Internet Governance, Technical Standards and the “Tree” Antennas

Diego Vicentin 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.

Just as soon as I arrived from Brazil in the US, to join the Center for Information Technology Policy Princeton team as graduate fellow, the curious image of cellular antennas disguised as trees caught my attention. It is common to see these “tree” antennas right beside the road while travelling from Princeton to New York, Philly, or Boston. Aside from the purpose of avoiding visual pollution, this attempt at producing a friendlier landscape is representative of our relation with information and communication infrastructure. The technical and political apparatus that supports the mode of operation of digital technologies is predominantly invisible to the end user. Only the ones who really pay attention can see the antenna behind the fake tree branches. Normally that is not the case. The majority of users take infrastructure for granted, rendering it invisible. Whereas such invisibility might be seen as an unintended result of both the technical complexity of digital communication networks and its decentralized form of governance, in fact, it is commonly used as a power strategy to avoid accountability as well as broader political participation in technology governance.

Fortunately, Edward Snowden’s revelations have shed light on the issue of technology governance, bringing…

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