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[liberationtech] Bounding Cyber Power

Ronald Deibert r.deibert at
Wed Oct 16 09:39:11 PDT 2013

Hi LibTech

I am circulating a link to an article I just published entitled, "Bounding Cyber Power: Escalation and Restraint in Global Cyberspace," that I thought might be of interest to some on this list. I would welcome feedback.  It is meant to be timed to inform discussions at the Bali IGF meeting, which I will attend and participate in next week.

The article lays out some principles for a liberal democratic cyber security strategy.  As I outline in the first half of the article, I believe we are heading down a path that is ruinous for an open and secure Internet, potentially quite dangerous for international relations, and ultimately self-defeating for liberal democratic countries' interests.  In the second half of the article, I provide an overview of an alternative model of cyber security drawn from principles of mixture, division, and restraint that are associated with classic liberal theorizing and have informed the tradition of arms control.

Here is an excerpt from the conclusion, in case you would like to cut to the chase:

Looking toward the near term in cyberspace governance, there are many possible scenarios, with unforeseen contingencies taking us down any number of paths. At the same time, politics and society are not entirely chaotic: social order is shaped by underlying forces that set the tempo and framework within which life unfolds. Today, these forces appear to be driving securitization processes in cyberspace, processes that may end up subverting the domain entirely, possibly leading to system wide instability and perhaps even international violence.It is imperative that we use our agency to check and constrain the least desirable elements of these  trends and shape those structures that provide the framework for what is seen as legitimate or not. Doing so will require a clear vision and a strategy to 
implement it, which in turn will require coordinated work at multiple levels and involve a wide variety of stakeholders. The obstacles standing in the way of realizing this vision are certainly formidable, but the alternatives to doing nothing are dire.

The securitization of cyberspace may be inevitable, but what form that security takes is not. As the securing of cyberspace unfolds, ensuring basic principles of transparency, accountability and mutual restraint will be critical. To secure cyberspace in a way that does not sacrifice openness, liberal democracies do not need a new “cyber” theory, nor a reversion to old-school paradigms that reinforce international division; rather, we need to reinvest in and apply to the domain of cyberspace some timeless principles and practices.

Link to PDF:

Ronald Deibert
Director, the Citizen Lab 
and the Canada Centre for Global Security Studies
Munk School of Global Affairs
University of Toronto
(416) 946-8916
r.deibert at

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