DeNardis describes Internet architecture as “arrangements of power.” What does she mean by this (and by extension, what does she mean by “architecture”)?
As Raboy aptly emphasized, the pool of actors involved in the international conversation on internet governance expanded to include civil society actors during the NWICO gathering, where non-profit actors were able to produce a formal declaration of their concerns for internet governance as well as informally serve as a mediator between governments on certain issues. In the political sphere of internet governance, how do all of the various actors with different interests operate in harmony? Perhaps through implicit arrangements of power. There is power and resources to be won in the debate over internet governance. The Internet is composed of dozens of registries of unique identifiers of various scale like domain names, Internet addresses, and more. Whoever manages and maintains any of these registries holds the power to “kill the switch,” the result of which would likely be billions or trillions of dollars in lost transactions and information.
In her book, Laura DeNardis implicitly acknowledges that there is no evil conspiracy by any nation-state or international organization to “rule the Web.” She purposefully highlights that most of the Internet is managed, funded, and even regulated by private companies that are operating independently of any government involvement. So instead, DeNardis argues that the current standards of Internet governance were shaped piece-by-piece and seemingly independent of each other, each with unique economic and time constraints in mind during construction. However, when considered altogether, the sum of its parts is greater than its whole, in terms of heightened cultural value.
It is an arrangement, an agreement, of power between the government and private entities who administer the Internet. The government depends on private entities to fulfill their ethical duty to assist enforcement of law without compensation. This is a large difference between the information-industrial complex and its hulking older sibling, the military industrial complex. Private defense companies like Halliburton receive direct economic profits from assisting the government, whereas past instances in which the government has relied upon private support, such as the attempted passing of the SOPA/PIPA Act, would actually slow down or even hinder growth in the internet sector. Furthermore, DeNardis fairly points out that the content control functions that private industry carries out by request of government is costly, and therefore directly oppositional to its own goals (Denardis, 15). However, private companies eat this cost in order to participate in Internet maintenance as what DeNardis terms as “information intermediaries,” who manage the information of their users and gain the power to influence Internet legislation, as with various Internet blackouts during the SOPA/PIPA debate in 2012. More directly profiting are the private entities which maintain the aforementioned registries and databases of unique Internet identifiers which are essential to the stability of Internet as it exists today.
The many levels of scale within the internet governance structure provides various opportunities for these internet actors or “architects” to make standardizing decisions as to how the internet should run. Because the actors involved all operate independently, the various levels blur and distort any notions of conspiracy or synchronized action.
Written by Pattie Umali
Sources: DeNardis, Laura, 1966. 2014. The global war for internet governance. New Haven: Yale University Press.