Role of Cyberspace in International Relations: A Literature Review
Cyberspace became a household term after it was adopted by computer professionals and popularized in the 1990s (Slater, 2002). Before that, it was used most often in science fiction movies and books. It relates to the environment in which communication occurs over and/or between computer networks. With the growth of the internet, many people began referring to cyberspace as the "place" where everything happened online (Slater, 2002). Technically, of course, cyberspace is not really a physical place. It is just the term chosen to be used by most of the general public when they discuss where something "goes" when it is sent from one computer. For example, an email that failed to reach its destination without explanation may be said to have been "lost in cyberspace." While that is not, technically, accurate, everyone who deals with computers and the internet understands the meaning and intent behind these types of phrases.
One of the main effects cyberspace has had on the world is in the field of international relations. In the past, communicating internationally took much longer than it does today. There were certainly quick ways to communicate, such as making an international call, but sending documents and other material or providing a written record of information in a conversation took a longer period of time. Faxing information internationally was not always successful, and could be extremely expensive. Once cyberspace became the way to handle most things, it was vastly easier to simply email information from one person (and country) to another (Roskin & Berry, 2009). However, the ease with which everything could be transferred internationally also became part of the risk of this kind of transfer. Email addresses can be hacked, as can anything else placed into cyberspace. That made it risky for sensitive material that really should not be sent in unprotected ways to travel through cyberspace. Even with protective measures, hackers still continued to find ways to break into coded information (Slater, 2002; Granville, 2003).
The United States Government recognizes cyberspace as part of the critical infrastructure of the country, and sees the importance of maintaining and protecting it (Baylis, Smith, & Owens, 2011). There are other countries that also see the value in cyberspace, which has now become a term to mean anything that has to do with the internet. Because the network is a global one, people in one country are able to connect instantly with people all over the world. There are very few places around the globe where some form of internet is not available, although some countries have much more primitive connections than others. Additionally, some countries carefully monitor and restrict what can and cannot be viewed in a particular country (Slater, 2002). This is often to reduce the risk of violent protests, government retaliation, and other issues that can plague some countries but that do not affect others (Roskin & Berry, 2009). A country's government is able to control what can be seen in that country when it comes to the cyberspace sites that can be accessed, but there are ways to get around that for people who are determined to do so.
Proxy servers and other methods can allow people in countries where certain material is blocked to view that material (Roskin & Berry, 2009). These proxies work by providing an IP address that appears to come from another country where the information the person wants to view would not be blocked, thus allowing the person to view it. In some cases, there can be harsh penalties for using this type of service, depending on the rules and regulations of the government in question (Roskin & Berry, 2009). Many countries block information because they believe viewing it would be problematic for its citizens -- or problematic for the government itself. However, a number of people, both in those countries and outside of them, are concerned about too much government intervention and how that may provide difficulties for people who should have access to information about what it taking place in the world. At that point, the issue of human rights and human freedom comes up, but each country handles it differently (Baylis, Smith, & Owens, 2011; Roskin & Berry, 2009).
International relations have changed because of cyberspace, and there are two schools of thought on this. One school believes that the world has been made better and…