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Internet Technologies and Regulation

Key Information

Course details
Compulsory course; Michaelmas Term
Reading list
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Professor Sandra Wachter


The pace of technological change and innovation in the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) poses significant challenges for policy-makers across a variety of issues, whilst regulation and policy will, in turn, shape the range of choices that can be made about the use, design and development of ICTs. Informed academic study of the network of networks that comprise the Internet must, therefore, be firmly grounded in a sophisticated understanding of the underlying technology and policy contexts in which these networks are embedded. In particular, valuable insights are to be gained by studying policy debates relating to the Internet in the broader context of ICT policy more generally, such that continuity and change can be observed.

Key themes

  • How far should policy-makers and regulators intervene when new technologies radically transform existing business models and social structures?
  • In which ways has the Internet transformed the nature of policy and regulation to govern ICT’s?
  • How are debates about security, identity and intellectual property being reshaped by Internet technologies?
  • To what extent do legal and regulatory issues need to be re-thought in view of the fact that Internet technologies often cross national boundaries?
  • How far can regulation shape the ‘code’ of the Internet?
  • What can previous disruptive technologies such as the Gutenberg press and telegraph -and the policy debates that surrounded them – tell us about the impact of the Internet?

Course Objectives

This multi-disciplinary course will expose students to basic communications and computer science materials on the core technological principles of the Internet, as well as more traditional social science materials such as public policy documents and reports as well as academic texts. In order to reinforce students’ appreciation of the importance of adopting a technologically-informed approach to studying the Internet, the course will cover several key policy debates such as content regulation, privacy and security and Internet governance, in each case identifying the extent to which the range of policy options is narrowed or expanded by fast-moving technological innovation, and shifts in public policy and regulation. This will, in addition, enable students to appreciate the broader implications and relevance of academic study in this field.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, students will:

  • have a good understanding of the origins and history of the Internet, and will appreciate how these factors have shaped (and in turn been shaped by) Internet policy;
  • have a basic understanding of Internet architecture and its development and will appreciate how this has shaped (and in turn been shaped by) Internet policy;
  • have a sophisticated understanding of key Internet-related policy debates, within the wider context of ICT policy;
  • be able to appreciate the broader policy implications of the academic research undertaken in other components of this degree.