Dliberation.org looks at the global politics of digital networks — how the rise of the Internet affects the distribution of power among citizens, states and corporations, transforming rich and poor societies alike.
In the 1990s, technology utopians were confident the Internet would soon make a user’s location irrelevant. Today, our online rights and privileges are increasingly determined by where we access the Internet — just try searching for the Swedish town of Falun from Beijing. Such artificial barriers to unfettered communication are a reminder that the medium can still constrain the message.
It is therefore important that citizens have a broad say in the legal frameworks being built to govern this global digital network. Even in democracies, states and corporations risk promoting a literal transposition of existing legal code — written for a world of material scarcity — onto a world of information abundance.
But we cannot think of the Internet as a wholly abstracted medium. Its servers, switches and cables are mostly owned and operated by profit-seeking corporations that must obey national laws. The Internet is vulnerable to attacks that exploit its physical footprint and all-too-human users. In the face of this reality, we look to states and corporations to keep the Internet viable. We thus need to find an appropriate balance of power between citizens, states and corporations online.
Meanwhile, those acting on the memes that ride the free flow of information are attempting to transform existing political power structures. Traditional tools of authoritarian control — censorship, surveillance, propaganda, sabotage — have found their digital analogs, but are matched by an array of circumvention techniques — proxies, encryption, civic media, peer-to-peer networks…
What’s next? Cyber-warfare between states is now viable, with cyber-terrorism likely to follow. Strategic sectors such as finance, energy, and transportation are all vulnerable to attack via digital networks. While the Internet may always have been at the mercy of the real world, the real world is now also at the mercy of the Internet. This complex loop is the premise of Dliberation.org.
About the author
Dliberation.org is written by Stefan Geens — you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am Belgian but currently live in Stockholm after stints in Cairo, Shanghai and Beijing. I studied at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Bologna and Washington, DC, and have spent the plurality of my life in New York City. I work as a technologist; my clients include the Swedish state, for whom I’ve managed digital public diplomacy projects. I run Ogle Earth, a long-running blog about the political and social impact of the digital mapping revolution.
My PGP key ID is 54abd155f7ce9b68.