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Wednesday 23 June 2021

Recommended The difference between physical and digital territory

The difference between physical and digital territory

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“Electric speed mixes the cultures of prehistory with the sediments of industrial civilizations, the illiterate with the semi-illiterate and with the post-literate. Mental collapses of various kinds are often the result of the uprooting and flooding of new information and incessantly new information models ”(Marshall Mc Luhan).

This statement, by the poet Mc Luhan, already alone sheds light on the events of our hectic season and on the interpretations given by the Mainstream Media: newspapers and mass TV. However, the "mental breakdowns" mentioned are not only those, almost inevitable, of readers and viewers but, above all, those of the many politicians, journalists, jurists and analysts who, considering themselves as experts and vaccinated - or perhaps only paid for consider themselves as such - they assume positions and defend / attack subjects and institutions, believing, at least those few in good faith, that they have fully understood what it is about. And yet this is often not the case.

One of the issues that is not digested by the defenders of free expression is, among others, the difference between the physical territory and the digital territory. The first is made of solid matter (soil, rivers, mountains, etc.), it is limited by natural or geopolitically agreed boundaries; inside there are laws and regulations and there are magistrates and courts that work to enforce them. The digital territory, called domain, on the other hand represents a novelty in legal history. Inside there are also objects and material infrastructures (cables, satellites, control units, etc.) but its totality is mainly made up of infinite numerical sequences, which would be "contents" (texts, photos, moving images, 2D, 3D , etc.); it is not limited by boundaries of any nature and indeed, potentially extends to infinity; but above all, it overlaps in constant latency with every existing physical territory. Furthermore: although there are some specific laws and regulations here and there, indicatively in the USA (Copyright Act), EU (GDPR), in Italy itself (Bill of Rights of the Web), in Brazil (Marco Civil) ... these laws and regulations are not harmonized with each other, nor do they refer to international treaties and there are no specialized judges or specific courts in which the aforementioned rules are applied on a transnational scale.

Currently there are extensive dossiers, drawn up by the US Antitrust and the European Commission, to limit it excessive power of social networks, but in both physical territories it would appear that Over the Top lobbyists are slowing down with some success. Comme d'habitude!

It follows that the digital territory, especially if it is not a "country code", ie .it, .uk, .fr, etc. but of "1st level generic domains" such as .com, .net, .info, .org, remains in fact a deregulated territory or otherwise regulated by the physical territory or regulated in progress as the decisions taken by the dominant stakeholders who in that territory they have always acted, read: the giants of Silicon Valley.

For example, let's analyze the “.com” territory. Here a dominus .com, such as Facebook or YouTube, like a landowner feudal lord of the last millennium, grants an end user to "cultivate" a tiny portion (a few megabytes within its billions of terabytes) under the conditions written and approved by the dominus himself, who also reserves the right to change them at will without giving prior notice. The user "accepts" and begins to "cultivate" his digital garden (profile, FB page, blog, YT channel, etc.). The dominus watches from within its cold and remote servers; steals any data that interests him, resells them to advertisers and appropriates part of the user's products when he considers them interesting. But if the user does something he doesn't like, he sneakily puts it in first shadow banning and then permanently cancels it even without notice. In this way the dominus can cause a lot of damage and can sometimes even break constitutional norms.

Very often, therefore, it is not the user who breaks a law of his own territory but it is the dominus who "anarchically" doesn't care about breaking laws in force on the user's physical territory. It's not fair, but it does… it can do it, it keeps doing it. He even does it with a special user such as the President of the USA in the last days he is still in office. He does it by breaking a US law, but he doesn't care, why? Because it does it on its own digital territory. That "territory" that the dominus acquired fromICANN (ICANN is an organization originally promoted by the US Department of Commerce, but still under private law). Well, if it can be said that the creators of the digital territory are above all the same domina who operate there, it should also be noted that those who manage the "world digital cadastre" and those who register the territorial attributions do not have much to do with local governments and the laws of physical territories. The only international supranational structure involved is the ITU - International Telecommunications Union because it issues IPVs (the different versions of Internet protocols).

To be fair: it's not just the dominas that create the digital territory, although they make you believe it. Those who create "digital territory" are, in fact, precisely those billions of users who cultivate it from nothing, shapeless of bits and bytes and give it a shape. But the users - civil society - ox people are voiceless in the debate, as they are represented very, very clumsily by slender and uncertain organizations and often their interests are usurped by self-styled NGOs financed by the same companies to silence the claims of the base by watering down the matters. Is it clearer now? Let's hope so!

In essence, there are few reference scenarios in which to identify solutions:

  1. The government of a nation, possibly sovereign, for example, of Russia but also recently of Poland, does not care about having the typical deregulation of the digital territory imposed and forces the dominus with harsh sanctions to respect the laws of the physical territory in order to defend national users. However, this solution is applied only by very few states and there is a continuous tug-of-war between them and the Big Digital. The risk, always around the corner, is the shattering of the Internet network.
  2. Internet governance is reached in the form of an international treaty which, through the United Nations, is ratified by each member state. This is a path undertaken 15 years ago by Kofi Annan, which so far has not had great effects other than maintaining the dialogue between governments, companies and civil society and consequently has prevented the fragmentation of the network.

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