Access Contested: Security, Identity, and Resistance in Asian Cyberspace

Privacy and Security, Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing and Internet

Article Snapshot


Ronald Deibert, John Palfrey, Rafal Rohozinski and Jonathan Zittrain


Ronald Deibert, John Palfrey, Rafal Rohozinski, and Jonathan Zittrain, eds., MIT Press, November 2011


This book compiles a series of articles analyzing cyberspace as a place where countries and citizens compete.

Policy Relevance

As use of the Internet continues to spread and mature, so must the regulation that governs basic functions such as access and control. As authoritarian governments act to restrict the social power of cyberspace, democratic states should counter these tendencies by enacting regulation designed to protect basic cyber-rights.

Main Points

  • The use of social media websites during recent political revolutions has demonstrated the power of the Internet in affecting global events. However, the power of cyberspace is not lost on authoritarian regimes that have also been successfully using the Internet to identify, monitor, and repress activist networks.

  • Because of the power of the Internet, control over access and data flow has been a major issue throughout the new millennium. Throughout its history, the Internet has progressed through four phases of cyber regulation.
    • The “open commons” phase occurred before the new millennium and was characterized by the liberal belief that the Internet would be a messy but effective tool to empower and reform civil society.
    • The “access contested” phase occupied the following five years, up through 2005, and consisted of certain governments, such as China and Saudi Arabia, erecting filters in order to block their citizens from accessing information on the Internet.
    • The “access controlled” phase followed and continued through 2010. During this phase, governments developed and utilized more sophisticated and aggressive methods of restricting access while also beginning to monitor who and how citizens accessed information.
    • Finally, the “access contested” phase is the current phase of cyber regulation, in which the Internet is a cyber-battleground on which states, companies, and citizens collaborate and compete.

  • The primary concern in the contested access phase of cyber regulation is the power exerted by authoritarian states attempting to utilize the Internet for their own purposes. However, some democratic states, such as France, have also called for tighter regulations.

  • Concern over the attempted nationalization of cyberspace has catalyzed the creation of a few coalitions such as the Global Network Initiative. Such indicatives have been created with the goal of ensuring that future regulation of the Internet safeguards the basic tenants of access, privacy, and cyber-rights.

  • While the progressing of the Internet into the access contested phase has come with added complexities and potential dangers, it has also brought the discussion of cyber regulation into the mainstream. While the rules governing cyber access are still being formed, it is necessary for democratic states to act together to counter authoritarian regimes’ growing control over cyberspace.

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