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Digital Sovereigns or Consent of the Networked
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Digital Sovereigns or Consent of the Networked


In this class, we looked at the reality of Chinese and Russian internet usage, where authoritarian governments have so far succeeded in boxing in the disruptive effects of networked mass …

In this class, we looked at the reality of Chinese and Russian internet usage, where authoritarian governments have so far succeeded in boxing in the disruptive effects of networked mass communication.

Published in News & Politics , Technology
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  • The west was wrong--economic development doesn’t depend on free flow of all information; the “software of freedom” has not prevailed over “the hardware of repression” as US Sec of State Warren Christopher had hoped.
  • No viable political opposition, elections as plebescites, internet as “focus group” and early warning system, enlistment of pro-govt bloggers to intimidate anti-regime activists
  • See page 78 for details


  • 1. DPI-665Politics of the Internet April 18, 2012 Digital Sovereigns or Consent of the Networked Micah L. Sifry Audio: CC-BY-NC-SA
  • 2. Rebecca MacKinnon• Former CNN Beijing and Tokyo bureau chief• Co-founder, Global Voices Online• Berkman Center, Harvard• New America Foundation
  • 3. Topics for discussion• Who governs cyberspace? (And who wants to govern it?)• From disruptive technology to new forms of control?• Is the closing of the digital frontier inevitable? Desirable?
  • 4. “It is time to stop debating whether the Internet is an effective tool for political expression, and to move on to the much more urgent question of how digital technology can be structured, governed, and used to maximize the good it can do in the world, and minimize the evil….”“The reality is that the corporations and governments that build, operate, and govern cyberspace are not being held sufficiently accountable for their exercise of power over the lives and identities of people who use digital networks. They are sovereigns operating without the consent of the networked.”
  • 5. China: “Networked authoritarianism”-No transparency or accountability-Co-optation of the private sector in censorship and surveillance-Enough, but not total, control of political information online
  • 6. Russia: “Digital Bonapartism”“In Russia, the Internet enables the government to embrace a more populist style — engaging people with a more personal relationship with the government—without actually committing to protect the rights of unpopular dissenters, minorities, and people the regime believes threaten its stability.”
  • 7. U.S.: Life under “digital sovereigns”• No “digital due process” under current US law: no need for a warrant for data older than 180 days• Extensive warrantless wiretapping given retroactive immunity• Data mining of all US email, phone calls, etc
  • 8. Private “digital sovereigns”• Apple censors apps• Telcos censor political messages• Facebook and Google expose users privacy without consent• Yahoo gives China user info
  • 9. “No commercially operated service is required to uphold the First Amendment for American users or Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the right to free expression, for its global users.”
  • 10. “Nobody is forcing anybody to use Facebook. Yet for political activists--or anyone trying to convince a large and diverse audience of anything--abandoning Facebook is easier said than done. In 2010, Americans spent more time on Facebook than on Google. If the largest pool of people your political or social movement most needs to reach is most easily and effectively reachable through Facebook’s vast social network, leaving Facebook is a blow to the movement’s overall impact.”
  • 11. Are we at a “Magna Carta” moment?