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Canada and the Challenges of Cyberspace Governance and Security

12 Pages Posted: 5 Apr 2013  

Ronald J. Deibert

University of Toronto - Munk Centre for International Studies

Date Written: March 12, 2013


When Canada stood with the United States and Britain in refusing to sign on to a new, state-controlled future for the Internet, at December’s World Conference on Information Technology, it certainly made the federal government appear to be a stalwart champion of Internet freedom. But in reality, Canada’s approach to cyberspace governance and security has, at best, sent mixed signals about our commitment to Internet freedom. At worst, it has actually contributed to increasing on-line censorship and surveillance by the very undemocratic and illiberal regimes that Canada voted against at the conference.

Unfortunately this is a dangerous time for Canada to wallow in aimlessness: when it comes to cyberspace governance and security, the momentum is headed in the direction of greater state control. As demographic realities indicate, Internet usage will increasingly belong to the global South and East, where freedom is an unsettled and elusive concept. If Canada truly seeks to guard against the Internet falling captive to the controls sought by repressive regimes, such as those in China and Russia, it will have to offer the world a compelling, competing vision that demonstrates integrity and dedication to genuine Internet freedom.

Among other things, that means moving beyond traditional top-down, state-centred models of security, which are a poor fit for a decentralized, global, publicly shared, but largely privately developed, communications network. Imposing conventional, state led policing frameworks on cyberspace — for instance, in the name of fighting cyber crime — only provides legitimacy to regimes abroad when they bring their own state powers to censor Internet communications. It also means thinking more carefully about how much we should tolerate our Canadian technology developers continuing to supply tools of repression to the foreign regimes who seek to dominate their own people.

Canada has the potential to take on a leadership role in showing the world what it means to truly stand for freedom in cyberspace. But providing global leadership will require that our own government commits to reducing state controls and surveillance here at home, encouraging greater transparency and checks on state power over the Internet, while enhancing privacy protections. Ultimately, the only way the Canadian government can truly help preserve and promote a decentralized and unfettered Internet for the world’s future is to demonstrate that it is genuinely committed to promoting the same thing here at home.

Keywords: internet, security, cyber, attack, threat, web, digital, protection, identity, policy, technology, government, freedom

JEL Classification: O38

Suggested Citation

Deibert, Ronald J., Canada and the Challenges of Cyberspace Governance and Security (March 12, 2013). SPP Communiqué, Vol. 5, Issue 3. Available at SSRN:

Ronald J. Deibert (Contact Author)

University of Toronto - Munk Centre for International Studies ( email )

Department of Statistical Sciences
Toronto, Ontario M5S 3E6 M5S 3G8

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