Global Cyber Censorship Technique
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The New School for Public engagement
Cyber Censorship Technique
Transition of Internet Governance
A new structured neutral body of governance should provide International management and oversight for the technical aspects of the World Wide Web in aims of providing widespread access to an open Internet, while respecting data sovereignty of individual states. This body shall set forth measures that discourage abusive state use of telecommunication infrastructure to manipulate and/or silence populations of people. Ideally, the neutral body should not be mostly populated by existing Internet stakeholders, but by representatives from a comprehensive list of individual states. The Idea is to avoid an unbalanced leverage of western influence among members of the neutral body. A balkanized cyber framework reduces the potential reach and impact of the Internet, when employed as a tool for social liberation. Cyber censorship techniques are being uniquely designed by different nations to strategically filter content regionally.
The impact of the Internet socially has been undeniable. The Internet has the power to connect people and ideas near and far. Socially, the Internet has proved itself an effective tool for social change. The success of the Arab springs would not have occurred if the social media platform, Twitter, were not utilized. Governments, near and far, often seek to maintain control of their people and resources, making the power of the Internet a disruptive threat.
In acknowledgment of the Internet and its power, governments have shut down infrastructure to prevent the transmission of information via the World Wide Web, especially in times of political turmoil. The Internet in China has a firewall that filters out many websites from the Western world. Information that criticizes public figures is often blocked. The Internet has the power to condition the thoughts of the user, so if the information is pre-filtered, then the dimensions of ones thoughts are to some degree preprogrammed.
The war on information is of high concern in the current digital age. This has led many people/Organizations to increase security and to further encrypt valuable information. Governments are spying on other Governments, and there has been increased theft of not only bank information but also intellectual property. In an increasingly globalized world and economy, the trend of the Internet being an organic global mobilizer may be taking a new direction.
In aims of maintaining sovereignty, regions in the Middle East have begun constructing their own version of the Internet completely in Arabic. There is also discussion about the World Wide Web having virtual borders that are representative of the physical borders of a given country. It may be possible for a citizen to be banned from use of the Internet in their country, so they may be able to seek Internet exile in another country.
At present, there is no universally agreed upon definition of Internet Governance. There are however two similar definitions that were crafted in an international context. The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) defined Internet governance as being "the development and application by governments, the private sector, and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programs that shape the evolution and use of the Internet". While the Internet Governance Project (ICP) defines Internet Governance as "being collective decision-making by owners, operators, developers, and users of the networks connected by Internet protocols to establish policies, rules, and dispute resolution procedures about technical standards, resource allocations, and/or the conduct of people engaged in global internetworking activities.
The difference between the definitions set forth by the WSIS and the ICP lies in the difference of technical focus. The ICP clearly has a more technical definition that highlights the importance of Internet protocols, technical standards, etc. The WSIS seems to have its focus geared towards the political framework and context that exist as a result of the Internet. The point of connection between definitions set forth by WSIS and ICP exist in the mutual reference to those with decision-making power being in the hands of the private sector. The WSIS does have a definition that accounts for individual government influence in Internet governance, whereas ICP only makes reference to users, owners, operators, and developers. (ME)
Governing the Internet is a daunting task that is made especially difficult because of the decentralized nature of the architecture and structure of the Internet. Governing limitations present themselves for individual nations whose authority ends at national borders for a seemingly global framework. This being said, the successful functioning of the Internet is more dependent on the willing cooperation and participation by mostly private sector stakeholders around the world. Operators of servers and networks around the world, domain name registrars, standards organizations, Internet service providers, and users seemingly have more influence on the World Wide Web than any given individual national influence.
The United States certainly has more leverage over the structure of the Internet as compared to any other nation due to the proximity of the supervising body that has historically provided oversight for the Internet and its functioning worldwide. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a private not-for-profit organization that was formed in California to manage and oversee critical technical underpinnings of the Internet. By way of contracts and registries, the ICANN implements and enforces policies that are frequently developed by consensus based supporting organizations and committees that adhere to a bottom up approach.
The framework of the Internet can be divided into tree important dimensions that cohesively work together to allow for the Internet's successful functioning. Different constituencies place different levels of importance to each dimension. The Internet's framework near and far tend to include a technical, political, and financial dimension. The technical dimension is arguably the most important because it is the backbone and heart of the Internet, being that it allows for a technical operating system from which everything connected to the Internet stems from. The political dimension has a lot to do with the content that a given user has access to, and the type of content that is likely to be produced in a search result. The political dimension does not threaten the functioning of the Internet, but it does affect and influence users of the Internet, resulting in a physical effect based on a seemingly virtual cause. Lastly, the financial dimension has to do with the economic effects of the Internet. Big money has the ability to monopolize distribution channels for valuable resources, affecting trademarks and brands globally.
Since the Internet was first constructed in the United States, the U.S. Government has played an important role in preserving stability, security, and an open Internet. The proximity of the United States provides oversight for ICANN, while providing assurance to millions of companies around the world. These said companies tend to utilize the Internet for business with the confidence that the basic technical architecture of the Internet is governed in a fair and transparent manner. The Internet, under this governance, has undeniably birthed an immense amount of innovation and social benefits.
