Cyberspace and Surveillance: Challenges to State Identity and Ontological Security in the Digital Age

Robert Ralston 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. Their posts highlight the critical themes and on-going debates raised during the 2014 Seminar discussions.

Increasing state surveillance of the internet and a seeming lack of global accountability and best practices regarding foreign and domestic internet policies demands the attention of students, scholars, and practitioners of media and communication, political science, sociology, computer science, and the like. With these concerns in mind, the 2014 Milton Wolf Seminar highlighted themes of surveillance, visibility, disclosure, and espionage in the digital age. This essay seeks to touch upon some of these themes, and to present a case for the study of ontological security in international relations as a way to explain, in part, U.S. practices of surveillance following the leaks by former National Security Administration (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden. Politically, the stakes are high as cyberpolitics becomes an issue of “high politics” in the study of international relations; states and the agents who produce narratives about the state frame cyber discourse in ways that attempt to justify practices of surveillance, espionage, and censorship. States justify intrusion into cyberspace in the name of stability and an idealized self-image. This, can prove violent and costly, with parallels to justifying war on the basis of empire in offline venues. In cyber venues, the United States in particular has had to justify state intrusion into such venues. Void of routinized…

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The Complex Geopolitics of Internet Governance

Julien Nocetti, a Research Fellow at the Paris-based think tank French Institute of Intenational Relations (IFRI), explores the geopolitics of internet governance. This article was originally posted on April 4, 2014 on the Valdai Discussion Club and can be found here.

On March 14th, the U.S. government announced that it would relinquish management and coordination of web addresses through the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which is indirectly led by the U.S., to a global business community, public interest groups, academics, and governments. This is likely to open a new chapter in the way the internet is “governed.”

This happened a few days before an ICANN meeting in Singapore and, perhaps more importantly, a month before NETmundial, an international conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil on the future of internet governance.

There were three signs that supervision of the internet was about to evolve towards greater internationalization in coming months.

First, U.S. moral leadership on Internet issues was destroyed by Edward Snowden’s leaks regarding Washington’s large-scale cyber surveillance and its intelligence agencies’ collusion with major internet corporations. These …

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