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First POST: Renegotiating Cyberspace

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, February 26 2013

Tuesday must-read: "The New Westphalian Web"

  • Katherine Maher at Foreign Policy offers up a great primer on growing efforts by nation-states to impose their borders on the transnational Internet.

    ... [U]nlike almost every other global resource in history, the Internet largely escaped government regulation at first -- probably because no one could figure out how to make money from it. From the outset, it was managed not by governments, but by an ad hoc coalition of volunteer standards bodies and civil society groups composed of engineers, academics, and passionate geeks -- awkwardly dubbed the multistakeholder system.

    So lawmakers and politicians wrung their hands over the Internet's lawlessness, gnashed their teeth at the moral decay of porn and downloads, and despaired at their inability to legislate a place without a geography.

    ...

    In the past decade, however, all this has changed. Roughly 2 billion people use the Internet, in nearly every country in the world ... Information has always been power, and governments have long sought to control it. So for countries where power is a tightly controlled narrative, parsed by state television and radio stations, the Internet has been catastrophic ...
    Naturally, systems of power have finally taken notice.

    Maher moves around the Internet's origin story in a simplistic way, taking the "independence of cyberspace" at face value. She ignores that the U.S. was directly involved with the fundamental administration of the Internet until just a few years ago and maintains some say. She also omits the fact that John Perry Barlow's "Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace" was written Feb. 8, 1996, the same day the Communications Decency Act, which regulated speech on the Internet, became law. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually overturned the portion of the law that would have criminalized "indecent" speech online — but the Internet wasn't independent so much as granted liberties through the auspices of the U.S. government.

    Given the level of political savvy and historical knowledge that's necessary to understand and really participate in the fights going on now, maybe she does a disservice to Internet freedom warriors by reverting to the reductive concept of "cyberspace" when what we're talking about is a transnational Internet. To do so skips over some history that's important to know in order to understand what's now going on. But she is right that the Internet has gained new attention and importance, and to the extent that the Internet ever was a truly transnational communications network, free from regulation, that freedom of communication is under threat from national — and corporate — interests now more than ever.

The "Cyberwarrior" Gap

  • Brian Fung, an Atlantic Media studio player now at National Journal, writes that the United States has a "scary" shortage of "digital soldiers," presumably to prosecute a coming "cyber" hostility with China already discussed as if it's either a present reality or an inescapable future.

    "To become a cyber professional working in government, your record has to be exceptionally clean. That rules out pretty much any U.S. teen who's written a malicious script or vandalized a website. America's cyber competitors, meanwhile, aren't nearly so scrupulous down in HR," Fung writes.

    He's invoking the "gap" mentality of the Cold War in the service of general science, technology, engineering and math training and innovation writ large. But he's doing so in the context of growing concern over a new state of perpetual confrontation with China, largely fueled by anonymous government sources, and he does it uncritically. Advocating for more Americans trained in STEM fields is one thing, but urging for government expenditure or action based on fear and incomplete information is another. We've seen that movie before.

  • At the RSA conference beginning Tuesday, White House officials are expected to discuss President Barack Obama's cybsersecurity order.

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