Global governance and the spread of cyberspace controls.

Author:Deibert, Ronald J.
 
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States are moving to assert their interests more forcefully in cyberspace and associated governance regimes. Traditionally, transnational networks of engineers, based primarily in the United States and Europe, have been the primary architects of cyberspace governance, with the users and private sector shaping cyberspace itself. However, governments are becoming increasingly influential across a number of governance forums and are deliberating on how to exercise power in and through cyberspace. Particularly noteworthy are how nondemocratic states outside of Europe, North America, and parts of Asia have begun to forcefully assert their interests in cyberspace governance regimes, including some, like the International Telecommunications Union, that were previously marginalized in the Internet space. Western liberal democracies are also moving away from laissez-faire and market-oriented approaches to more state-directed controls and regulations. Drawing from international relations theory literature, and in particular constructivist approaches, this article examines international and global mechanisms and dynamics that explain the growth and spread of cyberspace controls. It also provides a study of "norm regression" in global governance: the growth and spread of practices that undercut cyberspace as an open commons of information and communication. KEYWORDS: cyberspace, global governance, norm regression, International Telecommunication Union.

CYBERSPACE ENCOMPASSES THE GLOBAL DIGITAL COMMUNICATIONS ENVIronment that is embedded in political, economic, and social activity. (1) One of the burgeoning areas of cyberspace research is the study of information controls: actions conducted in and through cyberspace that seek to deny, disrupt, manipulate, and shape information and communications for strategic and political ends. Whereas once it was popularly assumed that cyberspace was immune to government regulation because of its dynamic nature and distributed architecture, a growing body of scholarship has shown convincingly how governments can shape and constrain access to information, freedom of speech, and other elements of cyberspace within their jurisdictions.

Today, more than thirty countries engage in Internet filtering, not all of them authoritarian regimes. (2) Internet surveillance policies are now wide-spread and bearing down on the private sector companies that own and operate the infrastructure of cyberspace, including Internet service providers (ISPs). Likewise, a new generation of second-and third-order controls complement filtering and surveillance, creating a climate of self-censorship. (3) There is a very real arms race in cyberspace that threatens to subvert the Internet's core characteristics and positive network effects.

The study of cyberspace controls has tended to focus on the nation-state as the primary unit of analysis and has examined the deepening and widening of these controls within domestic contexts. (4) But largely unexamined so far are the international and global dynamics by which such controls grow and spread. The dynamics and mechanisms at these levels are important to consider because states do not operate in a vacuum; they are part of a global social order that has important implications for how they are constituted (constitutive norms), and what they do and how they behave (regulative norms). (5) This can have both "positive" and "negative" dynamic characteristics.) (6) In a positive sense, states learn from and imitate each other. They borrow and share best practices, skills, and technologies. They take a cue from what like-minded states are doing and implement policies accordingly.

There are also negative international dynamics that shape the character of global relations. States compete against each other. Their perceptions of adversarial intentions and threats can impact the decisions they make. This dynamic has been characterized in the international relations literature as the logic of the "security dilemma." (7) One can see this logic playing itself out clearly today in cyberspace with the development of national armed forces capabilities to fight and win wars in that domain.

Government policies and behavior are also impacted by the activities of transnational actors--namely, civil society networks and the private sector--that function as a conduit and propagator of ideas and policies. Civil society networks educate users within countries about best practices and networking strategies, lobby governments, and operate largely irrespective of national boundaries. (8) The networks that tend to get the most attention are those for the promotion of human rights such as access to information, freedom of speech, and privacy. These networks come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are independent and largely grassroots in origin; others have been drawn into a support structure synchronized to the foreign policy goals of major governments such as the United States and the European Union. But few of them, especially the more important ones, operate only in a domestic policy setting.

Private sector actors are responsive to and seek to develop commercial opportunities across national boundaries and are increasingly a part of the global system's mechanisms and dynamics of cyberspace controls. Particularly relevant in this respect is the cybersecurity market, estimated to be on the order of $80 billion to $140 billion dollars annually. (9) Commercial providers of networking technology have a stake in the securitization of cyberspace and can inflate threats to serve their more parochial market interests. (10) Private actors also own and operate the vast majority of the infrastructure and services that we call cyberspace. For that reason alone, their decisions can have major consequences for the character of cyberspace and are examples of the growing exercise of private authority in world politics. (11) It is not too far a stretch to argue that some companies have the equivalent of "foreign policies" for cyberspace, in some ways going beyond individual governments in terms of scope and influence.

In this article, we present an overview of information controls exercised in cyberspace as they have emerged over the past several decades, contrasting those controls with the constitutive rules, norms, and principles they are displacing. We then lay out a research framework for the study of global dynamics and mechanisms of the growth of cyberspace controls. Typically, international relations research on the spread of norms in global governance focuses on what might be construed as "positive" norm development: the spread of human rights, democracy, or the end of slavery, to give just a few examples. As Paul Kowert and Jeffrey Legro have pointed out, there is a bias in the study of norm propagation toward what might be considered good norms:

A related bias in the study of norms is the "good norms" problem. Analysts tend to focus on those issues that are normatively desirable--e.g., the spread of democracy, the rise of human rights, the integration of world society, and prohibitions against the use of force. Yet undesirable norms are equally possible. Examples include norms of military autonomy and the use of force, economic domination, the acceptability of intrastate violence (e.g., civil war), and the disintegrative tendencies that exist in international politics (e.g., nationalism, religious exclusivity). These issues too deserve attention from the emerging sociological approach. ... But "bad" or threatening norms remain understudied. (12) In contrast, we analyze what might be considered "norm regression" in global governance: the growth and spread of practices that degrade cyberspace as an open commons of information and communication. (13) The aim is not to provide an exhaustive analysis of these dynamics and mechanisms as much as it is to sketch out a conceptual and analytical framework for further research. Drawing primarily from constructivist theories, we lay out several areas where such dynamics and mechanisms might be found and investigated further. In the conclusion, we consider some of the reasons why research in this area is important for the study and policy of global cyberspace governance and practice.

From Open Commons to Controlled Access

In the early period of the Internet's development, it was widely assumed that the distributed and highly decentralized technology would be difficult, even impossible, for governments to regulate. (14) The Internet's founding architects designed a set of technological and normative principles that laid the foundations for the network and guided how it should be accessed and operated. One of the most important design principles of the Internet is the end-to-end argument (e2e) formulated by Jerome H. Saltzer, David P. Reed, and David D. Clark (1984), which organizes the placement of functions in a distributed computing network sharing a basic common protocol (TCP/IP). It states that access to and use of applications on the network should be nondiscriminatory, meaning that users on the edge of the network should freely control applications and services and be enabled to develop new applications to distribute over the network as long as they conform to the principle. (15) The e2e formed one of the central principles of the Internet for technological reasons. However, beyond its technological importance, e2e has had economic, political, and social effects, and has been advocated as a key driver for innovation. (16) An associated principle stemming from e2e is network neutrality, which can be defined as the "right of users to access content, services and applications on the Internet without interference from network operators or government," and the "right of network operators to be reasonably free of liability for transmitting content and applications deemed illegal or undesirable by third parties." (17)

The foundational principles of...

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