The Internet Bill of Rights

Jeff Jarvis: If the government cut off someone’s connection to the Internet they have violated their human rights. 

My big concern is that this magnificent tool of publicness we have in the Internet, this Gutenberg press in every hand, could get regulated under the guises of piracy, privacy, security, pedophilia, decency, even civility from good governments and bad. If that happens I think that we lose this power we have to create and act in new ways.  I think we need to have a discussion about the principles of an open society and the principles of protecting these tools of publicness.  


I'm not going to suggest that we should have a new governance.  There are some who want to make the UN in charge of the internet.  I don’t want that.  I don’t want anyone in charge of the Internet.  That’s just the point of the Internet.  No one is in charge of it, thus, everyone is in charge of it, as someone said to me on Twitter. 

What I do think we need though is a discussion of the principles of this open world and I start with some suggested ones.  We should see connection as a human right, not to say that the government should pay for your connection to the Internet, but if the government cut off someone’s connection to the internet they have violated their human rights.  Can we agree to that?  And that’s a preamble to our First Amendment - the right to speak, and those are two necessary conditions to the third, which is the right to assemble and act.  

I believe that we should look at privacy as an ethic of knowing someone else’s information and acting accordingly.  I believe we should look at publicness as an ethic of sharing your own information if it can help others.  I believe that we have to look at what’s public as a public good and when you reduce what is public, if you don’t let people take pictures in public you’ve now affected all of the public.  I think we have to look at government and our institutions under the new idea that they should be public by default and secret by necessity.  Now they are private by default and they’re secret by default and public by force.

Here's another one: all bits are created equal.  This is another way to say 'net neutrality.'  The Internet is designed so that bits can travel freely from one end to the other and it will go around detours.  If any bit is detoured and cannot reach its goal then no bit can be presumed to be free.  Whether that happens because of a government or a cable company doesn’t matter.  All bits are created equal.  That’s net neutrality.  

Finally, the architecture of the Internet is open and distributed and it must stay that way because that’s the essence of the Internet.  The Internet is set up so that no one can claim sovereignty over it and no one must.  These are the principles I throw out.  There are other principles we can talk about, but I think that if we don’t have this discussion at the level of principles we’ll get caught down into a level where we’ll try to affect one behavior we don’t like on the net.  We’ll try to shoot the flea with a bazooka and then we’ll affect the technology that allows us to do all these other things we don’t even know yet.  The Internet is young.  We’re at the very beginning of this and I would urge people to think about protecting its power.  

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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