Online Liberty and Freedom of Expression
Overview: The Four Phases of Internet Regulation
"Over the past few decades, the world wide web has gone from an 'open net,' characterized primarily by the freedoms it afforded, to a hotly contested environment, characterized by the political battles that rage upon it. What was once known as 'cyberspace' is now an environment in which debates fly, activism flourishes and fails, and political and military contests play out between states." (John Palfrey, "Four Phases of Internet Regulation")
Since its inception, the Internet has gone through four distinct periods of regulation, each of which we will cover in more depth during our live meeting.
Phase 1: The Open Internet: 1960s-2000
In the beginning of the internet, few people thought that it was possible to regulate the internet. "Cyberspace" was considered to be a space apart from the real world; one that was to a large extent exempt from its laws.
Some aspects of the "Open Internet" still characterize the net to this day. It is still seen as a space of free expression, or as a tool for transparency for governments; it serves as a force for democratization and collective action; and, in countries like Egypt where the media is heavily controlled, the internet remains a forum for open discussion.
However, these initial arguments that cyberspace existed in a world apart and would continue to be distinct from the real world were flawed.
Phase 2: Access Denied: 2000 to 2005
In the new millennium, governments began to believe that some internet activity needed to be blocked. During this phase, geopolitical lines became established on the internet, and filtering began to occur at the national level, with countries employing both technological and 'soft controls' to censor.
Some filtration was more positively censorial, as in the case of democratic countries that blocked child pornography. While technically skilled citizens could dodge these filters, the majority of citizens were unable, thus leading to relatively effective filtering.
Phase 3: Access Controlled: 2005 to 2010
In the Access Controlled phase, the first generation filters and blocks became supplemented by more flexible controls at diverse points. These new technologies were more nuanced and adaptive than the original blocks, and they enabled governments to selectively block parts of cyberspace at convenient, politically charged moments.
The Access Controlled phase of Internet filtration acknowledges a world of interconnected online and offline lives, breaking down the original myth of separation.
Phase 4: Access Contested: 2010 and Beyond
As cyberspace is perceived less as a space apart and more as an intrinsic part of our lives, citizens become more resistant to the limitations exacted by private and governmental filtration and censorship.
Groups like the Global Network Initiative and politically active citizens like protestors in Pakistan will continue to be active in fighting back against internet controls and defining the governance of cyberspace.
- John Palfrey, "Four Phases of Internet Regulation" Social Research, Vol. 77, No. 3, Fall 2010.
- Jonathan Zittrain & John Palfrey, "Internet Filtering: The Politics and Mechanisms of Control," Access Denied: The Practice and Policy of Global Internet Filtering, (Cambridge: MIT Press) 2008.
- MENA Net Watch
- Masashi Crete-Nishihata and Jillian York, “Egypt’s Internet Blackout: Extreme Example of Just-in-Time Blocking,” ONI Blog, January 28, 2011.
- The OpenNet Initiative's Blog
- ONI's Russia Profile
- ONI's China Profile
- ONI's Middle East and North Africa Profiles and News
- ONI's United States and Canada Profile
- ONI's Europe Profile
Second- and Third-Generation Controls
- Ron Deibert and Rafal Rohozinski, “Beyond Denial: Introducing Next Generation Information Access Controls,” Access Controlled: The Shaping of Power, Rights, and Rule in Cyberspace, (Cambridge: MIT Press) 2010.
- James Cowie, “Egypt Leaves the Internet,” Renesys, January 27, 2011.
- Bruce Etling, et al., “Public Discourse in the Russian Blogosphere: Mapping RuNet Politics and Mobilization,” October 18, 2010.