Who(se) rules (for) the Internet? Regime formation and global public policy for the information age

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


G. Matthew Bonham


Internet, Regime formation, Global public policy, Information technology

Subject Categories

International Law | International Relations | Law | Political Science | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Who will govern? Increased challenges to traditional nation-state rule-making authority are contributing to a crisis of legitimacy in the global political economy. One issue area where these challenges are especially poignant involves Internet regulation. The reliance on 20 th century theories has rendered International Relations ill equipped to address the policy puzzles of the information age. While many of the same problems remain, the actors and their relative capabilities have changed. The proliferation of actors and the means to organize confounds many of the major principles of IR theory, including nation-state sovereignty, unitary actor decision making, and power. How then do we explain international cooperation, policy formation, and coordination? To answer this question this dissertation examines the regulation of encryption technology through a synthesis of two competing but complementary theoretical approaches; international regime and epistemic communities. By positing instruction-sense rules as the primary tool of non-governmental actors and regulation-sense rules as the primary tool of governmental actors, this study investigates the conditions under which the practices of non actors converge to form rules and institutions (regimes), especially when they potentially conflict with the interests of states. Drawing on the content analysis of over 300 documents collected and coded, the results indicate that the establishment of clear goals, connecting these goals to broader interests, maintaining flexibility in negotiations, and the creation of flexible rule institutions are key ingredients for successful consensus and institution building. Within the limits of a small-N case, the results indicate this alternative rule-based approach is robust enough to capture the governmental/non-governmental dynamic and provide a much more comprehensive explanation of regime formation. This study also suggests that technology policy issues cannot be solved by either purely technical or purely legal solutions. Instead, a combination of technological, legal, and self-regulatory solutions are necessary to address multilateral, cross-disciplinary technology policy issues.


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