Date of Award

May 2019

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

School of Information Studies

Advisor(s)

Jennifer Stromer-Galley

Keywords

Cybersecurity, Democracies, Hybrid regimes, Internet kill switch, Internet regulation, Internet shutdown

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences

Abstract

The Internet has proved its capacity to defy the nation-states’ traditional borders. Facing this circumstance, governments became eager to control its infrastructure, as they did in the past with other forms of communication and they have attempted to shut down the Internet in several occasions. Academics and non-governmental organizations have focused their attention on authoritarian regimes because of the impact of Internet shutdowns on human rights. However, this extreme action of government control has also been part of the debate in non-authoritarian regimes. Thus, this dissertation contributes to the academic debate by analyzing democratic and hybrid regimes, their political discourse and concrete actions to shut down the Internet or to consider doing it. This process starts by questioning the traditional belief that democratic governments, self-defenders of the freedom as a human right, would not consider shutting down the Internet.

This dissertation is an exploratory study of the rhetoric and actual factors that enable democratic and hybrid regimes to shut down the Internet or consider doing it as part of their national security strategy. This project started by adopting a definition of what an Internet shutdown is, the government attempt to stop all Internet activity within the borders of its nation-state, also known as "Internet Kill Switch". The research design for this project carries an online data collection and a comparative case study to answer the research questions that drive this dissertation. Data collection included reputable sources and a triangulation process for validity purposes.

The process of online data collection started by developing an inclusion and exclusion criteria to select the case studies. Using the theoretical framework of the Securitization theory of the Copenhagen School, this study identified the arguments democratic, and hybrid regimes use to justify shutting down the Internet. At the same time, this project determined the audiences they try to address and what they understand as a national security situation. Case studies include three well-consolidated democracies, U.S., U.K. and Australia, and two hybrid regimes, Russia and Venezuela. These nation-states were involved in an Internet shutdown, or their governments considered doing it under different circumstances.

To identify the political, legal and technical factors that enable a democratic and hybrid regime to shut down the Internet, this project determined specific variables to analyze. For comparative purposes, this project also incorporated two-young-democracies, Brazil and Mexico, and one hybrid regime, Turkey. These last three governments never shut down the Internet and did not consider doing it. From the comparison between regimes politically similar, this research identified similarities and differences in the factors that enable a government to shut down the Internet.

The second contribution comes from a conceptual point of view, by clarifying the differences between terms. In this regard, this study challenges the assimilation of shutting down the entire Internet with censorship episodes as if they were equal practices.

Finally, from an academic point of view, this dissertation determined that there are no substantial differences between the rhetoric and political, legal and technical factors that enable democratic and hybrid regimes to shut down the Internet.

Access

Open Access

Available for download on Saturday, June 05, 2021

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