The Internet has often been referred to as a space that is seemingly lawless and ungoverned, so much so, that people use it for an outlet to express themselves in ways they would not have in the physical world. The decentralized structure, and constantly changing interlinking patterns of the Web makes it especially hard to govern. The most control that a state may have over the structure of the Internet is mainly the physical mechanics. Leverage over the physical infrastructures allows a nation to effectively control entry and exit waypoints for transmitted Internet data. A majority of users worldwide interact with an Internet that is filtered based on the given country's policies and technological infrastructure. Filtering in most countries is typically conducted at an ISP level by putting restrictions on gateway routers.
In countries that place a high value on sophisticated censorship, an immense amount of resources are allocated towards building complex systems. These countries also tend to set high penalties for anyone that attempts to hack their system. China is a great example of a country that places a high value on cyber censorship. They employ a cyber censorship technique by blocking entire platforms that may be popular elsewhere in the world, such as Facebook, twitter, tumblr, etc. The cyber censorship technique employed in China is so seamless that the average user would not know that a given news piece existed without prior knowledge. To the Chinese, their firewall represents an effort to guard their statehood.
A natural progression to individual nations establishing a culture within a cyber boundary is the process of collective data editing based on shared values and geopolitics. Basic cultural agreements or a mutual dislike for a given religious minority group may act as a catalyst for collective editing. The strongest motivators for different nations to collaborate are likely to be centered in religion, morality, and ideology. Pressure may force autocratic and weak democracies to collaborate. The physical divisions of divergent interests in the real world will start to take shape on the World Wide Web.
Forward thinking nations are taking the transition into a cyber world very seriously, and are creating laws that make sense. For example, Chile became the first nation in the world to draft legislation that guarantees net neutrality for their population. No government has created an alternative to the Internet as of yet, but if one did, then they would essentially have the power to unplug their population from the Internet, as we know it.
The Iranian government has been making strides towards building its own "halal Internet", and has launched its own version of youtube called "Mehr". The construction of such a system would be used as a replacement for the World Wide Web, and would insulate the culture and the citizens from the region. At present, China has the most extreme version of cyber censorship in the world. If the Iranian government gained success in building their own version of the Internet, they will surpass China for the title of being the most heavily censored cyber state.
Strides are being made by various nations worldwide towards virtual statehood. The stride is largely motivated by a perception of religious or ethnic discrimination. The injustices often faced by those persecuted in the physical world will be translated into a cyber platform. The move towards data sovereignty will act as a motivator also; especially for nations that desire to keep privileged national information safe from western cyber surveillance. The establishment of a virtual statehood can open up opportunities for new jobs in government just to address political concerns between nations virtually.
The historical monopoly that the United States government has had over the function ICANN and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) is argued to be undemocratic by many countries worldwide. Many countries are not satisfied because they think the existing structure is open to abuse because the U.S government essentially has leverage over decisions that affect the Internet worldwide. There has been momentum in recent years to move oversight of the IANA to a more neutral and representative body, such as a Geneva-based UN organization. The U.S government has historically objected any such transfer of functioning oversight.
The leading argument against transferring oversight of the IANA to a truly democratic and representative body is the fear that many decisions would be dominated by nations that are less dedicated to freedom of speech and self-expression. For example, Internet users in say China and Russia outnumber users protected by the First Amendment. Even European nations such as Britain seek internal Internet censorship powers. The U.S objects to any nation having such control over IANA function that would enable a deeper level of infrastructure editing. There has been increased pressure in recent time for the function of the IANA to be globalized, especially since the NSA revelations that were unfolded by Edward Snowden. Many are calling for the International Telecommunications Union to take control of key functions on the Internet.
Various parties that have expressed resistance to a change in oversight concede that the multi-stakeholder model should be strengthened in aims of preserving the fast engine for innovation that has been a result of the Internet under existing structured framework. The ICANN has made a statement since the Snowden revelations that some sort of reform must take place within the organization. The contract binding the U.S to ICANN is nearing expiration, and it would not look favorable on the part of the U.S government if they unilaterally renewed the contract without any structured change. To some degree, the technical facts are less important than the perceived primal desires of nations to gain or maintain influence. The term governance alludes to some sort of power or control, and each nation would like their input to be included.
The occurrence of the Arab Spring serves as an example of the potential widespread impact that can occur in the physical world because of the new forms of communicative technology. Andy Carvin, a social media strategist at NPR, served as a key broker of information during the Arab Spring. Non-elite sources had a greater representation in the reporting of the ordeal than did institutionalized traditional sources for news. The instant access and transmission of networked digital media has changed the way journalists source pertinent information regarding a given news piece. Using the resource of social media allows a journalist to gage not only the general feelings toward a given topic, but also the opportunity to get information such as pictures and videos directly from people that may be physically at the scene of a newsworthy event.
