University of Toronto’s Canada Centre and Citizen Lab Announce the Cyber Stewards Program

Monday, June 11, 2012
The Canada Centre for Global Security Studies (Canada Centre) and the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto (with the support of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC)) are pleased to announce the launch of the Cyber Stewards program. The Cyber Stewards program is designed to address the urgent need to support South-based cyber security scholars, advocates, and practitioners to articulate a vision of cyber security in which rights and openness are protected on the basis of shared research and empirical knowledge. Cyber Stewards will be selected from across the global South. They will work locally while networking globally through the auspices of the Canada Centre and Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto. Cyber Stewards will define their own scope of work and activities based on their local context and pressing concerns. The expectation will be that Cyber Stewards will map, analyze, and ultimately impact the cyber security priorities of their own countries and regions on the basis of shared knowledge and practices. “We are excited about this opportunity, and the prospects that the Cyber Stewards network can accomplish,” says Ron Deibert, Director of the Canada Centre and Citizen Lab. “Working together, we envision the Cyber Stewards will help contribute to a growing global movement of citizens, scholars and practitioners - a community of practice - whose aim is to protect cyberspace as a secure but open commons of information in which human rights are respected.”

Detailed Overview

As cyberspace expands and deepens in the global South, there are growing concerns around how cyberspace will be governed and constituted. The security of cyberspace is now an urgent concern. A cyber arms race among governments and non-state actors has begun in earnest. Facing a growing number of threats, from cyber crime to espionage and warfare, governments are developing ambitious cyber security strategies, some of which include far-reaching and potentially ominous censorship, surveillance, and information operation components. Unless proper checks and balances are instituted locally, there will continue to be strong pressures to build “surveillance-by design” into newly built infrastructure -- particularly the newly emerging mobile and social media ecosystems. These troubling trends of information control and securitization portend the gradual disintegration of an open and secure commons of information on a global scale. It is essential that the process of cyber securitization taking place in the South includes local voices who can articulate a vision of cyber security in which rights and openness are protected on the basis of shared research and empirical knowledge. The aim of the Cyber Stewards project is to help support and develop those local voices.

Why “Steward”?

Stewardship is typically defined as an ethic of responsible behaviour in a situation of shared resources, typically with respect to the natural environment and the commons, such as the oceans and outer space. Although cyberspace is more of a mixed pooled resource that cuts across public and private sector than a commons per se, the concept of stewardship still carries considerable merit: it implies behaviour that goes beyond self-interest to accomplish something in the service of a wider public good. It emphasizes the need for balance and the appreciation of the complexity of the system. It carries with it a connotation of custodianship and citizen-based monitoring, all of which mesh with the aims of the network we are setting out to build.

Why should South-based scholars and practitioners link up with a North-based institution, like the University of Toronto?

Moving forward, it is imperative that stewards of cyberspace include representation from all stakeholders in the global communications environment, and that bridges are built between communities across North, South, East and West. Although the challenges of each locality are unique, together we live in a shared communications space that is becoming increasingly dense and interconnected. We have a shared responsibility to sustain that space in a manner that supports everyone’s rights, while keeping it secure. Networking South-based Cyber Stewards with the University of Toronto’s Canada Centre and Citizen Lab’s already existing network of collaborative partnerships will help accomplish that goal and hopefully build a broad community of global Cyber Stewards that empowers us all collectively.

Who will make up the Cyber Stewards program and how will it operate?

There will be a diversity in research topics and methods, as well as regional and disciplinary backgrounds, in the constitution of Cyber Stewards. We anticipate that the group will form a network of peers, in which the Cyber Stewards regularly interact with each other, engage in knowledge sharing and joint research and development, and mutual mentorship. Cyber Stewards will interact virtually as well as through occasional joint workshops and major conferences, facilitated by the Canada Centre and Citizen Lab. Interested parties from any of the following regions should send a CV and a five page outline that details project ideas to cyberstewards@citizenlab.org (Central America, Caribbean, South America, sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East and North Africa, and Asia).

About the Canada Centre for Global Security Studies

The Canada Centre for Global Security Studies at the Munk School of Global Affairs is a centre of interdisciplinary research, policy development, and other activities in emerging security issues that are critical to Canada's future. Established in spring 2010 with a grant from the Government of Canada, the Canada Centre's areas of interdisciplinary study include cyber security, global health, food security, and region-specific concerns, such as the future of the Arctic, post-Soviet Europe, the new Asian powers, and the changing face of the Americas.

About the Citizen Lab

The Citizen Lab is an interdisciplinary laboratory based at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, Canada focusing on advanced research and development at the intersection of digital media, global security, and human rights. We are a “hothouse” that combines the disciplines of political science, sociology, law, computer science, engineering, and graphic design. Our mission is to undertake advanced research and engage in development that monitors, analyses, and impacts the exercise of political power in cyberspace. We undertake this mission through collaborative partnerships with leading edge research centers, organizations, and individuals around the world, and through a unique “mixed methods” approach that combines technical analysis with intensive field research, qualitative social science, and legal and policy analysis methods undertaken by subject matter experts. The Citizen Lab’s ongoing research network includes the OpenNet Initiative, OpenNet Eurasia, and Opennet.Asia as well as the Cyber Security Stewards network. The Citizen Lab was a founding partner of the Information Warfare Monitor (2002-2012). The Citizen Lab developed the original design of the Psiphon censorship circumvention software, which spun out of the lab into a private Canadian corporation (Psiphon Inc.) in 2008.

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