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Release of International Strategy for Cyberspace a significant moment in evolution of IT industry

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"Cyberspace, and the technologies that enable it, allow people of every nationality, race, faith and point of view to communicate, cooperate and prosper like never before. ... The digital world is no longer a lawless frontier, nor the province of a small elite. It is a place where the norms of responsible, just and peaceful conduct among states and peoples have begun to take hold. It is one of the finest examples of a community self-organizing, as civil society, academia, the private sector, and governments work together democratically to ensure its effective management." - U.S. President Barack Obama, International Strategy for Cyberspace, 2011

 

"All I knew about the word 'cyberspace' when I coined it, was that it seemed like an effective buzzword. It seemed evocative and essentially meaningless. It was suggestive of something, but had no real semantic meaning, even for me, as I saw it emerge on the page." - William Gibson, No Maps For These Territories, 2000

 

We've come a long way, haven't we? What started as a science fiction phrase coined in the early 1980s has achieved near-sovereign status - worthy of formal policy-making by the leader of the free world.

 

Last week the White House released the U.S. International Strategy for Cyberspace, a truly historic document that asserts United States policy in matters of Internet transparency, reliability and security. All tongue-in-cheek comments about sci-fi derivations aside, it is a significant moment in the evolution of our industry - the realm where we all operate, innovate and compete is now something greater than just a capitalist market. Events of the past year have proven that the Internet will challenge the cartography of traditional diplomacy, and become as significant a geopolitical arena as the physical world itself.

 

In the 30-page document, the current administration ties its cyberspace policy to the fundamental principles of American democracy, describes the future state sought by U.S. strategy, and outlines some high-level policy goals for future consideration.

 

In reading the strategy document, one cannot help but think of the upheaval brought about during the recent Arab spring uprisings - and the manner in which social networks, pervasive mobility and Internet access all served as force multipliers for the cause of democracy. If cyberspace is the level playing field across which democracy wins the day, then the United States of America wants to make sure that much of the world has fair and equal access to the pitch.

 

Is the document perfect? Of course not. The high-level goals included in the strategy are in most cases not actionable enough to serve as mandate. In some cases, there are abject contradictions between the stated respect for privacy and the firm conviction against cyber-crime. In other areas, the document glosses over the very real international differences between nations and their current attitudes towards individual liberties, nationalized infrastructure, intellectual property and cyber-crime.

 

Nonetheless, this document serves as a sort of mission statement - a guiding set of principles the Obama administration wishes to weave into all its legislation and policy-making that impacts cyberspace in the future. The funny thing about mission statements is that their impact is never felt upon first reading. What remains to be seen is how well this strategy is adhered to during the subsequent discourse in the U.S. and abroad, and how well the actual laws, rules and treaties honor its intent.

 

For example, as a member of the Commission on the Leadership Opportunity in the U.S. Deployment of the Cloud (CLOUD2) I can already say that the International Strategy for Cyberspace has informed our thinking and challenged us to begin making more actionable recommendations that align with this stated policy.

 

In reflecting on the International Strategy for Cyberspace, I couldn't help but flash forward to a future state where the Internet becomes a political bargaining chip, choked by national firewalls, unfriendly to innovation and fraught with cyber-crime. In that hypothetical scenario, what would we say about our leaders if they had stood idly by while such degeneration occurred?

 

History will show that the U.S. government did not watch quietly as the global cloud of cyber-networks evolved at exponential speed. Whether or not modern government and international diplomacy are able to keep pace with the challenging nature of cyberspace remains to be seen.

 

David Shacochis is vice president, global public sector, at Savvis.

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