03/11/2011 19:13 GMT | Updated 03/01/2012 05:12 GMT

The Future of The Internet is Too Important to be Left to Chance

This week the London Conference on Cyberspace brought together governments, industry and civil society for the first time to address the future of cyberspace.

More than 700 participants from 60 countries took part. We heard from citizens across the world, took questions direct from the public through the internet and the event was livestreamed and debated on social media in China, Pakistan, India and the Middle East. We covered a wide range of issues, ranging from the enormous economic and social opportunities raised by the internet and social media to the threats of cyber crime and cyber attack.

I am proud of what the conference achieved. It showed that there is a real hunger for action to ensure a safe and secure future cyberspace. It strengthened support for our view that we need international agreement about what constitutes acceptable behaviour in cyberspace. And it generated momentum - two other countries have now agreed to host conferences to take forward the agenda set out here in London: Hungary and the Republic of Korea.

The conference held messages for governments, the private sector and individuals. The message for governments was that the rapid rise of cyber crime is a growing threat to citizens around the world. Rather than just occasionally talking about this subject, we need a permanent discussion. Governments also must not treat cyberspace as if it belonged to them.

Industry, civil society and internet experts have to be part of the debate about the future of the internet. Any attempt to move forward without them will fail. Governments must also recognise that state-sponsored attacks are not in the interests of any country. Those that perpetrate such attacks must bring them under control. And any State thinking that it can resist the growing force of the tide now flowing for transparency, open information and the free exchange of ideas is bound to fail.

The message for entrepreneurs and businesses is that it is in their interests to work with governments to prevent cyber crime and the theft of intellectual property, while keeping up the flow of creative ideas and innovation that built cyberspace in the first place.

Finally, the conference held a message for members of the public. This is your debate. The internet is not separate from society, it is part of society and mirrors it. You are our allies as we work to expand opportunities and tackle threats in cyberspace, and the debate will be richer and more productive if it allows for a vast diversity of opinion and individual expression. When governments discuss this subject we are at risk of adopting wrong or dangerous conclusions, or of being out of touch and out of date the minute we sit down, so we want users of the internet to be fully involved.

We want to see a future in which everyone can have safe and reliable access to cyberspace, without fear that they will be targeted by criminals, in which are able to use new technologies to spur economic growth in developing countries, to narrow the digital divide, to give our citizens greater choice, to find new ways of addressing conflicts and to root out and prevent grotesque human rights abuses.

The London Conference will now lead to concrete action which helps us down this path. We will see intensified work to bridge the digital divide through support to the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission, to consider the recommendations of the UN Group of Government Experts on norms of behaviour in cyberspace and to expand support for the Budapest Convention on cyber crime. Over the next two years the conferences in Hungary and South Korea will build further on this work.

And here in Britain, as well as building up our own cyber defences, we will use our diplomatic weight to the full to win the argument for a future cyberspace which is not stifled by government control or censorship, an internet which is open and not fragmented and ghettoised, where human rights carry the same force online as they do offline, where criminals find it harder to defraud members of the public, and where States that commit cyber attacks are constrained.

We do not underestimate the difficulties ahead. There are still difficulties to be overcome. Achieving agreement about the future of cyberspace will take time. But this is one of the great challenges of our time and we need to pursue it with the same intensity as efforts to eradicate global poverty or tackle climate change. The London Conference on Cyberspace showed that the future of the internet is too important to be left to chance.