Who Rules the Net? Internet Governance and Jurisdiction

By Adam Thierer; Clyde Wayne Crews Jr. | Go to book overview

Introduction
Who Rules the Net?
Clyde Wayne Crews Jr. and Adam Thierer

No one knows where you are. How near or how far. —;Pink Floyd, “Shine on You Crazy Diamond”

It may seem strange to kick off a serious collection of essays with a quote from a psychedelic 1970s rock band, but at times the debate over Internet jurisdiction and governance can seem as bizarre and complicated as some of Pink Floyd's music. Moreover, that quote nicely sums up why Internet and cyberspace activities pose such a quandary for traditional understandings of jurisdiction and governance.

The Internet's challenge to traditional concepts of jurisdiction and governance is multifaceted, but really boils down to two factors. First, when you're online, you're both everywhere and nowhere at once. Ubiquity is perhaps the defining characteristic of this remarkable new “borderless” medium. There are no passports on the Internet; you travel freely from one destination to another at the click of a button. And geography is a remarkably meaningless concept for Internet denizens. Two people could be communicating from the opposite poles of the Earth or from two blocks away and not know the difference. Typically, no one really does know where you are, how near or how far. Indeed, no one really knows “where” the Internet itself is, in the sense of how near or how far it is from traditional notions of property and contract; thus, the governing of cyberspace has jurisdictional and legal problems.

Second, no single entity or country owns or controls the Internet. Portions of this so-called “network of networks” are owned by private companies, organizations, or even governments, but it is impossible to point to any specific “owner” of the Net writ large. Most assuredly, this scattered control has been one of the Net's greatest blessings, but it also has proven to be a curse of sorts.

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