U of T has a special role to play in global cyberspace, says Professor Ron Deibert (photo by John Guatto)

Seeking Cyber Stewards

They’re called Cyber Stewards - and researchers at the University of Toronto are recruiting them from among the ranks of cyber security scholars, advocates and practitioners in the global south.

The goal? To help articulate a vision of cyber security in which rights and openness are protected on the basis of shared research and empirical knowledge.

“Although we take cyberspace for granted [in Canada], most of the users come from countries of the global south,” said Ron Deibert, Director of the Canada Centre for Global Security Studies (Canada Centre) and the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs.

“They will be the ones to write the rules for this domain in the future.”

As cyberspace expands deep into the global south it faces a growing number of threats, from cyber-crime to espionage and warfare, Deibert said. In response, governments aim to securitize cyberspace but do so at the expense of human rights.

Strategies to combat cyberspace threats include Internet censorship, surveillance and control on Internet Service Providers to gather information.

“Similar to the beginning of the nuclear age, cyberspace is becoming a new form of warfare people don’t understand,” Deibert said, adding there is a need to build mutual restraint.

Enter the Cyber Stewards program recently launched by the Canada Centre and Citizen Lab with funding from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

Stewardship is defined as an ethic of responsible behaviour regarding shared resources, typically with respect to the natural environment. The concept still carries considerable merit with cyberspace: it implies behaviour that goes beyond self-interest to accomplish something in the service of a common good.

Cyber Stewards will be selected on the basis of regional diversity among the global south. Diversity in topics and interests will also be considered, to ensure the project can cover a wide range of issues.

The stewards will define their own scope of work, addressing local context and pressing concerns. But they will network globally through the auspices of U of T’s Canada Centre and Citizen Lab.

Deibert believes U of T has a special role to play in global cyberspace.

“As the home to some of the world’s greatest thinkers in communication technologies, the University of Toronto has some responsibility to tend to that legacy.”

Working with the Canada Centre and Citizen Lab, Cyber Stewards will be able to access tremendous resources including: financial support, a network of collaboration, and various workshops. The U of T name may also help safeguard against reprisals.

“Technology is what we make of it; the centre of gravity of cyberspace is shifting – moving to the global south,” said Deibert.

As cyberspace expands, he said, more and more users will hail from different cultures, with different rules and ideas about how to use technology.

“We need to be part of the conversation, so we have a voice in the communications environment we live in.”

To learn more about the Cyber Stewards program please visit the Citizen Lab website.

The deadline to apply is July 16.

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