#act power thursdays: Internet censorship and surveillance


As we have seen on Monday, the internet, digital networks, are not power-free. Rather, they are places where manifold power struggles take place: between companies and states, between states and citizens, and between citizens and companies. As today is Thursday where I explore examples of statecraft, i.e., the forging and using of power instruments, I am inspecting some of the tools at the disposal of states to control their citizens, or to engage in surveillance and cyber warfare.


In her 2012 book, “Consent of the Networked. The World-Wide Struggle for Internet Freedom”, Rebecca MacKinnon shows how states and firms cooperate when it comes to internet censorship. Private firms not only help filtering or censoring the internet, they also participate in presenting specific government narratives. We are far away from the internet as digital commons…Read a review of the book by the Wall Street Journal here.


Another aspect of internet control is of course surveillance and cyber warfare. 

In 2013, Edward Snowden revealed the extent of internet surveillance organised by the US, together with its allies (three of the famous “Five eyes”). The NSA directly taps internet cables to “listen in” and is involved in the management of communication nodes of the private sector.

End of 2014, the French paper Le Monde and the German internet site Heise got their hands on new confidential documents that revealed how the NSA interfered with the Domain Name System of the internet. The name of the programme is MoreCowBell, and it allows real-time surveillance of foreign government webpages, online forums, and internet download sites. For a Le Monde article in French click here, for a technical paper in English explaining the system, click here.

Johanna M

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