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.
Around the web
Better Off TED: The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced Tuesday that it has awarded $9 million to technology projects for civic engagement: $5 million to Code for America, $3.12 million to New York University for a graduate program in technology-based solutions to government problems led by former White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer Beth Noveck, and almost $1 million to TED, the conference company, to "work on amplifying and measuring the impact" of its "Ideas Worth Spreading."
At PandoDaily, Hamish McKenzie thinks tech lobbyists' planned "March for Innovation," a "social media bombardment" on Congress planned in April, is a great idea.
Speaking of stuff raining down from the sky, American military and intelligence officials are shooting at people from remote-controlled aircraft and Americans still don't know exactly why or under what circumstances the government feels entitled to do so, nor do we have all the facts on exactly who and how many people's lives have been taken in our name. One of the few sources of information is The Long War, an independent website.
Speaking of conflict, Kara Swisher recently published a defense of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, whose upcoming book — and promise to start a "social movement" around women in the workplace — has attracted no small measure of old-media criticism.
Sandberg's ideas, at least as explained in advance of her actual book's release, have attracted some new-media criticism as well.
The New York City tech sector — including the New York Tech Meetup, where techPresident publisher Andrew Rasiej is chairman — is angling to make tech policy a factor in this year's mayoral race here.