In her second major speech on internet freedom, I’m delighted that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stood for the freedom to connect and recognizes the internet as a public space (as I will argue it is in Public Parts). The right to connect is first on my list of principles for our net society. I’m also delighted that she is calling for a discussion about those principles. But I will say that discussion should not come from her or from any government. The internet is not theirs. It is ours. The discussion must come from us, the citizens of the net.
To maintain an Internet that delivers the greatest possible benefits to the world, we need to have a serious conversation about the principles that guide us. What rules exist‚ and should not exist‚ and why; what behaviors should be encouraged and discouraged, and how.
The goal is not to tell people how to use the Internet, any more than we ought to tell people how to use any public space, whether it is Tahrir Square or Times Square. The value of these spaces derives from the variety of activities people can pursue in them, from holding a rally to selling their wares to having a private conversation. These spaces provide an open platform‚ and so does the internet. It does not serve any particular agenda, and it never should. But if people around the world are going to come together every day online and have a safe and productive experience, we need a shared vision to guide us.
One year ago, I offered a starting point for that vision, by calling for a global commitment to Internet freedom to protect human rights online as we do offline. The rights of individuals to express their views freely, petition their leaders, worship according to their beliefs‚ these rights are universal, whether they are exercised in a public square or on an individual blog.
The freedoms to assemble and associate also apply in cyberspace; in our time, people are as likely to come together to pursue common interests online as in a church or union hall. Together, the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association online comprise what I have called the freedom to connect. The United States supports this freedom for people everywhere, and we have called on other nations to do the same.
Because we want people to have the chance to exercise this freedom, we also support expanding the number of people who have access to the Internet.
Amen to all that. I’m disappointed that she used this speech to once more attack Wikileaks (even as she praised other nations’ citizens’ efforts to use the net to bring transparency to their governments) and that the Administration has not taken the opportunity of Wikileaks to examine its own level of classification and opacity. They could still disapprove of Wikileaks while also learning a lesson about being more open. By not doing that, some of the high-minded words in a speech such as this come off as at least inconsistent if not hypocritical.
Governments are the single point of failure for the internet and thus for the public’s tool of empowerment. We are seeing that in Egypt today as the government ordered telcos to shut down the internet as a whole in the country. We have seen that in the past when Libya shut down .ly domains it did not like. Our internet is too fragile.
I took some solace from Clay Shirky reminded me today that by the time governments shut down the internet or its services, it has so far been too late: the protestors are organized. I tweeted that and someone responded that the lesson for tyrants is: take care of the internet first, the protestors second.
The chicken-egg debate about the credit the tools of the internet and publicness deserve in Iran and Tunisia and now Egypt is rather pointless, even offensive. These tools were stolen from the public by a government trying to forbid them because they are a means of shifting power. They do not belong to government. They belong to the public, who are using them to claim their rights as the public.
Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.
We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.
Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. You have neither solicited nor received ours. We did not invite you. You do not know us, nor do you know our world. Cyberspace does not lie within your borders. Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a public construction project. You cannot. It is an act of nature and it grows itself through our collective actions.
At a session here at Davos on governance in a new-media world (their words) we discussed the inevitability of greater transparency through these new tools and the need for principles to govern those who would govern it. (I’ll write more about that later.) This is why I am working on my own suggestions for such a set. (Here is the most recent version of a constantly changing list; I no longer call it a Bill of Rights but instead a set of principles and, again, I ask for your help in framing the discussion).
The first and most fundamental principle is that we have a right to connect. Egypt violated that principle — that human right — today.
We, the people of the internet, the citizens of this eighth continent (as the CTO of the U.S. VA calls our newly discovered world) must stand in support of the disconnected of Egypt. I don’t have the eloquence, passion, and credentials of Barlow, so I will not pretend to be able to respond to the call made by @jwildeboer proposed on Twitter just now: “Will Netizens at #WEF publish support statement for #Egypt? Or are they too busy talking to Tycoons? cc @JeffJarvis”
Yes, such a statement of support should come from each of us, particularly those of us here in Davos. This is mine. Yours?
I’m still refining my thoughts on a Bill of Rights in Cyberspace — the latest version in preparation for tomorrow’s PDF symposium on WIkileaks and transparency. The idea is to have principles we can point to when dealing with such events as Wikileaks, Google/Verizon, Google/China, and so on. Try this on for size:
I. We have the right to connect.
II. We have the right to speak freely.
III. We have the right to assemble and act.
IV. Information should be public by default, secret by necessity.
V. What is public is a public good.
VI. All bits are created equal.
VII. The internet shall be operated openly.
Earlier versions are here and here. I’ve taken out the simplistic notions of controlling our data and identity, after realizing that we can’t control either. We should, instead, have access to information whenever possible, by default; I think that better covers both our needs to get to our information and our needs to get to information in our government and in business.
