Is controlling information sovereignty even possible?

By: Carlos Diaz Barriga

This is the first tweet from Edward Snowden’s recently opened Twitter account. The tweet, while humorous in nature, is a clear defiance to all world leaders who seek to control the information of their nation.

Powers and Jablonsky argue that “new transnational governance structures enhance the vitality of existing states by insuring the viability of debate within democracies while limiting the influence of special interests.” But what governance structure can control the power of the internet?

With the internet, information flows now appear to be in control of the citizens. Technology overrides nation-states in certain parts of the world; diasporas have created endless transnational online communities.

Consider the Millenial generation, who has grown up thinking everything on the internet should be free (music, movies, news, etc.) and accessible. They were the first users and creators of the system, it’s not easy to suddenly establish parameters as to what they can or can’t do.

Perhaps what states should be focusing on is how the public defines “information sovereignty”. For a lot of the population, free internet means endless access to funny Vines and YouTube videos (as the “Cute Cat” theory suggests). To keep them happy, don’t restrict what they already enjoy. Western governments are already pursuing some version of an intranet anyway (Powers and Jablonsky). The population will accept what they perceive as “just” control (i.e. making illegal music and movies downloads punishable).

The problem, for the nation-states, lies with the Edward Snowden and the Julian Assange types. Both are considered, by some, as heroes of freedom of speech. Snowden, in an interview with The Guardian in May, stated:

“The idea that they can lock us out and there will be no change is no longer tenable. Everyone accepts these programmes [NSA] were not effective, did not keep us safe and, even if they did, represent an unacceptable degradation of our rights.”

And Snowden is not alone; he amassed more than a million followers in less than 24 hours.

One thought on “Is controlling information sovereignty even possible?

  1. This is an interesting post to read in light of the readings from both last week and this week. I think you’re right – information sovereignty does not exist on as black and white a scale as governments, and many theorists, would like to think. Considering what the public wants and needs access to, and what they see as fair in terms of restrictions, is important. No matter how harsh the restrictions, there will exist people who want to get around them, and those people will probably succeed. On the other hand, there exist many, many more people who just want to use the internet to update their Facebook, tweet a funny picture, and watch cute cat videos. To impose restrictions on those people, who wouldn’t use the internet for harm anyway, only contributes to a sense of unease and harsh government controls.

    To bring this into context for one of the readings this week, the article on the mobilization process of Syria’s activists points out the overemphasis on the role social media played in the protests and uprisings in the Middle East in 2011. One conclusion that the author comes to is that it isn’t the technology itself, but people’s use of it that affects social processes, and additionally that people’s use of technology was largely linked to the country’s political culture. This would imply that people’s use of technology is a result of political policy, not a result of what is actually available. Creating harsher restrictions, then, could contribute to the unstable political culture that actually pushes people to use technology in the very way that the government feared in the first place.

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