Southeast Asian states are stepping up their prosecution of cybercrime and illicit online activities. A September UNCTAD report showed that 8 out of 10 ASEAN countries have cybercrime legislation exceeding international standards, and on September 19th, ASEAN declared the creation of a new cybercrime working group. ASEAN nations are also trumpeting enforcement of these laws, as evidenced by the highly publicized arrest of 35 cybercriminals in the Philippines last month.
This makes a lot of sense. Today, Southeast Asian economies, especially those without substantive industrial sectors, are increasingly trying to drive economic growth through research and development. Singapore, for example, explicitly encourages biotech firms to relocate within its borders, citing “world class intellectual property protection” and it’s growth as a “regional research and development hub.” In addition to such domestic efforts, many regional economies are pursuing trans-national agreements on Intellectual Property Law, most notably those to be contained in the upcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The hope, presumably, is that protecting research-based companies will draw yet more research and development spending to the country, fueling a sustainable, development driven growth strategy.
Perhaps cracking down on cyber crime is a logical extension of these initiatives: countries need to increase their ability to find and prosecute cyber criminals to show their resolve in protecting the trade secrets of their research driven industries. R&D driven businesses would be hesitant to relocate to a country with high rates of cybercrime, or little cybercrime enforcement, because it would make it easy for them to have their intellectual property illegally taken, regardless of the Intellectual Property law of the country. ASEAN, at least, is clearly aware of this: the most recent ASEAN roundtable – a forum for developing business strategy, focused primarily on intellectual property and cybercrime prosecution.
Thus, recent efforts to crack down on cybercrime in Southeast Asia seem just as likely to be industrial policy as rule of law. Regardless of the rate of cybercrime, it’s becoming increasingly important for ASEAN economies to look tough on cyber crime to spur high-tech and research based investment in the region.