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<nettime> In an Internetworked World No One Is "Foreign"
michael gurstein on Sat, 22 Jun 2013 09:23:45 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> In an Internetworked World No One Is "Foreign"


In an Internetworked World No One Is "Foreign"

by  <http://gurstein.wordpress.com/author/gurstein/> Michael Gurstein 

As everyone knows there have been some startling and shocking
revelations concerning the surveillance activities of the USA's NSA.
This has occasioned considerable to-ing and fro-ing from the US
Executive Office, from the major Internet corporations implicated in
these revelations, and from various elements of civil society.

To an equally astonishing and disturbing degree much of this to-ing
and fro-ing has centred around whether the rights of Americans have
been assaulted. Watching these discussions unfold including from US
colleagues in civil society, it has been interesting how a fine bright
line has been drawn between the rights of citizens and residents of
the USA and everyone else. The argument appears to be that while
the rights of Americans are somehow sacrosanct--protected by among
other things the US constitution and duly constituted legislation,
foreigners i.e. everyone else in the world have no rights--are "fair
game" for whatever actions the NSA or whoever chooses to invoke.

As a non-USAian watching all of this unfold I've been equally
astonished and horrified that otherwise perfectly sane and reasonable
people who pop up in all the right places often saying useful things
internationally could be so tone deaf when dealing with a real issue
with global ramifications.

As I've been thinking about this I haven't been quite sure why the
terminology of Americans "good"--"foreigners" "suspicious" should
grate so much.

We (being those of the non-USAian persuasion) are so used to listening
to cultural messages coming from the US including via movies,
television, music and so on that at some unconscious cultural level
"we are all Americans now". So when the divide between those placing
themselves under the shading protection of the US constitution and
everyone else is so actively and frequently expressed, the real divide
is made even clearer and more explicit.

However, as we all know as well, the Internet as a communications and
expressive platform knows few if any boundaries. While on the Internet
of course, some are more equal than others the specific nationality
as framed by boundaries and constitutions and legislation is left
somewhere in the background only to be invoked at times of crisis or
system failure.

 And that is why the language and conceptualization of the US vs.
foreigners seems so odd and unsettling since on the Internet no one
is a "foreigner" (and no one is a "national" except possibly of the
nation of the Internet and its netizens/"citizens"...

 This isn't to idealize the Internet as a place without boundaries
but rather to state the obvious, I'm able to and am frequently
active in being in my home in Canada or with my friends in Brazil
or with business colleagues in India instantaneously and seamlessly
from anywhere I happen to be able to connect--no passports,
no jurisdictional entanglements, in many cases no authorities
evidently hovering in the background. So when something like Ed
Snowden's revelations re-arrange again the Internet world around
boundaries--around "us" and "them", "citizens" and "foreigners" it
feels, well, so 20th century.

And to go on a wee bit--what is equally unsettling is the knowledge
again that we (foreigners) have gleaned from Ed Snowden's revelations
that the marginal and largely notional "protections" that distance
and boundaries have up to now offered to us from the over-weaning
and often absurdist actions by US authorities can now be seen as
having been finally and irrevocably "disappeared"; and while we may
be "foreigners" from the perspective of "rights", we are very much
not foreigners from the perspective of being somehow subject to the
actions of US authorities wherever we may or whatever we may be doing
anywhere in the world.

And of course, this is the case not simply for the usual
("legitimate") suspects but also for ordinary citizens, businesses,
governments, whatever--since the power of the Internet and the
facility with which its depth of penetration has been projected almost
universally has meant that the power wielded by those authorities is
now global in scope and reach and essentially unrestricted in its
actions. Thus in the sense of being subjects to US authority (or the
authority of anyone with the wealth and facility to effectively use
these tools--recent days have seen reports of similar actions by
spooks in India and Brazil) no one is now a "foreigner"--in that area
we are all equal and equally powerless.

So, if we are all -- USAians and everyone else now subjects of the
omnipresent eyes, ears and capacities for actions at a distance
of the Internet and ICTs in general; where are the structures and
rules, procedures, legislative mechanisms that would allow all of
us--citizens of an Internet-enabled world to hold those wielding this
authority to some measure of accountability and transparency.

Without those mechanisms and those rules and procedures--we all
and in this we must include all of us USAians and the like--will
be the objects of control and subject of the authority of a future
SurveillanceState without recourse or appeal. The time to recognize
that we are all equally citizens of the Internet world (and equally
foreigners in the boundary burdened world where you need a passport
to be on the Internet) and to get about the job of building the
governance institutions for the world that we are all living in and
put paid to those institutions that govern the world that we are in
the process of out-growing.


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