(No.171) What is the Geography of Cyberspace?
Question 2: How would it be possible to coordinate and to harmonize the current plurality of developing principles for Internet
The technical architecture of the Internet is not based on the geographic frontiers of nation-states. It is therefore usually labeled as technically borderless. However, cyberspace is not a natural and uniform space like the high seas and the extra-atmospheric space; it is man-made and far from uniform, let alone without regulation. Physical geography, technical standards and national legislations do imply the existence of elements similar to those encountered in the definition of political geography. This is manifest in the Internet’s three different layers, for instance: • the Internet is a global cross-border infrastructure; but is built on a network of cables that has a certain topology: physical bottlenecks, be they due to geographic constraints (landlocked territories for instance) or political decisions (voluntary limitation of the number of entry points), represent potential checking points • the IP addresses and Domain Names form a logical rather than geography-based system; but IP addresses can be distributed on a national basis (as in some Asian countries) and following a link from google.com to for instance weibo.cn has direct jurisdictional implications, as if crossing a virtual frontier • online sites and platforms are accessible from anywhere in the world, irrespective of the location of their servers; but their Terms of Service are the internal “law” of their “digital territory”, often accessible only to registered members In many respects, cyberspace is composed of multiple spaces, some public, some private and some both public and private. The capacity to freely cross physical and virtual frontiers through cyberspace does not mean that they are none. In other terms, Cyberspace is a cross-border space, rather than a borderless one. However, as online activities often involve actors and intermediaries in multiple physical locations, diverse sets of laws and rules often overlap and frequently are in conflict. The mere extension of national physical frontiers onto cyberspace – like sovereignty extends to territorial waters or overlaying aerial space – is probably not a sufficient approach. In that context, the workshop will address the following topic: what is the geography of Cyberspace and how does it reflect and differ from the physical geography? Corollary questions are: given that it is an entirely man-designed infrastructure, can it be used to address some of the pressing issues regarding privacy, freedom of expression, intellectual property and security? And is it possible to both enable the resolution of disputes among more than 2 billion users and preserve the universality of the network?
Bertrand de LA CHAPELLE, Director, Internet & Jurisdiction project, International Diplomatic Academy, Paris. The project addresses the tension between a technically cross-border Internet and a jurisdictional system based on geographically-defined national territories. It actively engages more than 50 participants from governments (from Europe, North America, Latin America, Africa, Asia-Pacific), private sector (ISPs, content providers, social media platforms, cloud services), technical community (including the Internet infrastructure), civil society (NGOs, academia and advocacy groups) and international organizations.
Neither the Internet & Jurisdiction Project, nor the International Diplomatic Academy have organized or co-organized workshops in previous IGFs. But Bertrand de LA CHAPELLE has in his previous function (see links to reports below). Rio de Janeiro : Multi-stakeholder Policy Development (http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/rio_reports/WS_27_Short_Report.pdf) Hyderabad : National multi-stakeholder processes and their relation to the IGF (http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/2008-igf-hyderabad/event-reports/72-works...)
• Vint CERF, Google (confirmed) • Erika MANN, Facebook (confirmed) • Marietje SCHAAKE, Member European Parliament (confirmed) • V.C. VIVEKANANDAN, Director, Institute of Global Internet Governance and Advocacy, Hyderabad (confirmed) • Wolfgang KLEINWACHTER, University of Aarhus (tbc).
The workshop will be an open discussion on the basis of a brief input paper and will involve several participants of the Internet & Jurisdiction project. Moderation of the workshop will be done by Bertrand de LA CHAPELLE, Director of the Internet & Jurisdiction project.