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Cyber security and the politics of time
Stevens T., Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, 2015. 280 pp. Type: Book (978-1-107109-42-1)
Date Reviewed: Jul 12 2016

As the pervasiveness and ubiquity of networked computers increase, so does fear over the abuse of power provided by these networked systems. A lot of work has been done in recent years on the concept of cyber security, centered around protecting citizens and states from nation states as well as non-state actors from acts ranging from spam, criminal activities, commercial espionage, and war.

This book aims to examine how conceptual understandings of time and temporality provide a unique influence on the evolution of cyber security politics in security communities. The work started off as a doctoral thesis in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, and its roots are evident, to the point of fault, in the rigorous and academic treatment of the subject and the concepts therein. This is not to say that the book is written badly or that the concepts covered are any less important. It is a comment to reflect the fact that one needs to invest time and effort in understanding the concepts covered and the unique point of view put forward by the author, as is evident early on when the author articulates the aim of the book as being to “interrogate the politics of cyber security in a deeper register than is ordinarily found in security studies.”

The book is split into eight chapters. It starts off with a chapter that introduces readers to the main themes of the book, providing an overview of how cyber security has been covered in the domain of security studies and international relations (IR). It goes on to examine how security politics is influenced by the concepts of time and temporality. Chapter 2 digs deeper into the subject matter by providing a framework of time and temporality, as a foundation for the forthcoming chapters, that examines how “chronopolitics” influence the practice of cyber security.

Chapter 3 then goes on to examine how the domain of cyber security, in the words of the author, “[lacks an] awareness of historicization ... in favor of politicized narratives of speed.” Stevens accuses cyber security of overemphasizing speed and acceleration and sacrificing the ability to capture the heterogeneity of time as understood by society and that of the political resistance. Chapter 4 moves forward in the introspection of time and explores how cyber security “imaginaries” are full of scenarios that prophesy “cyber doom” and dystopian views of the world. This is then connected to the theories of technological apocalypse that are pervasive in the modern technological domain and the assertion that these views are a way of trying to ensure that the mistakes and accidents prophesied do not come to pass and that we take measures to avert them.

Chapter 5’s premise is that looking at the past allows us to use it as a resource to look forward to the future of political narratives of cyber security, as well as understand how it shaped the current cyber security communities. How notions of a “digital 9/11” or a cyber Pearl Harbor are used to provoke political action is examined in this chapter. Chapter 6 continues with a view of the future by examining what the author calls the attempt of cyber security communities to “inhabit the future” by coming up with security practices that try to be anticipatory in nature, in an attempt to help us prepare for a potential dystopian cyber future, which in a way reflects the current generation’s view of what the future of cyber security would look like rather than what the future generations would be happy to live with. However, my opinion is that this is not something specific to the cyber security community, but rather something that has been an underlying basis of any planning for the future in any domain, given the fact that future generations are not here to help us help them in any better way.

Chapter 7 captures, from earlier chapters, four principal chronopolitics logics. The last chapter, like in most academic works, summarizes the contributions of the current work and outlines possible further lines of inquiry that would logically follow from this book.

Reviewer:  Srijith Nair Review #: CR144568 (1610-0748)
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