Safeguarding Cyberspace

CAMBRIDGE – Brazil recently hosted NETmundial, the first global conference on Internet governance, attended by 800 representatives of governments, corporations, civil-society organizations, and technologists. Based on the notion of “multi-stakeholderism,” the meeting produced a 12-page “outcomes” document.

Nonetheless, at the end of the conference, there was still no consensus on global cyber governance. Many governments continued to advocate traditional United Nations voting procedures for making global decisions, and defend their right to control domestic cyber activities.

In a sense, this is not surprising. After all, though the Internet is a complex, fast-evolving, and all-encompassing global resource, it has not been around for very long. While the World Wide Web was conceived in 1989, it was only in the last 15 years that the number of Web sites burgeoned, and Internet technology began to transform global supply chains. Since 1992, the number of Internet users has exploded from one million to nearly three billion. Just like that, the Internet became a substrate of economic, social, and political life.

In its early days, the Internet was often characterized as the ultimate egalitarian conduit of free-flowing information – a harbinger of the end of government controls. But the reality is that governments and geographical jurisdictions have always played a central role in regulating the Internet – or at least have tried. Ultimately, however, the Internet poses a major governance challenge, exemplified in ongoing efforts to understand the implications of ubiquitous mobility and the collection and storage of “big data.”