Friday, March 26, 2010

Networking Global Sovereignty

Via -

The Wall Street Journal reports that the US State Department is looking at a variety of new cybersecurity options, including the appointment of an ambassador-level official with responsibility for cybersecurity, and the linking of foreign aid to anti-cybercrime law enforcement efforts. This comes not long after Secretary Clinton’s internet freedom speech and the Treasury’s relaxation of export controls on certain internet services and products, and represents another pitch by the administration to ‘do something’ on cybersecurity in global terms.

If we think about cyber arms control proposals, for example, my impression is that the US has been very reluctant to go down this route. One reason perhaps is that although the Russians seem to be keen on such a regime, the US has not elicited enough concessions in principle on law enforcement to make this worthwhile from their perspective (notwithstanding the probable lack of practical effect of such an agreement also). All the more interesting therefore that the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) has recently been co-operating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in arresting the alleged perpetrators of the December 2008 RBS WorldPay data breach.

It does not require any degree of conspiracy to look at Google’s decision to ditch its self-censorship in China policy in this political light too. The connections between Google and the US government are many and varied, and with the ball now firmly in Beijing’s court with respect to Google’s future operations in China, the US cannot be too displeased about this situation. How this immediately helps Google or the US depends how China reacts in the coming days but it is reportedly fuming that Google is effectively acting as a serious diplomatic lever at the moment. China looks to be outmanoeuvred but … watch that space.

Are we seeing the US making a renewed effort to project its sovereignty as a networked superpower, rather than purely a military one? I think this is indeed the case and, if so, it’s a very smart move. I’m less sanguine about how cybersecurity as a component of national security figures in this power equation but I’m reminded of the words of Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker, writing in 2007:

Networks are not a threat to American power. In fact, the opposite is true: networks are the medium through which American derives its sovereignty.

And sovereign entities need ambassadors, perhaps.

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