Internet’s private sphere: a tale of secrecy and sovereignty

// Posted by on 02/18/2014 (7:30 PM)

- Roberto Alviso

Regarding the relationship established between the state and a citizen, two spheres of action could be identified in the liberal democracies: the private and the public sphere. This division outlines the space of action in which the state is competent and where it should not interfere. Civil, political and social rights help to define the mentioned division. However, the virtual space that the Internet has shaped since the spread of its usage to the non-specialized user lacks of regulation to establish this division.

To sustain that the Internet should be kept off of any regulation is a two way street. Going uphill this means that users can enter any site freely, share the information they want and express their opinion without any threat at some point they get bounded. The downhill road has a different scenery. This road gets us to the discretional agency of governmental institutions. As there is no legislation billed, the State can manage to articulate intricate justifications about how privacy violations are a fair cost to assure national security.

The rhetoric of United States’ had turned around its foundational idea of being a nation that will set the standards for the entire world. However, nothing mystical or divine should be interpreted by a nation’s foreign policy. Based on solely evidence that leakers such as Snowden and Assange’s team at Wikileaks have made public, proving what was already evident, it is established that the United States’ foreign policy is based on secrecy directed to its citizens and the international community.

Farell and Finnemore’s pointed it out well in Foreign Affairs’ article titled “The End of Hypocrisy”1, the United States has been acting incoherently at the international scenario. In a crusade to spread liberal values and democracy all over the world, the United States has started breaching the standards they want to defend by violating human rights, attacking civilians and ignoring any right to privacy. Its capability to maintain this two-faced impersonation emerges from the so protected, justified and mystified secrecy.

A strong position is to say that secrecy and datavaillance are needed to maintain national security. I am not arguing otherwise. What I remark is that one thing is to protect citizens from foreign attack and other is to turn our own people into constantly spied “potential enemies”. The discretional activities of the intelligence offices and the national security departments have articulated an institutional apparatus that is oiled by constant lies thrown at the faces of their nation’s citizens and those of the foreign community.

As Greenwald’s “The war on WikiLeaks and why it matters”2 article stresses, Assange and the organization he leads strengthen the fight for transparency. While dozens of private companies have authorization to access our personal data and to execute datavaillance, citizens are kept in the dark, allegedly to protect them.

The whistleblowing activities are a way to reduce asymmetry of information and return the citizens the power to know and criticize current governmental practices. Following this logic, citizens are again empowered to demand a change in these practices if they consider it appropriate. In a rough and general fashion, this is the recognition of people’s sovereignty over their country’s destiny.

Last Saturday, John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State, visited China and held a meeting with President Xi Jinping. During the visit, Kerry declared that the United States supports the reduction of Chinese government’s blockage practices to monitor and filter Internet activity3. The argument is that freedom of the Internet will strengthen Chinese economy.

While the Internet should be sustained as an open access and surfing space, there is also the need to regulate its usage. As a tool, the Internet should not be used for criminal activities nor should the state have discretional attributions. The correspondent normative should be billed in order to protect citizen’s rights on the Internet (referred sometimes as digital rights) and prevent the state to incur in activities that violate them. Chinese government Internet regulation could be overwhelming for people at the United States. But how different is Chinese monitoring system from the surveillance system that the United States has built on the Internet?

At last, secrecy should not be used as camouflage for the government’s dirty practices. Democracies are based on the idea that sovereignty resides on the citizens of a country. The government should understand that by keeping citizens in the dark they are violating the entrustment they have received from them.


1Farrell, H. & Finnemore, M. (2013, December). “The End of Hipocrisy”. Foreign Affairs. Retrieved from:

2Greenwald, G. (2010, March 27). “The war on WikiLeaks and why it matters”. Retrieved from:

3The Associated Press. (2014, 15 February). “U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urges Chinese leaders to support Internet freedom”. CTVNews. Retrieved from:

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