Securing Critical Internet Resources: Influencing Internet Governance through Social Networks and Delegation

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Information Science and Technology


Milton L. Mueller

Second Advisor

Stuart Bretschneider


Critical Internet Resources, Delegation, Domain Names, Internet Addresses, Internet Governance, Social Network Analysis

Subject Categories

Political Science


Examining the cases of Domain Name System Security (DNSSEC) and the Resource Public Key Infrastructure (RPKI), this dissertation uses principal-agent delegation theory and social network analysis to explain how United States government (USG) agencies influence efforts to secure critical Internet resources.

Consistent with a logic of delegation and the prominent role of individuals in Internet governance, USG agencies participated directly and indirectly in the social networks formed around Internet governance institutions. Its participation occurred by delegating responsibility to organizational agents that participated in the DNSSEC and RPKI standardization and policy processes. By doing so, agencies leveraged these individuals' expertise, and in the case of DNSSEC were more successful than expected at achieving adoption of standards and policies consistent with their political and economic interests. However, this ex ante approach of influencing standards and policy outcomes in open and transparent Internet governance institutions has limits. Agencies also relied on an ex post institutional control (specifically a contract with an Internet governance institution) to ensure outcomes related to securing and maintaining oversight of critical Internet resources.

These results are important and timely to researchers and policy makers. They contribute to the growing academic field of Internet governance, integrating well known theory from political science and standardization. Given current debate on the appropriate role for governments in Internet governance and securing the Internet, the cases illustrate how governments can be productive contributors as peers in relatively transparent and open Internet governance processes. This stands in contrast to governments' perceived need for a greater oversight role in managing and securing critical Internet resources. The results also suggest that efforts to improve the governance and security of critical Internet resources should pay closer scrutiny to extant contractual relationships between Internet governance institutions and powerful governments, notably the United States, as similar ex post interventions enabled by them could undermine the delegation strategy.

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