working Group Meeting.
On 4 September, the delegations visited the Alibaba Group. The Secretary-General thanked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China and the Alibaba Group for organizing the visit, and appreciated the role being played by the Group.