Wednesday, April 22, 2009
"Who Controls the Internet? Illusions of a Borderless World" - Goldsmith and Wu
Jack Goldsmith is a Harvard Law professor best known for having a protracted and public argument with legal scholar David Post about the fundamental regulatory nature of the Internet. Post, like so many early Net adopters, argued that there were factors intrinsic to the Internet making extant jurisdictional paradigms no longer relevant in the cyberspace realm. Jurisdiction has historically functioned via the correspondence of geographic and political borders; these have been commonly understood and recognized by those subject to their laws, thus allowing for consent of the governed necessary for the enforcement of laws. Yet for many, the early Internet knew no such boundaries; it transcended international borders and existed in a space that was both geographically territory-less and its own distinct territory. The Internet was nowhere and everywhere, constituting a brave new borderless world and suggesting untapped and exciting potential to many.
Goldsmith's project has largely been to call baloney on these claims, and this book is no exception. Along with Columbia Law professor Tim Wu, he has developed his ideas into a general-audience accessible tome, enumerating and elucidating the Internet's technological and historical underpinnings, major legal challenges to net sovereignty (e.g. the French Yahoo! Nazi memorabilia trial), and zones of contention (e.g. China). Despite a somewhat disjointed organization, and using numerous photos and diagrams to illustrate their points, Goldsmith and Wu dismantle arguments that the Internet is free from borders, boundaries and controls. On the contrary, they suggest, people in this Internet-powered era of globalization may, in fact, be more subject to them than ever before. At each end of an Internet communiqué, transaction or transmission is a human being doing the communicating. Where that human is is of utmost importance, and Goldsmith eschews the Utopian visions of the cyberlibertarians in favor of reminding his readers of that singular fact.
"This is L.H. Puttgrass signing off and heading for the tub."