At the PDF event, I want to talk about the need to discuss principles we can point to when we see violations of these rights. If we do not set these standards, then we cannot hold governments and companies to them.
I will also talk about the idea that we are passing from a world organized around power-to-power transactions to one based on peer-to-peer engagement. I’ll argue that we in the press, especially, must defend Wikileaks’ right to free speech as it speaks truth to power. I’ll say that we must make transparency government’s default; we are far from that and risk moving away from that target rather than toward it.
: LATER: Some have pointed out that I don’t have a privacy clause. I’m struggling with how to craft it, for as I’ve found in researching my book, there is no single definition of privacy. To say that we have a right to it makes us ask what the ‘it’ is. I like danah boyd’s construct, that what should be regulated isn’t the gathering of information but the use of it. The idea that information should be transparent by default goes part-way there: we should have knowledge of what is being collected about us. I’m insure of the next step: action about that. Of course, I want to be careful about overregulation of information, for that quickly impinges on the right to speak. Thoughts?
I was gobsmacked sitting on a stage in Berlin when the privacy commissioner for a German state erupted in an attack on Google—which, by the way, has the highest market penetration in Germany of anywhere in the world (97.4% there vs. 65.4% in the U.S.).
“As long as Germans are stupid enough to use this search engine,” he spat, “they don’t deserve any better.”
This from Thilo Weichert, privacy maven for Schleswig-Holstein, brought to the stage, with me, by the Green Party for a discussion about privacy last week, where we were joined by Renate Künast, head of the party’s delegation in parliament, and Konstantin von Notz, their MP overseeing matters digital.
Before I went to Berlin I asked why the Germans are so bonkers about Google and privacy. But now I wonder whether it’s the Germans or their media and politicians.
Witness that moment: Here a public official charged with representing and protecting the public so cavalierly—no, so hostilely—dismisses and insults his own constituents and thinks he should tell them what to do. I ask him what harm Google has done him. He has no answer. He complains that “Google uses information to manipulate me.” Any more than any marketer … or politician?
Weichert also stood on stage supporting the German government’s move to require digital ID cards with embedded RFID. The Greens don’t agree; they are worried about the card. But Weichert goes farther: He says the ID cards should be used to verify identity on the internet. Now he’s spooking *me* about privacy.
As I listen in German, I hear the card called an “Ausweis” and I shiver just a bit that no one seems to recognize the ghost in the word. In America watching war movies, there was never a more frightening phrase than “Ausweis, bitte” — “papers, please” (see this from Arizona). When I talk about going too far with privacy, Germans remind me about their Stasi and Nazi past. Yet here is the government instituting electronic ID with technology that makes some American go nutty if it’s attached anonymously to pants!
This is the other German paradox — or as someone said at the Re:publica conference in Berlin after my talk about publicness, this is the American paradox: Americans mistrust government more than Europeans even though we have arguably had better governments than they have. And we trust companies more than Europeans even though we have arguably had worse companies.
I heard much mistrust of companies — well, especially one company: Google — in Berlin. “Google is the worst example of openness and transparency and the willingness to serve the democratic needs of society,” Weichert said on stage. He had what seems to be a legitimate complaint, saying that Google refused to meet with him an other privacy commissioners. But then again, a friend in the audience this night was twittering with a Google public affairs person in Germany who was watching the event on the web and was wondering why he hadn’t been invited to respond. Nonetheless, it’s unquestionably the case that Google has a PR problem in Germany.
You’d think Google would be better at PR given that Weichert insisted the company’s decision to end its censorship in China was “nothing but a PR trick.” He went farther, equating Google as an unsurveilled surveiller with China and Iran! “Google’s only interest is to earn money,” he said, as if shocked. That was a theme of the night: Google dares to make money. A Green journalist in the audience complained that Google uses data “to sell me.” I asked what newspaper doesn’t do that. Google, he said, “misuses my data to become too big.” Show me the line marked “too big,” I asked.
So is Google’s problem hostility to business or to America? Weichert denied both. But he complained that “no secret service is more secretive than the Americans’.” (I suspect the CIA would take that as a compliment.) He said the U.S. is focused too much on freedom of information and openness and not enough on privacy.
