(No.171) What is the Geography of Cyberspace?

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Workshop Theme: 
Taking Stock and the Way Forward
Theme Question: 

Question 2: How would it be possible to coordinate and to harmonize the current plurality of developing principles for Internet

Concise Description of Workshop: 

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?

Organiser(s) Name: 

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.

Previous Workshop(s): 

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...)

Submitted Workshop Panelists: 

• 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.

Name of Remote Moderator(s): 
Paul FEHLINGER, project manager, Internet & Jurisdiction project, International Diplomatic Academy
Gender Report Card
Please estimate the overall number of women participants present at the session: 
About half of the participants were women
Reported by: 
Internet Jurisdiction Project
A brief substantive summary and the main issues that were raised: 

All stakeholders acknowledge the tension between the vertical nature of national jurisdictions and the horizontal nature of the cross-border Internet. The resulting complex and multi-layered interactions are difficult to picture. The workshop explored the legal geography of cyberspace and how it relates to the Westphalian international system and its patchwork of legislations.
The discussions scrutinized the concept of national sovereignty in cyberspace and highlighted potential options for future frameworks or mechanisms to govern the cross-border Internet.
Main Take-Away: Managing Commons, not separating sovereignties
Connected via the Internet, 192+ national jurisdictions co-exist in one shared space. However, the Westphalian concept of jurisdiction is rooted in the separation of territories, while the Internet was designed as a cross-border space. The Internet’s topology nevertheless interpenetrates the physical space, leading to a meshed geography of overlapping layers of technologies and jurisdictional competences. The panelists highlighted that the main challenge for mankind is to find frameworks to manage these new commons, to enable peaceful co-existence of billions of users on the Internet. Failure to do so could result in zero-sum power redistributions and the gradual re-territorialization of the Internet, which would undermine the value that this common infrastructure created for mankind.
Discussion Highlights:
Internet Layers: The Internet is built upon a separation between a logical layer (naming and numbering) and an application layer (including content). In asserting their national jurisdiction over online activities, states should not tinker with this separation to regulate content.
CyberspaceS: The Internet consists of multiple public and private cross-border spaces, each of which subject to rules that come from national laws and/or private Terms of Service.
Sovereignty in Cyberspace: The assertion of sovereignty by one country can have extraterritorial impacts over other states and their Internet users. A no-transboundary harm principle and the notion of collaborative sovereignty were discussed. It would be useful in that regard to distinguish between intended and unintended cross-border impacts. 
Multiplicity of competence criteria: States assert national jurisdiction based on the location of the user, the domain operator, servers or where cross-border online platforms are incorporated. Therefore, cross-border online services can be simultaneously subject to various jurisdictions.
Digital Territories: Users of cross-border online platforms and services become subject to the Terms of Service of these “digital territories”. Their national and digital citizenships can be analyzed as different forms of stakeholdership.
Global Constituencies: Parliamentarians in one country become subject to requests by people in other countries because of the potential extra-territorial impact of national legislations.
Renationalization: Recent trends of geo-IP filtering and assertion of jurisdiction based on TLDs indicate the danger of the re-territorialization of the Internet. Turning the Internet into a collection of national intranets would destroy the benefits of this global infrastructure.
Cybertravel: Is a user performing a form of cybertravel when he/she visits a site located in a different country? Should this be protected as a right of free circulation? Has this user a right to choose a different – virtual - location than the territory he/she is physically in, in order to access content blocked in its jurisdiction?  
Power redistribution: There is a competition between jurisdictions (national laws) and platforms (Terms of Service) to define a new power equilibrium for the governance of cross-border online spaces.
Possible regimes to manage ccross-border commons:
·       Existing International Law
·       International treaties
·       International Organizations
·       Self-regulation of companies
·       Private regimes (companies and civil society)
·       Multi-stakeholder regime(s)
Video recording of the workshop is available at:
The transcript is available at:
For more information about the Internet & Jurisdiction Project, please see the web site: www.internetjurisdiction.net

Conclusions and further comments: 

Please see formatted report attached

Additional documents: