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The future of cyberspace needs to be a genuinely world wide web. In Budapest this week, here's how we'll make that happen

Thankfully the benefits of the internet are being felt more widely than ever. But to keep it safe while extending its reach, we need to relearn what it actually for: open societies and free communication

In little over a decade the internet has revolutionised our world. We can communicate freely wherever we are, share ideas across borders and draw on extraordinary archives of information. In today’s digital world we can do almost anything online, from banking to sharing news in just 140 characters. The internet is a critical engine of economic growth, not least in the developing world, helping to improve access to education and healthcare, reducing poverty, and driving progress on the Millennium Development Goals. It is at the centre of everything we do.

A year ago we began the collective endeavour of enhancing and protecting this for future generations. For the first time the London Conference on Cyberspace brought together Ministers, industry leaders, the internet technical community, civil society and youth from across the world to begin a dialogue on shared principles and to set out the agenda for how to build a secure, resilient and trusted global digital environment. This week, Hungary will host a conference to drive this agenda forward “with trust and security for freedom and prosperity”. 

In London we highlighted the importance of a future where the benefits of the digital age are expanded to all peoples and economies of the world. But we also made clear the need to minimise the risks as much as possible, without undermining our commitment to fundamental freedoms. In Budapest we must accelerate our work to deliver this vision.

Our meeting comes at crucial time. The global economic climate means we must work harder to maintain and enhance the benefits of the internet for all. And as cybercrime increases we must work together to address a threat that does not recognise national borders, is costing the world economy billions of Euros every year and the numbers and sophistication of cyber attacks on national infrastructures is rising all the time. We should not ignore this, just as we should not try to shackle transparency, open information and the free exchange of ideas.

These are what have made the internet such a success and inspired such innovation. It should be a space which is not stifled by government control or censorship; one where innovation and competition flourish across national borders; where investment and enterprise are rewarded; where information is shared easily, and where human rights carry the same force online as they do offline. 

The Budapest Conference is a chance to review the international debate on how to achieve this delicate balancing act and ensure that critical work done in a variety of fora is co-ordinated.

In the last year we have made good progress: OECD policy principles have established a benchmark to preserve the fundamental openness of the Internet; the UN has begun work on norms for behaviour in cyberspace including at the Human Rights Council; the Den Haag Conference Declaration established a cross-regional coalition of countries in a Freedom Online Coalition to protect and promote freedom of expression online; the Council of Europe has driven further implementation of the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime; and there has been increasing agreement between members of the OSCE and ASEAN Regional Forum on how to develop confidence building measures to reduce the risk of unintended conflict between states.

Budapest will build on this. We will explore in more depth the free and secure use of cyberspace; the importance of capacity building for internet security; and the drivers behind the continued development of cyberspace, particularly increased prosperity and enhanced benefits to societies. We will also push the debate on how these can be maintained and improved through mechanisms which promote innovation, freedom and co-operation, but manage the threats from crime, inequalities of access and a lack of trust.

It is not just governments who are meeting. Among more than 600 expected participants will be senior representatives from international and regional organisations, the business community, civil society and academia. Bringing together such a wide group of leaders will enable us to discuss and agree the key principles that we can use to drive the myriad of detailed working level meetings and conferences that will take place during the next year. It is crucial that we maximise the synergies and cooperation between the public and private sectors.

London was the start of a process. This week we take the next step. We hope the Budapest Conference on Cyberspace will be a major milestone in building a broad, international consensus on the future of cyberspace. We call on governments, international organisations, civil society and industry experts to take responsibility for making the world, virtual and real, a freer and safer place as we address one of the great challenges of our time.

The writers are Foreign Secretary of Britain and Hungary respectively