March 21, 2014

Rebooting Digital Diplomacy

The following essay was originally published in GMF's Brussels Forum Views series in March 2014. An excerpt is included below and the full text can be accessed here

Today, over 2.7 billion people around the world have access to the Internet, that global network of networks that influences almost every facet of daily life for many people. But the Internet risks becoming a victim of its own success. Whereas the organic, even anarchic, nature of the Web’s initial development enabled unprecedented new opportunities, it also confronted policymakers with new challenges — both real and perceived. Many national governments — both liberal and illiberal — now struggle to deal with security threats, social turmoil, and illicit activities that are ostensibly enabled or facilitated by online activity. And so they regularly resort to placing selective or indiscriminate restrictions on the public’s ability to access and use the Internet without fear of repercussion.

While restrictions on Internet freedom are often thought of in the context of  authoritarian regimes, they affect the vast majority of new and potential Internet users in developing or emerging democracies. Between them, Europe, the United States, and China account for less than half of global Internet users, a figure that is steadily decreasing as more people in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and democratic Asia come online. It is in these regions that questions surrounding