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05 March 2006

Sovereignty in the Parallel World

Google presents a fascinating test case for those theorists attempting to understand what sovereignty means in the Parallel World of cyberspace. It is also, by virtue of its size and superior technical acumen, a major webstate unto itself. Increasingly, it has begun to negotiate with governments from that basis – be it in response to demands by the Department of Justice or by the PRC. Its actions have not always been considered and certainly not always popular with the public at large. However, the fact remains that increasingly it comes to the table as a player rather than a subject.

Its latest move, (via search expert John Battelle) to relocate corporate data servers outside of the PRC’s territorial jurisdiction, on the surface becomes yet another of the endless salvo in the increasing tensions between PRC government and its people’s technology needs. But we expect nothing less than attempts at complete control over this and any other data by Chinese Communists, and need no reminder of that we must swear “upon the altar of God eternal hostility against any form of tyranny over the mind of men”, in the words of Mr. Jefferson.

The physical location versus virtual interest debate is a very old one as these things are measured in the online world. In every aspect of law and in every jurisdiction, the Parallel World is redefining presence and has been for some time. Jurists and thinkers have not only sought to define borders in the wilds of cyberspace but crafted concepts of “hot pursuit” to grant them power beyond these borders. The law, however, is a very blunt instrument, and slow to be fashioned into the appropriate tool. In areas beyond the rule of law, or in the interstitial gaps which the law cannot fathom; the absence of such power calls into question which other tools that may be sought, and in what applications they may be used.

Herein lies additional challenges for the intelligence professional seeking to understand the development of the Parallel World. For if the approach of lawyers is failing to address situations of policy and operational realities, something new is called for. Yet if this has yet to be found, the challenge of supporting it through actionable, timely and accurate intelligence becomes all the more acute.