Am I Big Brother’s Keeper?

Lee McGuigan is one of the eight 2014 Milton Wolf Emerging Scholar Fellows, an accomplished group of doctoral and advanced MA candidates selected to attend the 2014 Milton Wolf Seminar: “The Third Man Theme Revisited: Foreign Policies of the Internet in a time of Surveillance and Disclosure.” Their posts highlight the critical themes and on-going debates raised during the 2014 Seminar discussions.


Post-war Vienna, as portrayed in the film The Third Man, could be interpreted as a metaphor for the internet: A handful of competitively positioned actors are vying to assert authority over a jurisdiction and its strategic resources. While the edges are balkanized to a certain extent according to the controls, values, and norms imposed and enforced by sovereign powers, the central space is an ostensibly international zone in which claims to ownership and authority are contentious and without an obvious natural basis. In many ways, the development of the internet is impaired by an inability to resolve competing narratives of closure. In other words, the actors are staking not only geographical but ideological claims about what the digital space means, how it should be used, and who will oversee its assembly and maintenance. Closure is thus both a matter of architecture and a matter of vision—of consensus about the values embedded in the design of the internet (and its intended functions) and the norms underpinning the legitimacy of an actor’s claim to authority. Absent this closure, the global internet, like post-war Vienna, is a liminal…


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