Recommended Readings for CIC-Toronto Conference: The Electronic Surveillance State – Panel Two: Global Implications

This blog post is the second of three posts for our series of recommended readings for our upcoming conference, The Electronic Surveillance State: Canada’s role, global implications, and the question of reform. This blog is dedicated to our second panel, on Global Implications. Nation-states’ opinions differ on how the internet should be governed, and who should be governing it. However, private actors have always been essential in the governance of the Internet, making nation-states less influential than in other governance issue areas.

Our first reading is by Laura DeNardis, a Centre for International Governance Innovation (CICI) Senior fellow, and it is on Internet governance, titled “Internet Points of Control as Global Governance” . DeNardis argues that the core values of the Internet are “universality, accessibility and interoperability.” While people can access the Internet all over the world, in many different ways using a myriad of possible hardware devices, Internet governance works to ensure that we can all access the same information and share it through one large, open network;. DeNardis explains that there are “three fundamental control functions necessary for the Internet to operate: control of CIRs (Critical Internet Resources); governance via Internet standards and governance of routing and interconnection.” There are many new global institutions, such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and Regional Internet Registries (RIRS), both private actors, that help to ensure the interoperability of the Internet, but also influence global public policy “related to information access, individual rights and security.”

DeNardis asserts that the Internet is currently, and always has been governed. However, its governance is “hybridized, multi-stakeholder and highly privatized,” with nation-states being less involved in the governance than in other issue areas. Debates over how to best govern the Internet “have centred on the question of procedures for maximizing the legitimacy of these new institutions, as well as determining the role of traditional governments in overseeing critical Internet infrastructure.” For example, there is a “long history of calls for direct governmental regulation of… interconnection,” which has “primarily involved private agreements” among network operators. However, this could potentially allow for increased “government censorship, surveillance and politically motivated interconnection blockages.” This could also potentially lead to a more fragmented Internet.

DeNardis ends the paper with stating that ” technologies of Internet governance have become the new global spaces mediating conflicting values, such as requirements for intellectual property rights enforcement and norms of Internet security and freedom.” Therefore, experts and the public alike should be more informed and engaged as “decisions about the future of Internet governance unfold over the next decade.”

The second and final reading is the “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression“. The thorough Report was presented to the Human Rights Council, a United Nations body, and addresses increased State surveillance of citizens, largely due to technological advances. It was aimed at identifying “the risks that the new means and modalities of communications surveillance pose to human rights, including the right to privacy and freedom of opinion and expression.”

With these “significant technological advances” comes increased responsibility of States to not abuse the system and violate the human rights for “privacy and freedom of expression” which are “interlinked and mutually dependent.” While very real concerns “about national security and criminal activity may justify the exceptional use of communications surveillance technologies” the national laws “regulating” the States’ actions in this regard are often “inadequate or non-existent.” Previous Reports by the Special Rapporteur have emphasized the extraordinary impact of the Internet on citizens’ abilities to disseminate their opinions and exercise their freedom expression but also the fear of increased government regulation of these very activities.

The Report “underlines the urgent need to further study new modalities of surveillance and to revise national laws regulating these practices in line with human rights standards.” The Report warns that “without adequate legislation and legal standards… journalists, human rights defenders and whistleblowers… cannot be assured that their communications will not be subject to States’ scrutiny”.

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