Who Governs Cyberspace? Internet Governance and Power Structures in Digital Networks

Who Governs Cyberspace? Internet Governance and Power Structures in Digital Networks

Mauro Santaniello (University of Salerno, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-254-1.ch011
OnDemand PDF Download:
$30.00
List Price: $37.50

Abstract

The Internet Governance debate has, for a long time, been influenced by a well-defined characterization of information networks. The depiction of a decentralized network, governed on a consensual basis by distributed forms of authority, has therefore focused, as a consequence, little attention on the coding and configuration strategies of the network architecture that is implemented in a conflictual scenario by a set of parties whose interests are rarely explicated in the internet governance debate or in institutional plans and policies inspired by it. It follows that some important structures of network government are not publicly recognized as constitutive places where processes of economic, political and social shaping on technology application occur. On the contrary this chapter will be dedicated to the analysis on those geo-strategic issues relating to international flows of data and to remote control activities deployed by a small group of software houses and hardware manufacturers.
Chapter Preview
Top

Introduction

The Internet Governance (IG) debate has, for a long time, been influenced by a well-defined characterization of information networks. An ideal-typical representation of a network controlled by a decentralized system of equivalent nodes1, produced by a transnational multi-stakeholder partnership2 and administered by a rich panorama of technical authorities with shared responsibilities3, has fulfilled a dual function.

On the one hand, this has helped to define the scope of the issues selected for the institutional discourse about network control, focusing the debate on the regulation of network use and marginalizing those issues related to the regulatory trim of the network architecture. From this point of view, the protection of property rights, enforcement of national laws, taxation of online transactions, conflicts of jurisdiction, arbitration of international disputes, privacy and freedom of expression have been institutionalized as central themes in the debate on IG4. Alongside these issues, on the initiative of the so-called emerging countries, the discourse has been extended to such infrastructural issues as control over IP addresses and domain names.5

By framing the IG debate on a neutral image of networks, geo-strategic issues relating to international flows of data and remotely controlled activities deployed by a small group of software houses and hardware manufacturers have been excluded. Thanks to the depiction of the network as a shared and widespread set of resources organized in a non-hierarchical manner, the de-politicization of the discourse found in the terminological shift from “government” to “governance” took place, determining the delimitation of the policy field around uncontroversial themes from a geopolitical point of view.

The interests of national governments in regulating on-line interactions that involve questions of sovereignty have led the discourse on network control to focus on less conflictual aspects such as the government of how cyberspace is used, rather than configured.

The marginalization of issues related to network resources that are not only scarce but also tend to be monopolized by global players like multinational corporations, explains the “impressive degree of consensus on most issues” addressed in the IG debate, as it has been found, for example, by the European Commission member responsible for Information Society and Media.6

The second purpose of this neutral image of network control, produced and promoted by those who Vincent Mosco calls the powerful “mythmakers” of the digital age7—including software houses and hardware manufacturers as well as journalists, politicians and academics—has been to support the legitimacy of policies adopted by governments and international organizations with an articulated rhetorical repertoire that, in its most advanced recommendations, even reaches an explicit eschatological perspective of redemption. The myth of the digital revolution, conjuring up scenarios of a global “information society” governed by an “electronic democracy” and aimed at development and welfare by paradigms of a “new economy”, supported the adoption of networks by political, economic and social institutions almost everywhere in the world. Plans for institutional re-engineering modeled on the “virtual state” theorized by Jane E. Fountain, with administrative and political processes increasingly “dependent on the Internet and Web”8, have been justified and promoted in the perspective of economic development and social empowerment9, political participation10, institutional accountability and responsiveness11.

These plans, articulated on a scale ranging from local municipalities to international organizations, have helped to set in motion a process of conversion to the Digital. Alongside the enthusiasm for new technologies, this has generated an uncritical and unproblematic approach to the deep structures of control and regulation in cyberspace.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book:
Reset