Public perception of world politics is largely influenced by the interplay between journalists and their sources. The presentation of this interplay often shapes the way the viewer thinks about the topic being covered. Utilizing the resource of an open Internet, with its powerful social media platforms such as twitter, allows for access to more diverse news sources as opposed to the frequently limited news from institutionalized sources such as government officials, police officers, and/or business leaders. Greater pluralism in media discourse can be achieved through utilizing social media platforms, while decreasing reliance on institutionalized outlets for sources.
The proliferation of social media use for newsgathering can be argued as being disruptive because it disregards the traditional hierarchy of news gathering, and may frequently blur the distinction between producer and gatherer of information and news. Social media platforms such as twitter have been increasingly common in newsrooms, especially when there is a news gap to fill. A news gap often occurs when a media outlet do not have any reporters physically on the scene, so the next best option in real-time is an Internet embedded social media platform like twitter.
Widespread access to an open Internet has altered the traditional role of a journalist. Access to information from social media often calls for a journalist to serve as a curator of sorts that has filter through and contextualize data in real time. This performance is also usually transparent due to technical layout of twitter, as in the case of Andy Carving, whom often publicly called on followers for assistance with verifying information. The range of actors involved in the news construction process is potentially increased by way of networked and distributed social media platforms.
The success of the Arab Spring would not have occurred without the use of the Internet. Populations from different countries were able have a mutual agenda to rise up against the respective power of oppression. The use of social media has proved to be especially useful for various activist groups, as can be noted in the protest movements that occurred in the Middle East during Arab Spring. The Internet and social media have demonstrated its power to grant a voice to alternative sources. Voices of impact were given to bloggers, activists, and intellectuals near and far that were involved in advocacy efforts. The unintended consequence of a voice being gained via social media is that an alternate source may strategically challenge institutional elites to weaken credibility of newsgathering elites.
Data sovereignty can be defined as being a spectrum of approaches adopted by different states to control data generated in or passing through a given national infrastructure. The United States and allies feel that localization of data sovereignty is a threat to a free and open global Internet. Advocates of data sovereignty view localization as a means of securing sensitive data from surveillance from foreign countries, especially post Snowden revelations. Each cyber domain tends to have geographical ties because each component of the man- made infrastructure is subject to sovereign laws and jurisdiction.
A nation with weak data sovereignty is one that prioritizes the protection of private sector information, with an emphasis on the digital-rights aspect of data sovereignty as opposed to a state led safeguarding of sensitive information to maintain national security. The technical community responsible for upholding the infrastructure of the global Internet has expressed their stance against data sovereignty at a national level. They have instead, proposed that a transition of governance to a group comprised of members from governments, the private sector, academia, and civil society. Stakeholders from the United States also maintains a stance against data sovereignty for individual states, but the United States have long since lost their credibility as being good cyber stewards. Even the European Union, an ally of the U.S, seeks to adopt a localized cloud service to guard their private information.
At a United Nations level, there has been an immense push towards making Internet-related public issues a sovereign right of given nation instead of external stakeholders. The valid moral concern is that states should have the right to curb the dissemination of information if information incites physical riots or terrorism. In the same breath, it can be argued that states will have too much power over disseminated information, which opens up a new door for abuse. There needs to be a balance between state autonomy in regards to sensitive information, while coordinating the functioning of the Internet with a structured neutral international body geared towards fairly serving each nation of the world. The right to privacy in the digital age should be consistent with the already existing right to privacy as a human right. The digital age brings forth a new platform, but the principle of privacy has not changed. Privacy in the scope of the digital age should essentially be the right to privacy from mass surveillance.
Nations that have been prominent advocates for data sovereignty such as Brazil, India, China, and Russia all have slightly different reasons for why they seek a right to cyber privacy for sensitive data. For instance, even though Brazil is in favor of a coherent, interconnected, stable, and unfragmented Internet, they want their sensitive data hosted on a cloud service that is subject to Brazilian law. Russia's main reason for advocating for data sovereignty is centered in domestic regulation and political control of information within the region. For India, data sovereignty is not about safeguarding national data, but about protecting data from the private sector for its own economic interests. The data that India prioritizes protection for is often data from Western investors that have outsourced segments of their business to India. China advocates for data sovereignty because they are in favor of non-interference in other nations sovereign affairs and vice versa. Ideally, China would like to see an intergovernmental organization provide oversight on an international scale in aims of attaining equality among sovereign states during Internet decision-making process.
Transitioning oversight and management from ICANN is imperative for a truly open Internet. Despite advances that have proliferated under ICANN, they have not proved themselves to be good stewards of the Internet. Revelations from Edward Snowden may just be a sample of the unethical conduct that has been taking place within the structure of the Internet. In a globalized digital age where the use of the Internet is widespread, it is time for a body that is not a private company to provide oversight. The International Telecommunications Union would be an excellent option to take over where ICANN left off. Since the Internet affects more than just private stakeholders, it is certainly time to open up decision-making power to parties that are not stakeholders with a vested interest, such as members from academia and governments worldwide. The Internet increasingly has the power to frame the news that people receive, so it is necessary for an organization such as the International Telecommunications Union to assist in minimizing propaganda.
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