Welcome to Net Politics, a blog about cybersecurity, digital trade, privacy, and Internet governance.
This is a new age of conflict in and through cyberspace. The rapid diffusion and adoption of digital and communication technologies raises profound questions for security, prosperity, privacy, and global order. States, terrorists, and criminal hackers may be able to shut down power, communication, transportation, and financial networks, inflicting not just massive economic losses but also death and physical destruction. President Obama has warned that “our enemies are seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, and our air traffic control systems.” U.S. Cyber Command is set to expand from 900 to 5,000 people, and militaries and intelligence agencies around the world are rushing to develop new weapons without any agreement on how and when they might be used, or a deep understanding of the consequences this arms race has for an open and global Internet.
There is also struggle for the massive amounts of data that users generate by using their cell phones, searching online, and posting to their favorite social media sites, as well as data that is “born analog,” created by sensors in cars, homes, buildings, public spaces, and industrial control systems. All of the data is of great interest to companies, who hope to profit from it, and to governments, whose interest can range from foiling terrorist plots to crushing dissent. At stake are critical questions about privacy, trade rules and intellectual property rights.
To answer to the question of who will “govern” cyberspace is up for grabs. The divide is typically cast as a “digital cold war,” a face-off between those who believe Internet governance should remain distributed among the private sector, civil society, technical experts, and governments, and those who want a stronger role for the state under the auspices of the United Nations and led by the International Telecommunications Union. The reality is more complex, as a large number of states float back and forth between approaches depending on the issue. Some developing states see the current institutions of Internet governance as illegitimate but are also uncomfortable with being closely associated with the more restrictive models of domestic Internet control promoted by China and Russia. Some U.S. allies and friends are pushing for change because they fear that the United States government can leverage the dominance of American companies over Internet architecture for security, intelligence, and economic gains. Last year, I directed a Council on Foreign Relations Independent Task Force that covered many of these issues. Go take a look at the report, Defending an Open, Global, Secure, and Resilient Internet, if you are interested.
The risks and rewards of these struggles are high. Today, 75 percent of the world’s population has access to a mobile phone, and the Internet connects 40 percent of the planet, roughly 2.7 billion people. Net Politics will provide original insight, highlight some of the best analysis on the web and elsewhere, and hopefully introduce some of the best new voices commenting on emerging politics of cyberspace.
Net Politics hopes to embody the ethos of the Internet, being a source of knowledge and a two-way discussion. Your comments are always welcome on the blog, and I hope you will read some of the previous posts I did on China and cybersecurity over at Asia Unbound. I’m also on Twitter at @adschina.