It’s time again to look back at the major cyberlaw and information tech policy books of the year. I’ve decided to drop the top 10 list approach I’ve used in past years (see 2008, 2009, 2010) and just use a more thematic listing of major titles released in 2011. This thematic approach gets me out of hot water since I have found that people take numeric lists very seriously, especially when they are the author of one of the books and their title isn’t #1 on the list! Nonetheless, at the end, I will name what I regard as the most important Net policy book of the year.
I hope I’ve included all the major titles released during the year, but I ask readers to please let me know what I have missed that belongs on this list. I want this to be a useful resource to future scholars and students in the field. [Reminder: Here’s my compilation of major Internet policy books from the past decade.] Where relevant, I’ve added links to my reviews as well as discussions with the authors that Jerry Brito conducted as part of his “Surprisingly Free” podcast series. Finally, as always, I apologize to international readers for the somewhat U.S.-centric focus of this list.
Internet Freedom / General Net Regulation & Governance
Online freedom was a major theme in the field of information technology policy in 2011, especially with the continuing hullabaloo over Wikileaks as well as the various protest movements worldwide that tapped social media and mobile technologies to organize and protest. Increased government regulation and/or crackdowns often followed. Several books dealt with these issues. Morozov’s Net Delusion was one big wet blanket to the whole “Net-changes-everything” movement, but it went much too far as I noted in my lengthy review. Sifry’s book was a short manifesto making the opposite case. Access Contested – the third edition in a series from the same authors — was another indispensable resource for Net researchers exploring censorship trends worldwide, with a particular focus on Asian countries in this latest edition. Finally, the Szoka & Marcus tome was an amazing collection of over 30 essays from a diverse group of scholars on a staggering array of topics. It was a great honor for me to contribute two chapters to the volume. I cannot recommend it highly enough—and it’s free!
- Evgeny Morozov – The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom [my review] [podcast]
- Micah Sifry – WikiLeaks and the Age of Transparency [podcast]
- Ronald J. Deibert, John G. Palfrey, Rafal Rohozinski and Jonathan Zittrain – Access Contested: Security, Identity, and Resistance in Asian Cyberspace
- Eddan Katz & Ramesh Subramanian (Eds.) -The Global Flow of Information: Legal, Social, and Cultural Perspectives
- Berin Szoka & Adam Marcus (eds.) – The Next Digital Decade: Essays on the Future of the Internet
- Becky Hogge – Barefoot into Cyberspace: Adventures in Search of Techno-Utopia
- Laura DeNardis – Opening Standards: The Global Politics of Interoperability
- Chris Marsden – Internet Co-Regulation: European Law, Regulatory Governance and Legitimacy in Cyberspace
- Philip Howard - The Digital Origins of Dictatorships and Democracy: Information Technology and Political Islam
- Virginia Eubanks – Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age
Privacy, Security & Safety
- Saul Levmore and Martha C. Nussbaum (eds.) - The Offensive Internet: Speech, Privacy & Reputation
- Jeff Jarvis – Public Parts [my review]
- Daniel Solove - Nothing to Hide: The False Tradeoff between Privacy and Security [podcast]
- Susan Landau - Surveillance or Security? The Risks Posed by New Wiretapping Technologies
- Daniel Solove & Paul M. Schwartz – Privacy Law Fundamentals
- Terence Craig and Mary Ludloff - Privacy & Big Data
- Frederick Lane – Cybertraps for the Young
Net Pessimism / Google-phobia / Copyright
Sorry for the extremely broad grouping here, but what ties these last few titles together is a general gloominess about the Internet and what it is doing to culture, learning, dialog, or particular ways of doing business. It’s a common theme in Net policy book these days, as I have noted here before. I found the Pariser and Vaidhyanathan books to be extremely problematic [read my reviews]. Levine’s Free Ride and Patry’s How to Fix Copyright were the major online copyright policy books this year. Levine’s book offered an outstanding history of the modern copyright wars, but I couldn’t agree with most of his recommendations. Cleland’s book was less notable for its Google-bashing than the fact it represented the beginning of an articulation of a philosophy of cyber-conservatism. Brockman’s compendium of short essays on the Net’s impact on us was a real hodge-podge of views, not all of which were pessimistic.
- Eli Pariser – The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You [my review]
- Siva Vaidhyanathan – The Googlization of Everything, and Why We Should Worry [my review] [podcast]
- John Brockman (ed.) – Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think? The Net’s Impact on Our Minds and Future
- Sherry Turkle – Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other
- Scott Cleland – Search & Destroy: Why You Can’t Trust Google Inc. [my review]
- Robert Levine – Free Ride: How the Internet is Destroying the Culture Business and How the Culture Business can Fight Back
- William Patry – How to Fix Copyright
Net Policy Book of the Year
So, what was the most important info-tech policy book of 2011? I’d say it was Evgeny Morozov’s Net Delusion. As I noted in previous end-of-year compendiums, I regard an “important” info-tech policy book as a title that many people are currently discussing and that we will likely be debating and referencing for many years to come. In other words, it’s a book that creates a sustained buzz. Net Delusion has certainly accomplished that in major way and Morozov’s relentless policy writing and Twitter ramblings kept him near the center of many Net policy debates in 2011.
That doesn’t mean I agree with everything in the book, or Evgeny’s style, for that matter. His Tweetstream, like many portions of his book, often drips with relentless, caustic snark-casm. I enjoy that in small doses — hell, I’ve used it myself on occasion here and on Twitter! — but it gets tiresome when dished out endlessly and with the volume turned up to 11. More generally, as I noted above, not only do I think he ultimately fails to prove his thesis but the book is riddled with contradictions regarding the proper disposition of governments and corporations toward the Net and online freedom. Morozov is great at tearing down the grandiose, cyber-utopian visions and visionaries, but he’s far less effective at suggesting a coherent alternative vision.
Nonetheless, the importance of Morozov’s work cannot be denied. He’s opened a new front in the intellectual battle over the role of the Net in various political movements and causes. He aims to spearhead what we might think of as the “realist” movement that counters the more “idealist” (he would say “utopian”) approach, which already has many adherents in global Net policy debates. Morozov has opened the door to more skeptical thinking in this regard. Many others are now likely to follow in his footsteps, and when they do, they will all cite back to The Net Delusion. Likewise, the idealists will now be forced to respond to Morozov in any future tracts. Thus, we’ll be discussing and debating the themes in The Net Delusion for many years to come. That’s why it is the most important Net policy book of 2011.