28 July 2009

There's no such place as cyberspace

Every year I start my course at the Information Security Group, Royal Holloway University of London by explaining how laws (even really old laws) apply to the use of the Internet. There are only three basic rules, and the first of these is: There is no such place as "cyberspace".

This shouldn't be too surprising. The word "cyberspace" was created by author William Gibson in the early 1980's. He explained that "cyberspace" exists in our imaginations. In his fiction he described it as a "consensual hallucination" shared by billions. I'm pretty happy with that as a working definition.

Laws exist in the real world and define relationships between people who live in the real world. Laws also define the relationship between a given state and the people who have an impact on people in that state. Enforcement of law is carried out by people who use varying degrees of force with respect to other people. The common denominator? People. People who live in a real and physical world.

There is no "state" of cyberspace. It has no meaningful existence as a "place".

There is a lot more to say about this, but not today.