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BLOG: Cyber control now a debate for the ages

Christopher Joye (via AFR) | May 14, 2013
The internet wars are cleaved between lawyers, policymakers and national security officials trying to figure out how to apply rules, while hackers resist such efforts.

Cyber control now a debate for the ages
The internet wars are cleaved between lawyers, policymakers and national security officials trying to figure out how to apply rules, while hackers resist such efforts. Photo: Glenn Hunt

 

There is a fascinating, polarised yet largely unreported debate (some call it a "war") simmering over the future of the internet.

Events of recent years have forced businesses and governments to come to grips with the nature of a truly global and transcendental communications network, which has the power to remove tyrannical states and rip billions out of financial markets in mere minutes.

It has led to an argument over how the internet should be controlled, or whether it should be controlled at all.

One side focuses on how to ensure that increasingly ubiquitous digital activity conforms with legal and regulatory frameworks that have been carefully constructed over centuries. This presents the opportunity to harmonise laws across countries though, taken to an extreme, the internet can be used as a vehicle by ruling elites to oppress human rights and expand their power

For others, the internet is a supranational space where the laws of even democratic societies do not apply. Here, the internet offers an opportunity to start all over again - to build a replacement for the disconnected, corrupt and rule-ridden regimes of today with a kind of "anarchist libertarianism".

Bookended between these polarities are conservatives whose reflex is to protect the status quo, resisting the evolution of laws that were never conceived with the internet in mind, and run-of-the-mill civil libertarians that instinctively recoil when governments propose new legislation.

"I think a hundred years from now we may look back on this period as one of largely unregulated anarchy online," says Grahame Lynch, founder of the telecoms publication, CommsDay. "Certainly the international impulse is for more regulation.

"The moves of Russia and China to take direct control of the net may be a sign of things to come."

The most prominent parties in this debate tend to pitch it as a "war on the internet" waged by a conspiracy of western governments and their sinister national security instruments, which promote "cyber hysteria" as a trojan horse to impose legal restraints on it.

Their not-so-vocal opponents sketch an image of a lawless "Matrix" waging "cyberwar" on us by introducing a new universe of difficult to defend delivery-devices that can be exploited by criminals, terrorists and foreign despots to wreak havoc on us.

THE INTERNET'S TRANSCENDENTAL PROPERTIES

 

This conflict can be traced back to the internet's transcendental properties: it shifts so much of our personal, professional and communal activity out of the tangible and observable and into the ghost-like or preternatural digital sphere.

 

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