Academic journal article Global Governance

Global Governance and the Spread of Cyberspace Controls

Academic journal article Global Governance

Global Governance and the Spread of Cyberspace Controls

Article excerpt

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. …

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