Contemporary discussion surrounding the role of the internet in society is dominated by words like: internet freedom, surveillance, cybersecurity, Edward Snowden and, most prolifically, cyberwar. Behind the rhetoric of cyberwar is an on-going state-centered battle for information resources. This real cyberwar between states is not new; it is as old as the systematic transfer of information across borders. This talk conceptualizes cyberwar as the utilization of digital networks for geopolitical purposes, including covert attacks against another state’s electronic systems, but also, and more importantly, the variety of ways the internet is used to further a state’s economic and military agendas. Rather than re-hashing debates about the democratic value of new and emerging media technologies, I focus on the political, economic and geopolitical factors driving internet freedom policies, arguing that efforts to create a singular, universal internet built upon Western legal, political and social preferences alongside the “freedom to connect” is driven primarily by economic and geopolitical motivations rather than the humanitarian and democratic ideals that typically accompany related policy discourse. This freedom to connect movement, led by the US government with the support of many powerful private sector actors, has rich historical roots and is deeply intertwined with broader efforts to structure global society in ways that favor American and Western cultures, economies, and governments. This analysis reveals how internet policies and governance have emerged as critical sites for geopolitical contest between major international actors, the results of which will shape 21st century statecraft, diplomacy and conflict.
This seminar is part of the CGCS’ Internet Policy Observatory lunchtime series.
Click here to pre-order Shawn Power’s forthcoming book The Real Cyber War: A Political Economy of Internet Freedom
Shawn Powers (PhD, University of Southern California) is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at Georgia State University. His research specializes in international political communication with particular attention to the geopolitics of information and technology policy. Dr. Powers is a faculty affiliate of GSU’s Transcultural Violence and Conflict initiative and co-leads its British Council and U.S. Institute of Peace funded project on Civic Approaches to Religious Conflict. He is also an associate director at the Center for International Media Education and serves on the Board of Advisors for the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.