By: Anupam Chander & Haochen Sun
PDF: Sovereignty 2.0
Digital sovereignty—the exercise of control over the internet—is the ambition of the world’s leaders, from Australia to Zimbabwe, seen as a bulwark against both foreign states and foreign corporations. Governments have resoundingly answered first-generation internet law questions of who, if anyone, should regulate the internet. The answer: they all will. Governments now confront second-generation questions—not whether, but how to regulate the internet.
This Article argues that digital sovereignty is simultaneously a necessary incident of democratic governance and democracy’s dreaded antagonist. As international law scholar Louis Henkin taught, sovereignty can insulate a government’s worst ills from foreign intrusion. Assertions of digital sovereignty, in particular, are often double-edged—useful both to protect citizens and to control them. Digital sovereignty can magnify the government’s powers by making legible behaviors that were previously invisible to the state. Thus, the same rule can be used to safeguard or repress—a feature that legislators across the Global North and South should anticipate through careful checks and balances.