academic,  cybernorm

Hague Program for Cyber Norms 2020

We are presenting our first joint paper, titled “Democracy on the Margins of the Market”, at the Hague Program for Cyber Norms 2020 tomorrow! We’ll be talking about the privatisation of cyber norm formation and why that is a troubling development. Also included are a hint of snarkiness and potshots at a certain massive corporation. See you there, link and abstract below!

Link to live presentation

Drop us an email if you miss it and would like a recording!


When it comes to responsible behaviour in cyberspace, there are two questions we ought to ask ourselves: Who are the actors who operate in cyberspace? And who can legitimately set standards for “responsible behaviour” of those actors?

Regarding the first question, we argue that the traditional focus on state behaviour in international law and international relations does not sufficiently capture the complexities around authority and legitimacy in the cyber norm-making process. As private actors exercise immense power in cyberspace and in cyber norm formation, we must take the activities of corporations seriously. The international legal framework which emphasises military use of cyberspace does not reckon with the usual operations of corporations and therefore creates a gap in legal protection.

Regarding the second question, we show that the political legitimacy of corporations in the exercise of defining normative standards for cyberspace cannot be assumed. Wherever it is assumed, it is likely that this is done on the basis of neoliberal ideology. We show throughout this paper that this neoliberal move operates through the economisation of authority and the construction of the moral corporation, illustrating these dynamics using the example of Microsoft’s “norm entrepreneurship”.

The neoliberal push and the ensuing decay of the state are problematic in cyberspace. This is specifically because the economic logic which motivates much of the activity in cyberspace – surveillance capitalism – presents unique threats to the foundations of our democracies. We therefore urge cyber norm scholarship to be aware of these dynamics and approach any corporate involvement in standard-setting with a critical mind. Moreover, we urge states to reclaim their position as legitimate legislators for the public good, and to unapologetically reject single-minded market logic wherever it threatens democracy, human rights, or the rule of law.

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