B  U L  L E  T I  N

of the American Society for Information Science and Technology       Vol. 29, No. 2      December/January  2003

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ASIST International Liaison
by Julian Warner

ASIST has appointed an International Liaison. And as Kurt Gödel, known as a child as Der Herr Warum, might have asked, "Why?"

From a historical perspective, the intensification of international communication can be traced to the mid- and late-19th century developments in transport and communication. By the 1880s, it could be said that "the whole earth has been girded by telegraph cables" (by Marx in the third volume of Das Kapital). The late 19th century also marks the proliferation of international organizations and agreements, establishing reciprocity or commonality between national jurisdictions. The development of the world market and the Internet, now both painfully and pleasurably part of our everyday existence, can be traced to that period.

For information policies and activities, international communication presents certain issues. Most crucially, the ideas of jurisdiction and of national sovereignty have to be invoked and problematized. Justice Holmes noted in a seminal judgment of 1909

    All legislation is prima facie territorial. … The general and almost universal rule is that the character of an act as lawful or unlawful must be determined wholly by the law of the country where the act is done.

How do we determine the location of communicative acts in cyberspace? What actions or sanctions can be taken against the producers of unlawful or unwanted communications, other than attempts at exile or banishment from the continuing conversation? Intellectual property can no longer be considered on a solely national basis, with international conventions going back to the 1880s, although with the much later assimilation of the United States.

What spheres of activity might fall within the remit of an international liaison, given this context? Addressing information policy issues which have transnational implications, liaising with other professional information societies, and within ASIST, complementing existing governance arrangements and establishing social connections with and between other international members would be significant.

An agenda that translates these concerns into specific actions must be guided by considerations of practicality and cooperation with existing arrangements. Otherwise, like the first exile, in one religious tradition, I may be forced to exclaim, "My punishment is greater than I can bear." Initial steps would be writing articles for the Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology (as I'm doing here), recruiting an advisory group and developing a social presence at ASIST meetings. The overall aim of measures should be to facilitate the transformation of a community in itself to a community for itself, to assist the growth of the collective self-consciousness of the international information community. Could there be an analogy between the aim of developing an information community and the possible federal intention of developing the people of the United States of America into a collectivity fully known to itself by providing in the Post Office Act of 1792 for the carriage of newspapers by the mail service "at extremely low rates"?

Julian Warner is a faculty member in information science at the Queen's University of Belfast, Northern Ireland, where he teaches courses in the human aspects of modern communication technologies and in information policy.

Julian has been a member of ASIST since 1991. He is a member of SIG/International Information Issues, has served as chair of the European Chapter and of SIG/History and Foundations of Information Science and acted as a juror for the ISI Dissertation Scholarship Jury.

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