There may be nascent anti-Americanism but I don’t think that’s the root of this. Is it a misunderstanding of the
ways of the new digital world? Perhaps. Künast, whom I found to be a reasonable politician, launched into an odd discourse on taking pictures of the Bundestag and whether, if those pictures are sold in a souvenir shop online, a share of the profits ought to go to the German people and government since they own the building. Eh?
Maybe the problem is the concept of the public and the idea of control over the public. Künast is talking about controlling ownership and use of what is public. Weichert’s talking about limiting what’s public in public; he gets mad at me mocking the German movement toward a “Verpixelungsrecht” — a right to be pixelated, even for buildings! Weichert says we should all default to private and I ask whether we should default to public. I think that publicness is defined by openness and a lack of restriction. When you diminish what’s public you take from us, the public. For we own what’s public.
There’s additional historical irony having this conversation in Germany, where Jürgen Habermas is credited with defining the concept of the public sphere, though in my book I’ll argue that Habermas corrupted an earlier concept of making publics — plural. The internet returns us to the idea of making public gives us all the power to do so — and I don’t want to see that taken for granted or taken away.
So I argue that we need to protect our tool of publicness. That’s what we should be talking about. There, at last, there is some agreement: to the need to have a discussion about a charter of rights online. I propose mine, knowing it’s inadequate. Künast says government should begin by legislating essential rights.
Well, OK, but I said on stage that, with all due respect, I didn’t want either government or business claiming dominion over the public’s tool of publicness, our internet. I called on John Perry Barlow’s Declaration of Independence for Cyberspace. I don’t want Google and Verizon carving up the internet like the Sudetenland without us, its citizens, at that table. I sure as hell don’t want Herr Weichert telling me how I should use his internet. I implore the crowd to take charge of this charter themselves.
If they don’t, if the internet gets locked down and cemented up, I fear it will look like this bunker that — oh, photographic irony — stands just outside the Heinrich Böll Foundation where we are speaking:
That’s a World War II bunker now owned by a millionnaire who built a penthouse on top and put an art gallery into the floors below behind doors that are opened for guided tours by appointment. The metaphor is too obvious even for an American.
What gives me some hope is that folks in the audience — digital folks — are fighting the good fight and they’re doing it with humor. Jens Best started a movement to shoot photos of all the pixelated buildings in Google Street View and link them to those addresses. And here’s a video (watch to the end) about the pixelated man:
At the start of the evening, Künast says that “freedom can comprise anonymity.” Yes, but freedom also comprises publicness. Publicness may be our highest right of freedom — to stand up and say what we think and be who we are and join together and act without fear of oppression. Surely, that should resonate here. That is just the sort of balancing discussion we must have so people know they have a choice and protect that choice. We need to protect their right to be private. But we also must protect the rights of the public.
I challenge Künast — who, rumor has it, may next become the mayor of Berlin (she says nothing) — to make the city a model of openness, a monument to the public and I suggest that her party should call a conference to begin discussion of our rights. Just make it our discussion.
: LATER: Thanks to Stecki in the comments, here is Weichert calling his constituents “dumm” (auf Deutsch) and my challenge (in English):
: LATER STILL: Here is audio of the event. Sorry that it’s a mix of German and English.
I’ve amended my proposed Bill of Rights in Cyberspace thanks to a suggestion in the comments from Jeff Sonderman: All data are created equal. I made that all bits are created equal, which broadens it somewhat and is quite relevant today in the discussion of net neutrality that will explode because of an Appeals Court decision in Washington that told the FCC it did not have jurisdiction to tell Comcast to stop discriminating on bits.
Here’s the rub: On the one hand, I do not want government regulation of the internet. On the other hand, I do not want monopoly discrimination against bits on the internet. I see it as a principle that all bits are, indeed, created equal. But how is this enforced when internet service is provided by monopolies? Regulation. But I don’t want regulation. But… That is the vicious cycle of the net neutrality debate.
At a Union Square Ventures event a few years ago, Tom Evslin said that regulation is a temporary necessity until the marketplace and technology open up internet access to competition. In a competitive environment, we won’t tolerate the ISP that hampers our service. Now, we’re stuck.
The other path to fixing this is legislation. But, of course, that is another form of regulation of the internet: a claim of sovereignty by government over the net that I want to avoid.
All this, I believe, is all the more reason to have a set of principles and standards we, the internet nation, can point to, all the more reason to have a Bill of Rights for Cyberspace. Here is mine, amended:
I. We have a right to connect.
II. We have the right to speak.
III. We have the right to assemble.
IV. We have the right to act.
V. We have the right to control our data.
VI. We have the right to control our identity.
VII. What is public is a public good.
VIII. All bits are created equal.
IX. The internet shall be operated openly.