Wednesday, 2 November 2011

"This debate belongs to you": cyberanomie and Internet rights


In the run-up to the London Conference on Cyberspace this week, William Hague again called for states to agree upon the rules of cyberwarfare.

In a world where national infrastructure is increasingly dependent upon networked technologies, the potential remotely to exploit this reliance is enormous. Our increasing dependence on technology places cyberwarfare ever higher up the information warfare agenda. This much is uncontroversial, and as one commentator pointed out, much of what was discussed at #LondonCyber was somewhat banal.

That said, Hague's closing speech summarises the 'best bits', distilling principles which in my view ought to be treated by policymakers the world over as something close to a constitutional model. By adopting this model, national laws will address the needs of a world reliant upon networked technologies. However, more must be said on the content of these laws if regulation on the global network is to be effective against arbitrage. Hague's speech sets the agenda for further international debate on the legislative and judicial development of cyberlaw, but it's up to us all to contribute to that debate.

Consistent regulation is important to guard against cyberanomie: the perception of lawlessness that underpinned the faulty perception of borderlessness (per Carolina) and anonymity that inspired JP Barlow to declare cyberspace a self-governing extraterritory. In the face of consistent and effective regulation, users will never forget that their actions are ultimately grounded by and effective within the physical world, creating a sense of accountability that will remind users to consult what Durkheim called their "internal policeman" when deciding how to conduct themselves online, applying the same standards online and offline. Users seeking to escape normative accountability by commenting anonymously or under a pseudonym will be caught by a cultural tendency to ignore, prohibit or deny weight to such comments.

The case for effective normative regulation is not only grounded in the defence of national interests and the preservation of our infrastructures, but in the defence of the modern self. Turkle identifies a heavy degree of investment of the self in technology. Bernal writes extensively on privacy and identifies an undervalued currency of personal data, and Laidlaw considers what responsibilities ought to be embraced by the gatekeepers controlling this data. On the topic of cybercrime specifically, Hague acknowledges that younger generations growing up in a world pervaded by technology increasingly do not draw a distinction between online and offline spaces. Because of our degree of self-investment in technology, criminality is as much a threat to autonomy (see my previous post) and individual interests online as it is offline  including in virtual worlds (see my essay proposing a right virtuālis, link to follow).

It is my hope that the growing threat of cyberwarfare and cyberterrorism, together with the awareness raised by and discussions begun at #LondonCyber, will lead to debate on the broader norms of interaction online. Murray describes users as interacting within an 'active matrix' of connected Lessigian dots: this matrix must publicly discuss and decide upon what behaviours are and are not acceptable within international communities of users, and states must consider this when agreeing upon policy. #LondonCyber is a model forum in this respect, encompassing matters between states, between state and citizen, and between citizens, interacting with each other on a global scale.

The threshold between criminality and abnormality ought thus to be determined in the public sphere, and states ought further to facilitate and encourage this debate. Kaspersky's provocative remarks at #LondonCyber serve as a reminder that the 'war on terror' rhetoric situates terrorism somewhere between war and crime: a debate on Internet rights (per Murray) would clarify where acts of cyberterrorism, and harmful online behaviour more broadly, ought to fit within the law.

Later posts on this blog will contribute to this debate by discussing specific harms mediated wholly or partly by technology. In the meantime, whether here or elsewhere, do share your thoughts. In the words of William Hague, "this debate belongs to you".

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