Important Cyberlaw & Info-Tech Policy Books (2011 Edition)

by on December 9, 2011 · 9 comments

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!

Privacy, Security & Safety

Privacy policy and government surveillance issues have been the dominant cyberlaw policy issues of 2011, so it is unsurprising that we are starting to see more major publications in this arena. Jarvis’s book, in particular, generated intense debate and certainly represented one of the most important titles of the year. The Offensive Internet was a hugely important collection of essays since it represented the most forceful attack on the Net and freedom of speech to date. It was practically a jihad against Section 230 and online anonymity. I found it hugely troubling. The two primers on privacy listed below (by Solove & Schwartz and by Craig & Ludloff) were terrifically helpful, accessible booklets. I highly recommend students pick both of them up.

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.

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.

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