Digital Sovereignty: Precursor to the National Intranet (Pt. III of III)

Every form of economic governance corresponds to a related model of political governance. What applies in the physical realm is capable of being reapplied in the digital realm. At stake in today’s geopolitical climate is the possibility of restructuring the current form of the Internet, currently defined by the World Wide Web (WWW). Proposed political governance models have been posited in the decades since the WWW became available for general purposes during the 1990s, but now that much of the world relies on the WWW, the digital realm stands ripe for change. As the digital analogue to the problems of Globalization, either the Internet is reorganized out of consideration for the sovereignty of nations, or it remains beholden to the ideological aims of Neoliberalism.       

So much of the contemporary discussion about the Splinternet today remains distorted by the Freedom-Security Dialectic that defines political discourse under Neoliberalism. Here, the narrative is framed along the lines of Internet access, whether somebody in a given nation is able to access certain websites or even access to a computer in general. To advocate for the Splinternet is akin to suggesting that access to social media platforms for instance should be blocked or that it enables governments to suppress dissent by means of censorship. Such rhetoric presupposes that the Internet is capable of having gatekeepers, real or imagined, and have the power to control the flow of information. The problem with this sort of rhetoric is that the Internet by design is incapable of facilitating any gatekeepers whatsoever, given that no one nation is capable of dominating the entire Internet. Moreover, it ignores the fact that social media platforms owned by Big Tech are just as capable of censorship as any central government.

What has yet to be realized in the digital realm is a simple matter related to power. Who has the power to govern any conception of the Internet? Who has the power to decide which laws are applicable to the digital realm and which ones fall under the purview of International Law? Who has the power to defend the Internet against instigations of cyberterrorism, cyberwarfare, cyberespionage, and cybercrime? Are these real issues applicable to the legal jurisprudence of any nation, international treaties brokered between nations, or an international body?  

The Jeffersonians of the Democratic-Republican Party in these United States are unwilling and unable to decide on these questions. They are more inclined toward letting Big Tech dominate the affairs of the digital realm, so long as Big Tech itself continues to generate ever-growing sums of Kapital. This rhetoric about opposing the Splinternet on their part is to ensure that the digital realm remains beholden to Big Tech. And while it is true that the Republican side of the Democratic-Republican Party despises Big Tech, their opposition was the consequence of Big Tech stepping out of line and taking the wrong side of Wedge Issues. “Woke Capitalism” was merely the replacement of a much earlier term, “Crony Capitalism.” Instead of an alleged collusion between “Big Business and Big Government,” it is now between “Big Business and Social Liberalism.” Therein lies the opportunism, the pursuit of Kapital to gain an advantage in the next electoral cycle: Big Business and Big Government are fine so long as both adhere to Classical Liberalism.

If we go beyond the Freedom-Security Dialectic, beyond the ideological rhetoric, we are left with the question of whether the digital realm is separate from the physical realm or its extension. Every ascertainment of such a question opens the door to who governs the digital realm and where does one draw the line. We have already concluded that the digital realm should be interpreted as an extension of physical realm across different financial, technological, social, economic and political contexts. The Internet is capable of facilitating international trade and the movement of information across international borders. It has also been concluded that the Internet, especially during its early history, was capable of maintaining a digital economy.    

On the subject of digital economy, is there just one for the whole world or one for each country? All the problems of Big Tech presupposes that there can only be one digital economy for the entire planet, as opposed to fostering a multiplicity of digital economies. If we believe that each country should have its own digital economy, then we are also left with the impression that every country is bound to its side of the digital realm. International trade will continue to occur in the digital realm as well as the physical realm. The central government wields the necessary authority and legislative power to negotiate the terms of its trade agreements with other nations.

Here, we come across the question of blocking access to specific websites, and it must be stressed that this can be done as part of a nation’s trade policy. Although this distinction may not be clear at first on the World Wide Web, it will be within the context of a national Intranet. A central government should have the power to block websites offering goods and services which might derail its own digital economy in the national Intranet. This is already the case in the physical realm, where central governments are just as capable of restricting the flow of foreign goods and services within the national economy. By adopting that perspective, it becomes natural to expect the Liberal Capitalists to assume that “information” is to them another Commodity.

It is not at all a stretch to believe that Liberal Capitalism treats information as a Commodity. After all, mass surveillance and the collection of personal data since the 9/11 Attacks became increasingly profitable in the digital realm during the 2010s. Social media platforms have been notorious for engaging in this area. Even false, misleading information itself can generate as much Kapital as genuine, factual information, because the concept of a Commodity makes no qualitative distinctions between two different entities. That includes considerations like who created the information, the sincerity of their intentions, or the veracity of the information’s claims.

Another problem which needs to be addressed within the context of Digital Sovereignty concerns the proliferation of malware and cybercrime. In the past decade alone, cybercrime has been on the rise each year, and the extent to which malware is being used to perpetrate them is also expanding. Thanks to Cryptocurrencies, it is now possible for someone to hijack somebody’s else computer systems, threatening to wipe all the data on their hard drive in exchange for a ransom. It is only a matter of time before Artificial Intelligence becomes the next source of malware, the next weapon in a growing arsenal of cyberweapons wielded by nations and non-state organizations alike.     

With these important facts in mind, are central governments supposed to defend the national interest against any information capable of sowing internal division and strife? Does that include ensuring that the personal data of its own people are not being expropriated for Kapital? Why should any decent central government outside the US allow Big Tech to control the flow of information within its own borders, physical and digital?

All of these questions and more can be pondered on a national Intranet.

Categories: Philosophy

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