What Balkanizes the Internet: Access Denied or Access Unwanted?

Harsh Taneja & Angela Xiao Wu discuss their upcoming research project on access blockage and balkanization of the Internet.

Two months after attending a celebration to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall, then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced: “A new information curtain is descending across much of the world.”

Clinton’s quote reflects a larger trend in the US policy discourse on the Internet. This dominant discourse equates access blockage with a digital version of the Iron Curtain that curbs the “free flow of information” and creates a vital “partition” on the “global” Internet. Such claims assume that Internet users would use all websites if given access. However, a large body of research on media use shows that people are interested in what unfolds nearby and is in their preferred language. If the latter holds true, one needs to empirically investigate the extent to which access blockage confines Internet users within isolated communities.

CGCS has created the Internet Policy Observatory (IPO) to research the dynamic technological and political contexts in which Internet developments and censorship take place. The IPO will serve as a platform for informing relevant communities of activists, academics, and policy makers, displaying collected data and analysis about ongoing events, such as key decisions and proposals, legal or informal, on Internet policy. Through the IPO, we will be embarking on our project, “What Balkanizes the Internet: Access Denied or Access Unwanted.”  It examines…

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A Shift in International Information Security: The Story of a Diplomatic Oxymoron

Gregory Asmolov, a PhD candidate in New Media, Innovation, and Literacy at the London School of Economics, uses the recent UN draft resolution “Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security” to examine shifts in international Internet regulation. On November 11, 2013 CGCS hosted a talk with Gregory where he used Russia as a case study to suggest exploring Internet regulation beyond specific measures suggested by government, such as new legislation or law enforcement that seeks to restrict Internet freedom.

The Past. Information security vs. cybersecurity: traditional disagreements.

Russia and the U.S. have historically had very different positions on international Internet regulation issues. Washington focuses on cybersecurity, Internet freedom, and limiting the field of regulation to technological infrastructure while Moscow’s position centers on the much broader information security. According to Russian information security scholar Oleg Demidov, Russia tends to focus on the regulation of state-to-state relationships in the information realm. The traditional western position, however, is more concerned with threats affiliated with individual actors, as well as with state actors that limit individuals’ freedom through cyberspace regulation[1].

Another point of debate is whether cybersecurity should be regulated by hard law or by soft law (set of norms without compulsory commitment). While many discussions take place in different international forums, the United Nations continues to be a major arena for Russia’s promotion of information security as a framework for international regulation. Russia, acts through the UN first committee in order to frame Internet regulation within the broader context of international security.[2] The U.S., however, frames cybersecurity-related regulation as “creation of global culture of cybersecurity” and promote its initiatives through the UN second committee.

The Present. New project of the UN resolution: Strategic shift.

On the one hand, traditional opposition to the Russian “information security” approach continues to be a major leitmotif in the Western…

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