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& the GII

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section heading icon     overview

This guide identifies fundamental regulatory issues at the global and national levels.

It considers the role of government and discusses regulatory mechanisms, including international agreements and private arbitration. It offers a map of bodies such as ICANN, the WTO, WIPO, ISOC, NOIE, ISO, GILC and HIIP. 

subsection heading icon     content of this guide

The following pages cover -

  • issues - the nature of law in cyberspace
  • geopolitics - global power politics, who makes the big decisions and who provides the language for debate about governance of the global information infrastructure (GII)
  • models - models for regulating cyberspace: rulemaking by new international bodies, 'norms' and self-help, central organisations etc
  • jurisdictions - the debate about jurisdictions in cyberspace and some of the mechanisms
  • disorder - the shape of crime, enforcement, rights and responsibilities in a borderless world
  • mercatoria  - the lex mercatoria in a digital global economy
  • government - national, international and paragovernmental regulatory and policy mechanisms
  • business - business advocacy groups concerned with the governance of cyberspace
  • liberties - cyber-liberties and other advocacy groups concerned with internet governance
  • cosmocrats - questions about the 'new class', organisations and states in governance of the GII
  • netizens - questions about clickocracy, assent, indifference and online self-determination

Other guides on this site offer more detailed analysis and suggestions for reading about the 'Digital Age' - the information economy, marketing, retailing, online communication, intellectual property, communities, the digital divides and other issues.

subsection heading icon     questions

Governance of cyberspace involves two issues:

how individuals, governments, businesses and other entities deal with the internet - a major element of the GII discussed in our Networks & GII guide.

identification and administration of a policy framework (in particular appropriate legislation) concerned with activity conducted on the net.

Such a framework is contiguous with the historical mission of western governments. Regulation of activity accordingly encompasses such areas as

  • consumer protection, including fairness in advertising and food/drug safety measures
  • encouragement of innovation and protection of intellectual property (IP)
  • taxation on the sale of goods and services
  • control of financial activity, in particular currency flows, securities trading and gambling
  • restrictions on access to some content
  • encouragement of a civil society through a balance between free speech and defamation/vilification, privacy and (more broadly) measures to assist access to social goods by all members of a community
  • restrictions on crimes against individuals, organisations or society as a whole (including extortion, vandalism, data theft and terrorism).

subsection heading icon     frameworks

In the late 1980s claims that cyberspace was a realm without law, self-regulating and unsullied by government, still had some credibility. That's no longer the case.

Irrespective of the exploits of individual criminals, 'normalisation' of the web - its acceptance by business, government and community as an integral and increasingly unremarkable part of daily life - means that activity online is bounded by regulatory frameworks, enforcement mechanisms and community perceptions.

Much of the activity on the internet takes place across national or other borders, ie involves different legal jurisdictions. It also involves electronic media. As noted in the network and economy guides, there are usable precedents in national and international law for establishing rules, resolving disputes and dealing with offences. Just as importantly, perceptions among the 'governed' are proving to be far more flexible and sensible than some of the more doctrinaire theorists. 

That may change if one can indeed become a citizen of cyberspace but for the moment all online activity touches earth at one point or another. When it does, it's susceptible to regulation. Content may be at home in cyberspace but most of the infrastructure remains resolutely earthbound. Much of that infrastructure's owned by connectivity providers and other commercial entities that operate within national jurisdictions or under international agreements.

section heading icon     points of entry

Two points of entry into research about governance of cyberspace are the UCLA Online Institute for Cyberspace Law & Policy (ICLP) and the Cyberspace Law Institute (CLI), both US-based. The ICLP offers an online bibliography and analysis of events. The Internet Law & Policy Forum (IPF) has a cross-border focus in exploring global regulation, digital signatures, content blocking and other issues.

At Harvard the Berkman Center for Internet & Society (BCIS) and the Harvard Information Infrastructure Project (HIIP) are outstanding. The latter has produced an excellent series of papers, noted throughout these guides, such as Coordinating the Internet (Cambridge: MIT Press 1997) and Borders In Cyberspace (Cambridge: MIT Press 1997). Yale has a competing Information Society Project (ISP). On the US west coast the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology (BCLT) complements the ICLP.

The Internet Policy Institute (IPI) is a US industry-funded think tank, with a mission to advise the President. It has produced a number of valuable papers. The competing Global Information Infrastructure Commission (GIIC) is an offshoot of the US Center for Strategic & International Studies. 

Locally the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) is Australia's preeminent criminological research body, with a growing interest in information law. The Communications Law Centre (CLC) is an independent research and analysis body hosted by the University of NSW. The Centre for International Research on Communication & Information Technologies (CIRCIT) is also of interest.

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version of September 2005
© Bruce Arnold | caslon analytics