The latest proposals aimed at regulating the Metaverse, put forward by China Mobile, on July 5 in the International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU) metaverse focus group meeting must be analyzed. These proposals exemplify the inherent behavioral trait of “Territoriality” in a State, which is generally discussed with the ideas of borders and boundaries. The basic characteristics of “territoriality” are – the urge to protect and control a territory, the need to separate people “belonging” and “not belonging” to the territory and the necessity of punishing those who go against the general laws and conventions governing the territory.
The idea of a territory is contradictory to the idea of space, which is more abstract in nature. Unlike a territory, Space is undefined and unallocated. The inherent trait of territoriality is actually the inherent trait of trying to carve out an independent defined “territory” in this abstract “space”. In this backdrop, it becomes important to understand whether we are negotiating, discussing and contemplating in a Cyberspace, or for a Cyberterritory.
First basic characteristic of territoriality, i.e. the necessity to establish control and protect the cyberspace of a country, is exemplified by the Great Firewall of China. The major proposal tabled by China regarding assigning separate IDs to the people in the metaverse to keep a tab on their citizens’ digital identities is a way of characterizing the digital citizens as “ours” and “theirs”. The proposal hinting towards establishment of a real-world based punitive system in response to the virtual behavior and mistakes of the digital citizens, by keeping a watch on their digital “social” and “natural” activities, is compared to the Social Credit Scheme implemented in China. It enforces loyalty to the territory and its government proposes punishment otherwise.
The metaverse market is expected to cross $82 billion in 2023, reaching up to $936.6 billion till the end of 2030. The way it is governed and its terms are negotiated will soon attract great focus. Artists have started conducting concerts in Metaverse, ending the need for visas and passports to cross borders, while their tickets and other Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) are bought and sold using cryptocurrencies. Recently, as a part of VR Therapy, a virtual version of Kyiv is designed in the Metaverse for the Ukrainian Refugees. The applications and importance of Metaverse are increasingly manifold.
As the ITU is set to discuss the proposals in October 2023, there needs to be a clarity on whether the discussion is regarding Cyberspace or Cyberterritory. The nature of negotiations in both the cases may vary greatly. If the urgency of creating a global discourse on Cybersecurity is to be fulfilled, the States need to acknowledge their Cyber Territorial behavior not to entrap themselves into an endless debate on what the standards should be, without acknowledging the cause of motivation in setting those standards.