1.4.4. Architecture

As discussed above at Section 1.3.1, the architecture of the Internet is a powerful constraint on how Internet users behave, and even plays a role in shaping and reinforcing the norms of Internet culture. As a method of governance, it is most effective when the public policy goals that are desired to be furthered are in alignment with the Internet’s architecture.

To take privacy as a public policy issue, the architecture of the Internet is quite supportive of users who wish to conceal their identity from the owners of Web sites, because it allows them to surf the Web with a fair degree of anonymity; this is both a technical and social feature of the Internet’s architecture. In comparison, the owner of a shared resource on an office network is likely to have greater capacity to determine the identity of any particular user who has accessed that resource, because the architecture of an office computer network is designed to place a much higher premium on security, and less on privacy.

By the same token however, the Internet’s architecture is a very poor governance mechanism indeed when it comes to the furtherance of public policy that is at odds with the Internet’s implicit values. The Internet’s characteristic resilience against censorship is of no assistance at all to those who would seek to impose content regulation on Internet users, and neither is its architectural inclination towards anonymity of benefit to those who wish to enforce intellectual property rights online. Architecture is of its very nature, therefore, only an effective tool of governance in those areas in which governance is least needed.