The Real Cyber War – The Political Economy of Internet Freedom by Shawn Powers & Michael Jablonski

The Real Cyber War - The Political Economy of Internet Freedom by Shawn Powers & Michael Jablonski


The genesis of The Real Cyber War was a series of discussions we had trying to make sense of developments in global communications since the end of the Cold War. The evolution of a global communication order resulted in a system characterized not only by shifting relationships between states
but by the emergence of other actors wielding sufficient power to change the conversation. More than anything, we came to believe, the evolving system would be dynamic rather than static. Using Dan Schiller’s description of information as both a commodity and a resource as an initial hypothesis,1
we began to investigate the political economy of the emerging global power struggle for control of information as a valuable resource.
This investigation included: twelve Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests resulting in our acquisition of more than three thousand official documents from the Department of Commerce, Department of State, Federal Communications Commission, Federal Trade Commission, and the National Security Agency; archival work conducted at UNESCO in Paris, France, and at the ITU in Geneva, Switzerland; and sixty-two in-person interviews with practitioners, industry experts, and civil-society leaders from Azerbaijan,
Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, Israel, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Ukraine.
Over the course of the research process we consistently found significant political assumptions being embedded within the regulatory schemes derived from ideas like “information freedom,” “free flow of information,” “sovereignty,” and “multistakeholderism.” These terms, and others, disguise
endeavors to control resources by stripping away their underlying political and economic values. Each embodies a particular myth perpetuated to cloak the strategies employed to effect a disproportionate division of resources.
The political economy approach employed in The Real Cyber War situates the power struggle over information as a resource in history, in practice, and in geopolitics.
Our main intent in writing the book has been to engage scholars and practitioners in communication, economics, law, political science, public policy, and international relations. We believe that it can be useful, and accessible, to technologists interested in understanding the forces that constrain what
they can do within the emerging information regime or regimes. The bookoffers scholars in science and technology studies context for the study of the interrelationship between information technology and social, political, and cultural values inherent in governance. It also speaks directly to policymakers
and internet activists operating in the spheres of internet governanceand human rights online. Just as information technologies foster dynamic realignment of power relations in a given society, we hope that The Real Cyber War creates porosity in boundaries separating disciplines to further a sustained and academically diverse conversation about the intersections of technology, science, and geopolitics.
Successful collaborations always necessitate a division of labor. Shawn Powers conducted the interviews, performed the archival work, and reviewed the FOIA documents that formed much of the primary research drawn upon herein. He was also primarily responsible for the introduction and chapters
2, 3, 4, 5, 7, and the conclusion. Michael Jablonski led the effort to track the history of American information policy, was primarily responsible for chapter 1, and provided research assistance for the introduction. Chapter 6 was co-produced by both authors.
This book came together with the help of many colleagues and friends. Monroe Price, whose thinking has continuously pushed our work in the area of global media, inspired its focus. Amelia Arsenault played an invaluable role in refining many of the book’s core arguments and in improving the clarity of the text. Richard Hill offered insightful suggestions and questions that helped improve the book from start to finish. Research was made possible due to generous support from Georgia State University and in particular from David Cheshier, Carol Winkler, and James A. Weyhenmeyer.

Central European University’s Institute for Advanced Study and Center for Media, Data, and Society offered crucial space and support to finalize this project, for which we are incredibly grateful. Jason Jarvis, Jillian Martin, Ryan Mixon, and Kyle Wrather each provided helpful research assistance at various
points throughout the project. John Krige, Ellen Witte Zegura, and Mike Best provided guidance on understanding various technologies. Emily Kofoed’s diligent attention to detail was extraordinarily helpful in finalizing the text and index. Last but not least, Tom Corcoran, Betty Hanson, Sarah Meyers, Vincent Mosco, Ben O’Loughlin, Dan Schiller, Ben Wagner, and Janet Wasko provided valuable feedback about earlier drafts of the manuscript. We are extraordinarily grateful to each of them for their interest in and support of this project.

for various forms of covert, forceful attack. Hackers, cybercriminals, and internet activists are the most visible soldiers in this conflict, but, from our perspective, they are secondary.
Behind the rhetoric of Arquilla’s cyber war is an ongoing, state-centered battle for information resources. This real cyber war between states is not new; it is as old as the systematic transfer of information across borders. From the invention of the postal service to the laying of international telegraph and telephone wires, to the rise of international broadcasting, to the modern day roll out of internet and mobile infrastructure, states have been preoccupied with how to leverage information systems for political, economic, and social power.
We propose a broader perspective of cyber war, conceptualized as the utilization of digital networks for geopolitical purposes, including covert attacks against another state’s electronic systems, but also, and more important, the variety of ways the internet is used to further a state’s economic and military agendas. In addition to covert attacks, the internet and the rules that govern it shape political opinions, consumer habits, cultural mores, and societal values. Unlike revolutionary communication technologies before it, such as radio and telephone, the internet has the potential to be truly global, interoperable, and interactive, thus magnifying its significance.
In order to broaden the discourse about cyber war, this book outlines the historical genesis of the “internet freedom” movement, tracing its origins to modern day. Rather than rehashing debates about the democratic value of new and emerging media technologies, we focus on the political, economic,
and geopolitical factors driving internet-freedom policies, with particular emphasis on the U.S. policy and the State Department’s freedom-to-connect doctrine. The book takes a systematic approach, arguing that efforts to create a singular, universal internet built upon Western legal, political, and social preferences alongside the “freedom to connect” is driven primarily byeconomic and geopolitical motivations rather than the humanitarian and democratic ideals that typically accompany related policy discourse. This
freedom-to-connect movement, led by the U.S. government with the support of many powerful private-sector actors, has rich historical roots and is deeply intertwined with broader efforts to structure global society in ways that favor American and Western cultures, economies, and governments.
This investigation and analysis reveal how internet policies and governance have emerged as critical sites for geopolitical contest between major international actors, the results of which will shape twenty-first-century statecraft, diplomacy, and conflict.


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