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Cyberspace is dead to me - Michael Lind / Salon

the concept of "cyberspace." The term was coined by William Gibson in his novel "Neuromancer" and defined as "a graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system ..." As a metaphor that borrows imagery from geography, cyberspace is no different in kind from, say, John F. Kennedy's New Frontier. But while nobody thinks that governments are invading Kennedy's New Frontier, or commercializing Kennedy's New Frontier, techno-anarchists on the right or left are constantly complaining that "cyberspace" is being "colonized" by government, business or both.

That's what makes it necessary to state what ought to be obvious: There is no such place as cyberspace. It is not a parallel universe, coexisting with our world but in a different dimension. It is just a bad metaphor that has outlived its usefulness. Using the imagery of a fictitious country makes it harder to have rational arguments about government regulation or commercial exploitation of modern information and communications technologies.

Let's start with government and cyberspace. Most Internet activity takes place in particular territories governed by states. The users of the equipment, as well as the infrastructure of servers, wireless towers, and so on, apart from satellites, are physical entities located in sovereign states. Maybe jihadists in the lawless "tribal" regions of Pakistan are effectively beyond the power of sovereign states. But individuals sitting at their PCs in, say, California are subject to the jurisdiction of the state of California and the United States of America. They may claim to be "citizens of cyberspace," but that is a joke -- the equivalent of presenting a customs officer at an international airport with a passport from the Kingdom of Oz.

So it makes no sense to say that California and the U.S. are extending their jurisdiction "into" cyberspace. Cyberspace is not the equivalent of land that has suddenly arisen off the coast and has yet to be claimed effectively by any existing nation-state. The countries of the world already have jurisdiction over all of the activity that goes on within their recognized international borders. How they exercise that authority can and should be debated. A liberal regime will pass legislative safeguards against government misuse of data and communications and will generally take a light hand, when it comes to regulation and taxation, in the interest of personal freedom and ease of commerce. But the fact that bad states may abuse the power to regulate telecommunications does not mean that benign states lack, or should lack, that power.

Michael Lind / Salon


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