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Hacking Westphalia

The Internet has broken the link between economy and territory. Digital globalization, with its underlying geopolitical dynamics, makes the construction of a global governance on new treaties impossible.

In the international order, the border occupies a central place. It not only delimits the territory politically, but also defines the space for the application of sovereignty. The border is the place where some rules begin and others end. In the Westphalian order, the jurisdiction of the State is exercised in the sphere of borders and States are related to each other according to rules and institutions. The problem is that the bits have no nationality or appellation of origin. They cross borders without asking permission. The paradigm that has structured the world for the last 400 years is, at least partially, inadequate to address the age of the Internet.
The international order assumes a model of two levels or layers. What happens inside a State is regulated by the regulations defined by each country, and what happens between nations is agreed through International Law. A basic element of this order is the principle of non-interference in internal affairs and equality of treatment between States. This model works to the extent that the fundamental determinants exist in a physical dimension: goods and services are produced, demanded and consumed in particular places, under the corresponding jurisdiction, and specific rules defined by each State are applied to them. It is not relevant, from the perspective of the international order, if the regulation of country A is different from that of country B. If the good or service is produced or consumed in A, the regulation of A. is applied to him. If it happens in B, it will be the one that applies. Obviously, the regulatory asymmetry between both countries can produce undesired effects for producers and consumers, and for this reason, harmonized agreements and regulations are sought. But the asymmetry, insofar as it is applied to a territory, is executable and, therefore, viable.

Governments can regulate the infrastructures that are installed in their territory, but they can hardly regulate the bits that flow through the networks

The Internet puts this state-nation order in tension as a consequence of its eminently ageográfica nature. The existence of a virtual dimension, transboundary and global in scope, fundamentally breaks with the link between economy and territory, on which the exercise of this model of sovereignty was viable. Before the Internet, there were already evident signs of tension in the governance of globalization, derived from transboundary phenomena over which national jurisdiction was limited, such as speculative capital flows or the effects of climate change. But it is with the Internet when that tension is amplified and pushes the old order towards obsolescence.
The above is not absolute. States have reacted in different ways to this loss of control over cyberspace. Some have been establishing barriers to the free flow of information, censoring the use of certain services or applications. Others, however, favor a scenario for the freedom and development of an open Internet, but also for the benefit of the power and business models of certain players or platforms that represent the banner of the new hegemony in the digital domain. This entails risks and hence the need to explore mechanisms that respond correctly to the dynamics of this new order, in which borders are liquid and in which power is no longer only in the size of territories or military might , but – increasingly – in the control and exploitation of the data that flows through the networks. That’s what Internet governance is about …


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