Is it time for an online ‘constitutional moment’? On the Declaration of Internet Freedom

More than a year ago, GMSV wrote about an emerging movement to establish some sort of bill of rights for the Internet. At a conference on Internet issues last year, Marc Davis, partner architect at Microsoft, said, “we are in the midst of a constitutional moment.” (See Privacy and identity: Questions abound, answers pending.)

Since then, we’ve returned to issues related to our online lives time and again on this blog. From Silicon Valley companies taking heat for their privacy policies and actions to how governments use today’s tools and deal with the difficult questions technological innovations pose — sometimes not very well, as evidenced by the backlash against the SOPA anti-piracy legislation earlier this year, which seems to have prompted some of the organizers of a new effort to act — there’s no shortage of issues that seem to be calling out for a digital framework.

Well, the movement is on. Public-interest groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Free Press, Access and others have banded together to establish the Declaration of Internet Freedom. They are asking Internet users to sign the declaration and provide input. The declaration is a general push for Internet freedom that includes calls against censorship and for net neutrality, and promoting Net access for all. It has already drawn a varied group of supporters, as well as interesting comments on news and blog reports.

Some common concerns: The declaration’s principles are too vague. The declaration will have no bite, and Internet companies won’t agree to it. And it’s true that coming up with common global principles for the Internet is a daunting task, one that’s complicated by culture, logistics, its open nature and so much more. But as governments take up intellectual-property legislation, for example, or as courts consider privacy issues related to law enforcement, maybe the Declaration of Internet Freedom — in whatever form it takes — can serve as a guide. The road to adoption of the declaration is likely to be long and bumpy, but sitting back and letting corporations and governments make all the policy decisions that affect our online lives isn’t much of a plan. As the Center for Democracy and Technology says, it believes the push to keep the Internet as free as possible is “worth fighting for.”


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  • Chuck Karish

    This idea is just as nutty today as it was more than fifteen years ago when John Perry Barlow declared independence for the Free State of Cyberia. Not to be confused with Fredonia, whose savior was Groucho Marx.

  • Bryan

    Mr. Karish: Facts, reason, a supportable conclusion? Or are you content with the ad hominem attack “nutty.”

    Shame on you. Everything from women’s suffrage to public education to the dangers of smoking has, at one time or another, been dismissed as nutty or worse.

  • TonsoTunez

    The well documented public positions taken by the signatories to this concept invalidate it on its face and also qualify it at nutty. For example: Cory Doctorow, Electronic Frontier Foundation Take, Future of Music Coalition, Google (Vinton G. Cerf), Harvard University Berkman Center for Internet & Society (danah boyd), Public Knowledge, Techdirt just to name a few — all certified members of the lunatic fringe.

    I do think there is room for rational discussion by rational – and respected – people on both sides of the issues that could result in a meaningful result that would help set standards to insure an internet that will live up to its promise. Right now the supporters of this document have a history of doing everything in their power to flush it all away.

  • steve in MT

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions. ‘nuf said.

  • Bazza

    Given that the Internet doesn’t come under the control of any one body or country, it’s a little hard to have any kind of instituted bill of rights. All you can do is try to make sure your own little bit of it doesn’t turn nasty.

  • Stuart

    Freedom of expression yes. But why does that mean we get to communicate our views via a pipeline somebody has paid a lot to build?

  • sd

    @Stuart, short of shouting from a mountaintop or finding yourself in front of a random assemblage of people, don’t we always end up communicating our views via someone else’s pipeline? Letters to the newspaper editor, a call-in radio show, public-access cable, an auditorium — almost every last one of them is a pipeline someone paid to build.

  • phillip vail

    I don’t want to do any thinking so I could say this:

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions. ‘nuf said.

    Then again I could say this:

    The road to hell is paved with bad intentions. ‘nuf said.

    Or this:

    The road to heaven is paved with good intentions. ‘nuf said.

    Or this:

    The road to heaven is paved with bad intentions. ‘nuf said.

    There you go.
    Got it all covered…
    ‘nuf said <—makes me sound nifty internety smart.