The idea of cyberspace as a common global good has yet to find its place in Australia. 

Ensuring that sea lanes remain open for navigation throughout the Indo-Pacific was a prominent concern in the last Defence White Paper. Australia's condemnation of the Chinese ADIZ in November 2013 indicates that freedom of navigation in the air also remains a critical strategic interest for the Government. Cyberspace, however, is seen purely in security terms (cyberattack, cyberwar, cybercrime), not as a rules-based global good that is essential to the modern global economy and that demands its own strategic considerations. 

Australia lacks a comprehensive cyber or digital policy. The internet and digital connectivity are driving global trade, deepening cultural exchange and will be a central element of strategic stability in the future, within the Indo-Pacific and globally. 

The Australian Government needs to consider the critical role of global digital communication on the stability and growth of Australia's economy, and its future national security. 

Australia needs a cyber white paper.

Previous governments have attempted to publish a distinct cyber white paper, but the idea was shuffled between federal departments and watered down before ultimately being added to an existing domestic digital infrastructure policy.

The Government needs to recognise that a comprehensive cyber and digital white paper is the best way to ensure that Australia maximises the advantages that come with being in the region with the highest number of internet users in the world. Australia's geographic position will be an advantage as e-commerce grows and more goods and services in the region head online. 

China alone is estimated to have 590 million users and India a further 151 million. These numbers will continue to grow. A 2012 Boston Consultancy Group report estimated that by 2016 China will have 'nearly 800 million internet users' and that the internet economy itself will reach a value of US$4.2 trillion in the G20 nations. The internet economy will also account for a significant part of future economic growth. The same report states that emerging nations will be 'responsible for about 34% of the overall internet economy' and that same industry will be responsible for '48% of their (future) growth.'

This increase in internet users and digital connectivity is helping to drive growth in international trade. A recent report from Brookings argued that, as the internet becomes a more important 'platform for commerce', individual buyers and sellers are using it to interact across borders in ever more sophisticated ways. A study by PayPal tracked this digital commerce and its relation to trade flows, finding that in just six surveyed markets the value of cross-border commerce was estimated at US$105 billion, and by 2018 this will increase nearly '200% to $307 billion.' The internet is also allowing large amounts of data to cross borders nearly instantaneously, which is also 'underpinning global economic integration and international trade.' Trends in the diffusion of manufacturing and the growing importance of open source design will also increase the importance of digital communication in the global economy. 

As well as purely economic considerations, a cyber white paper could address the convergence of Australia's economic and strategic interests in the digital realm. 

It is undoubtedly in Australia's national interest to see economic interdependence, international trade and communication continue to grow throughout the Indo-Pacific region and between its major powers. Open lines of digital communication are essential for financial transactions and global communication.  An unhindered global commons, which includes the sea, air, space and now cyberspace, underpin a stable strategic system, something that needs to be nurtured in a region that is rife with territorial disputes and rising defence budgets

If open sea lines of communication are critical to Australia's economy and its national security, then we need to start thinking similarly about the internet and digital communications. 

Disruption to the internet and digital communication by cyber attack within the region is a real threat, but other strategic concerns such as faltering telecommunication infrastructure development and improper regulation and tariffs on data and online commerce are also growing. These issues are also interconnected, as the development of effective broadband infrastructure in other countries allows Australian commerce and business access to those markets. 

The need to consider how the internet and digital interconnection are intersecting with the economic, security and strategic interests of Australia from a policy perspective is clear. Australia needs to start thinking comprehensively and strategically when it comes to the future of digital communication.

Photo by Flickr user pfly.