Access Controlled: The Shaping of Power, Rights, and Rule in Cyberspace
Internet filtering, censorship of Web content, and online surveillance are increasing in scale, scope, and sophistication around the world, in democratic countries as well as in authoritarian states. The first generation of Internet controls consisted largely of building firewalls at key Internet gateways; China's famous "Great Firewall of China" is one of the first national Internet filtering systems. Today the new tools for Internet controls that are emerging go beyond mere denial of information. These new techniques, which aim to normalize (or even legalize) Internet control, include targeted viruses and the strategically timed deployment of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, surveillance at key points of the Internet's infrastructure, take-down notices, stringent terms of usage policies, and national information shaping strategies. Access Controlled reports on this new normative terrain. The book, a project from the OpenNet Initiative (ONI), a collaboration of the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto's Munk Centre for International Studies, Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and the SecDev Group, offers six substantial chapters that analyze Internet control in both Western and Eastern Europe and a section of shorter regional reports and country profiles drawn from material gathered by the ONI around the world through a combination of technical interrogation and field research methods.
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Smartly organized and edited, Access Controlled is essential reading for anyone interested in studying the methods governments are using globally to stifle online expression and dissent. There is simply no other resource out there like this; it should be required reading in every cyberlaw or information policy program.
The book, which is a project of the OpenNet Initiative (ONI), is divided into two parts. Part 1 of the book includes six chapters on “Theory and Analysis.” They are terrifically informative essays. The beefy second part of the book provides a whopping 480 pages(!) of detailed regional and country-by-country overviews of the global state of online speech controls and discuss the long-term ramifications of increasing government meddling with online networks.
The book offers a useful taxonomy to illustrate the three general types of speech and information controls that states are deploying today. Throughout the book, various authors document the increasing movement away from "first generation controls," which are epitomized by "Great Firewall of China"-like filtering methods, and toward second- and third-generation controls, which are more refined and difficult to monitor.
The individual authors seem to adopt a somewhat gloomy outlook toward the long-term prospects for "technologies of freedom" relative to "technologies of control." But I think it’s vital to put things in some historical context in this regard. It's important to recall that, as a communications medium, the Net is still quite young. So, is the Net really more susceptible to State control and manipulation than previous communications technologies and platforms? I'm not so sure, although it's hard to find a metric to compare them in an analytically rigorous fashion. It's certainly true that the State has access to more data about its citizens than in the past, but it's also true that we have more information about the State than ever before, too! And, again, we also have access to more of those technologies of freedom than ever before to at least try to fight back. Compare, for example, the plight of a dissident in a Cold War-era Eastern Bloc communist state to a dissident in China or Iran today. Which one had a better chance of getting their words (or audio and video) out to the local or global community?
Despite those small quibbles, Access Controlled is an indispensable resource that belongs on the bookshelf of anyone who covers information technology policy and wants to better understand global Internet regulation. Highly recommended. [You can find my complete review at the Technology Liberation Front Blog: http://techliberation.com/2010/06/08/book-review-access-controlled-the-shaping-of-power-rights-and-rule-in-cyberspace ]