On the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web, Laura DeNardis’ The Global War for Internet Governance
brings us a sweep through the history of technical and political wrangling that led to the
creation of the global Internet. Internet governance is an imprecise term, sometimes meant
narrowly, to refer to the process by which
Internet technical standards and the Domain
Name System (.com, .edu, etc.) are managed,
and sometimes taken very broadly to include
the wide range of legal policy issues regarding the way people use the Internet, from
security and copyright to privacy and government surveillance. DeNardis (American University) employs the broader definition.
In the face of rapid Internet growth—from
less than 1% of the world’s population online
in 1994 to over 35% in 2014—we rightly marvel at the engineers and computer scientists
who gave shape to the technical architecture
of Internet and the Web. While honoring those
government policy-makers who had the wisdom to allow the Internet to explode around
the world with minimal government regulation, we should also commend those officials
charged with protecting personal privacy,
security, and intellectual property for insisting that the rule of law has its place even amid
light-speed innovation. And perhaps most of
all, we should recognize that the social and
To Best Rule the Net
INTERNET AND SOCIETY
Daniel J. Weitzner
The reviewer is at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
Cambridge, MA 02139, USA. E-mail: email@example.com.
intellectual progress that the Internet has
enabled is largely due to the creativity of individuals and local institutions around the world
who have found in the Internet an open platform for building and sharing knowledge.
DeNardis’ detailed account of the technical and administrative arrangements
essential to the Internet helps us appreciate
the magnitude of the human
effort involved in “governing”
this infrastructure. She also
points to the challenges going
forward, addressing privacy,
security, equitable access, and
the demands of nation-states
to control information flow.
Largely descriptive, her treatment of these issues presents
a number of factual challenges and then
leaves us, at the end of each chapter, with
some questions to answer.
In the end, she instructs us that
The Internet is governed. Internet governance control points are not legal control points, nor are they confined within
nation-state boundaries. They are often
manifested through the design of technical architecture, the decisions of global
institutions of Internet governance, or the
policies of private companies, all globally
transcending forces in constant flux and
in constant tension with national legal
systems, intergovernmental treaties, and
regional cultural norms.
We face a frustrating lack of intellectual
guidance about both how to understand the
forces that have led to the Internet we know
today and, more important, to help policy-makers navigate the myriad decisions posed
as the Internet expands around the globe.
Consider the challenges we face.
Privacy is very much on the public’s mind
and of concern to scientists who want to take
advantage of new troves of personal data to
advance social and life sciences research. Yet,
as an empirical matter, we still have a very
hard time actually measuring the impacts
various research or commercial uses of per-
sonal data have on privacy. When does worth-
while research infringe privacy rights? Does
the profiling and tracking used to figure out
which ads to deliver to billions of Internet
users constitute a reasonable business prac-
tice or an assault on human dignity? Although
in part policy questions, these would be easier
to answer if we had more clear ways to mea-
sure privacy impact. Recent efforts at more
rigorous mathematical and systematic char-
acterizations of privacy risk may help [e.g.,
(1)], but we are still a long way from being
able to measure privacy impact with the pre-
cision that we can measure other important
public resources, such as characteristics of
the economy or our climate.
Cybersecurity is a key priority as the
entire world becomes more dependent on the
Internet. Yet we understand very little about
what factors affect the resilience and reliability of large
networks. DeNardis cites the
debate over a proposed intellectual property enforcement
law known as the Stop Online
Piracy Act (SOPA). That bill
was ultimately defeated, in
part because of allegations
that it would “break the Internet.” There were good anecdotal arguments
that SOPA might cause security risks, but
these were more gut feelings on the part of
experienced network engineers than any kind
of well-substantiated theory.
Much of the global tension about the
Internet stems from an urgent need for developing economies to come online as soon as
possible. What are the best regulatory models for achieving this goal? Market forces
have encouraged enormous investment in
Internet infrastructure, but those resources
have not been evenly distributed, leaving citizens in rural areas of developed economies
and many in the developing world still waiting for affordable access. Better economic
research into the Internet transport market,
as well as more advanced network engineering to develop wireless architecture, could
help inform policy-makers about how best to
achieve their goals.
The Global War for Internet Governance
describes a conflict being fought with the
tools of raw political power, long on ideological rhetoric and well-meaning interpretation of what seemed to have worked in the
past. For as much as we depend on the Internet, we have a very hard time measuring—
much less explaining—the behavior of the
technical and sociotechnical mechanisms on
which its operation depends. That we know
so much but understand so little about how
the Internet actually works is a huge opportunity for researchers in a wide variety of fields.
Few doubt the intrinsic social and economic
value of the open, global Internet. But we still
have a lot to learn across a range of computer,
social, and behavioral sciences to understand
how to keep the Internet going and growing.
The Global War for
by Laura DeNardis
Yale University Press, New
Haven, CT, 2014. 296 pp. $38,
£25. ISBN 9780300181357.
usually read together, and without her own
body of work over the years, there would not
be a field for the book to serve as an archive.
It would also be easy to miss how generous
this aspect of the book is. Franklin need not
have, and yet does, distribute credit widely.
She also rereads too-easily forgotten or dismissed feminist debates about reproductive
technologies. Using the idiom of ambivalence, Franklin argues that feminist activists
and scholars have taken seriously the excitement of frontier science, the experience of
infertility, and the societal aspects of IVF and
its progeny. Ambivalence is not antiscience
or weak-minded. It is instead a productive,
affective lens through which to think about
the biologization of technology and society.