Sovereignty in the Digital Era

In 1648 the Peace of Westphalia was signed by the major continental European states (the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, France, Sweden and the Dutch Republic). Out of this agreement came the concept of “national sovereignty”, the idea that all nation-states have the power to do everything necessary to govern themselves, such as making, executing and applying laws; imposing and collecting taxes; making war and peace; and forming treaties or engaging in commerce with foreign nations. Each nation-state was granted the right to govern itself without any outside sources and the right to territorial integrity. However, since the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia, it could be argued that the world order of nation states and the form of sovereignty they represent have undergone major alteration. This has mainly been due to the globalization and new media.

With today’s technology, we no longer have to open up our fold-up town maps to see where exactly a friends house is located, tracing the streets with our fingers to help us figure out how to get from point A to point B. We can simply type into Google the exact location we are looking for and within seconds, view the image of the location as well as specific directions on how to get there. As I type into my search bar the address of my house back in Pennsylvania, it takes me seconds to find it’s exact location on a world map, as well as images of my house, the street, my neighbors cars, etc. Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 7.41.58 PM

While I don’t mind people googling my home address, how do nation states feel about Google Earth infringing upon their territorial rights? Many nations perceive Google Earth as threat to their national sovereignty for two reasons: one, because the software creates a threat to territorial integrity due to it’s own presentation of international boundaries and two, because it allows users to access close up images of sites that could be potential targets of attack.

According to Sangeet Kumar, in 2005, great conflict over Google Earth emerged within India for “Google Earth’s version of India’s map differed from the official version in crucial areas such as the disputed north Indian state of Kashmir” (Google Earth and the Nation State 163). In other words, it was Google Earth that mapped the boundaries of India, rather than the actual nation itself. In addition, Google Earth introduced the ability for anyone to see within the border of the nation state, including important government offices, military bases, and other locations for potential attack.

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 8.28.15 PMScreen Shot 2014-12-03 at 8.29.29 PM

With the creation of Google Earth and it’s satellite mapping system, the concept of national borders became obsolete- the solid structures of walls and territorial divisions were knocked down. I would argue that Google Earth has become a nation state for it has come to dominate the territorial sovereignty of other nations. Google argues that the mapping system serves the greater ‘good’ for the rest of the world, to retrieve information about other areas of the globe for reasons that don’t bring any harm. But is Google really motiveless? Being that Google is an American company, how would it be perceived by the US government if it had been created anywhere else? I argue that Google has become a dominant nation state that serves under the control of the US, for although it has posed a threat to other nations it still continues to exist because it has only yielded benefits for the nation state of America.


Kumaar, Sangeet. “Google Earth and the Nation State : Sovereignty in the Age of New Media.” Global Media and Communication. Vol. 6. N.p.: SAGE, 2010. N. pag. SAGE. Web. 4 Dec. 2014. <;.


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