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When You Hear “Security,” Think “National Sovereignty”

These days you can hardly talk about Internet governance without hearing about security. DNSSEC is a hot issue, ICANN’s new president is a cyber-security expert, and cyberattacks seem to be a daily occurrence.

This reflects a larger shift in US policy. Like the Bush administration before it, the Obama administration is making security a high priority for the US. Only now the emphasis is on security in cyberspace. The outlines of the new policy were published in the recent US Cyberspace Policy Review, which even recommends a cyber security office directly in the White House.

This new emphasis on cyber-security has important implications for Internet governance. The provision of security is a basic function of a government in the international system. So when you hear “security”, what is also being emphasized is “national sovereignty” and “national government”—not to mention “national power” and “international competition.” The Cyberspace Policy Review explicitly compares today’s situation to the launch of Sputnik, when America fully embraced Cold War inter-national rivalry.

This security emphasis is at odds with most talk about global society. Prioritizing security goes contrary to Internet privatization, multi-stakeholderism, civil society, and even international cooperation. When it comes to cyber-security, governments lead—especially the US government—and everyone else follows. True, governments outside the US have a role, but mostly as security partners of the US. Industry has a role, too, but as a subcontractor to the US government (watch out for some lucrative contracts!) As for civil society, well there is not much. University research budgets should get a hefty boost, and employment will be up among privacy experts. But that could be it.

You can already see signs of implementation. The Cyberspace Policy Review called for a public awareness campaign, and now the mass media are filled with stories about cyberattacks. Conficker is the new Al Qaeda, and Port 80 violations have pushed suicide bombers off the front page. Consent, as they say, is being actively manufactured.

As for the sanctity of cyberspace, Mary Ann Davidson, the chief security officer of software vendor Oracle, likened the new approach to the Monroe Doctrine: “The advantages of invoking a Monroe-like Doctrine in cyberspace would be to put the world on notice that the U.S. has cyber ‘turf,’ ... and the second is that we will defend our turf.” Maybe ICANN be the new independent Republic of Texas.

ICANN’s President Beckstrom is already talking the new party line. On a recent interview on US public television, he touted ICANN’s capacities in inter-national relations, noting “we have relationships with every single country in the world and play somewhat of a diplomatic role.” This is not the language of globalization; it is the language of international relations. And in the international system, one government is more equal than others.

Welcome to the unipolar cyberspace!

By Hans Klein, Associate Professor of Public Policy, Georgia Tech

Hans Klein is also Scientific Committee Member and Co-founder of the Internet Governance Project as well as Adjunct Faculty, Hertie School of Governance (Berlin).

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