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Canada and Cyberspace: Key Issues and Challenges

This report was published in conjunction with SecDev

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Within a single generation, cyberspace materialized from the pages of science ction to encompass half of all humanity. By the end of this decade, the relentless pace of technological change — driven by advances in cheap, affordable and mobile devices and boundless human creativity — will make unconnectedness a planetary rarity.

Cyberspace emerged at the end of the Cold War as if nation-states did not matter. It grew to ll an institutional vacuum that left its governance and growth in the hands of individuals and institutions outside of the existing international telecommunications regulation environment. Cyberspace’s informal and diffuse form of governance propelled its phenomenal growth and established its guiding norms of openness, freedom of choice and collegiality.

But cyberspace is changing. Its governance institutions are under stress from having to cope with scaling well beyond their intended design. Individuals whose close social connections made informal governance mechanisms work without hierarchy are slowly passing from the scene. The old system is in a state of entropy and the new system needs to be defined.

Nation-states are increasingly concerned by the strategic importance of cyberspace. Global commerce is dependent on networks that were built for resilience rather than security. Criminality is colonizing cyberspace and challenging law enforcement. Malware and malfeasance in cyberspace is threatening to erode trust and compromise critical national infrastructure. Warfare by means of cyber weapons has now been established as a legitimate use of force. And, as a new digitally savvy generation enters its productive years, cyberspace has become the medium through which demands for social and political justice are being mobilized. For many states, accommodating new forms of cyber-mediated political agency is proving dif cult. Spontaneous social upheavals such as the Arab Spring have propelled international debate as states seek to reassert rules and norms in domestic cyberspace.

Should cyberspace remain a de facto global commons? Who decides on the rules and behaviours acceptable in this domain and how should they be enforced? The ideological lines are being drawn and the outcome — decided in international fora such as World Conference on International Telecommunications — will play a constitutive role in de ning the ethos of cyberspace for future generations. Cyber security raises important issues and challenges and demands government attention. But securing cyberspace as an open global commons also matters to economic prosperity, democracy, and fundamental human and civil rights.

Canadian values, interests, and security are inextricably bound up in the international debates that are establishing the rules of the road for cyberspace governance. Ensuring that the future of cyberspace is consistent with Canadian values such as the freedom of choice, democracy, and protection of civil and human rights requires Canada to engage. This engagement demands an informed and enlightened approach that goes beyond ensuring cyber security.

This paper was commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade as part of an internal consultation process. It was prepared between March and August 2011 and briefed to DFAIT in January 2012. This version of the paper was prepared for general release during the summer of 2012 to broaden the Canadian debate around the future of cyberspace.


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