The Declaration of Internet Freedom seeks to protect online users from government and corporate interference, suggesting unfettered Internet access should be a basic human right.
Several websites, including TechDirt, Freepress and Accessnow, drafted an Internet Bill of Rights to prevent restrictive legislation and overzealous copyright protection from dampening online freedom. The Declaration’s five basic principles begin with an overarching plea for freedom of expression: “Don’t censor the Internet.”
“We’ve seen how the Internet has been under attack from various directions, and we recognize that it’s time to make that stop,” said TechDirt.
The document also lists “universal access to fast and affordable networks” as crucial to the first principle, along with keeping the Internet “an open network where everyone is free.”
It also defends online users’ “freedom to innovate and create without permission” and upholds their right to “control how their data and devices are used.”
The Declaration is still under discussion, but the document already boasts the support of 85 organizations including Amnesty International, Mozilla and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The Declaration’s creators aren’t the only ones aiming to protect Internet freedom, as legislators and citizens move to defend their online rights.
In the U.S., a recently proposed “digital bill of rights,” written by Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), also champions a “free, uncensored Internet.”
The bi-partisan effort strives to protect online “equality, privacy, sharing and property,” aiming to prevent another SOPA or PIPA from threatening basic freedoms. The unpopular copyright protection bills drew protests from over 7 million people and 100,000 websites in January, suggesting U.S. citizens have no patience for restrictive Internet legislation.
Also, the Obama administration also unveiled a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights to prevent online retailers and advertisers from tracking customers without their consent.
These popular movements and declarations, which echo the United Nations’ declaration last year that unfettered Internet access is a human right, are in and of themselves, unlikely to have a direct impact on the issue. These guidelines don’t have any real teeth and leave consumers to rally together and fend for themselves in the meantime.
The U.N.’s declaration sought to condemn online restrictions and blackouts in Egypt, Tunisia and other countries affected by the Arab Spring. Today, Syria, Saudi Arabia and China are some of the many nations that still draw the U.N.’s ire for placing caveats on digital freedom of speech.
Ironically, the U.N. itself may endanger Internet freedom if its International Telecommunications Union, or ITU, gains more power during a vote this December.
Opponents warn the ITU will give authoritarian governments more power over their citizens’ Internet access if it strengthens worldwide operations. But the Declaration of Internet Freedom may urge worldwide citizens to oppose the ITU’s expansion by drawing attention to this possibility.
Some avid supporters of the Declaration can point to the movement’s potential to put humanity on the path to greatness by assisting in our evolution.
“Radical openness,” a theory publicized at the TEDGlobal 2012 conference, suggests humans will evolve faster and better the more we exchange ideas, which requires a free Internet.
“In the world of ideas, (including the Internet and cities), we need to foster an environment of radical openness where ideas can flow freely, mutate, evolve, etc., as a way of instigating idea evolution,” the TED presentation said, linking the Internet and humanity’s development together.
If the Declaration of Internet Freedom gathers enough signatures, it may influence governments and corporations around the world to work for this greater good by keeping online access free. The project joins a larger movement towards ensuring a free and open Internet, especially as the medium becomes a contested ground in politics and society. But the popular cause may face opposition from strict governments and corporations eager to keep their hold over online activities.