Net Neutrality — the principle of preventing any restrictions on content, websites, platforms or modes of communication — is not a new issue. After much debate in the early 2000s, the principle was formalized by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2005.
Along with technology, this topic has evolved in the years since the Internet Policy Statement. The advent of social media, exponential growth of mobile devices, war on terror, growing number of patent lawsuits and boom in media piracy has changed the complexion of the neutral internet debate.
In the past year several pieces of legislation have been proposed with the stated mission of fighting online piracy (Stop Online Piracy Act), protect intellectual property (PROTECT IP Act) and even creating international standards for enforcement (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement). All of these proposed laws have been greeted with outcry from the tech companies, user protests, service blackouts and even attacks on proponents by hacker groups. Thus far, each piece of legislation has been either defeated, tabled or remains unratified.
Up next is the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which hopes to gain traction by attracting tech companies that opposed previous laws. It focuses on preventing cyber attacks, yet is written open-ended enough that many fear it is simply the reincarnation of SOPA.
In the past few weeks, groups have issued not one, but two versions of a Declaration of Internet Freedom. The first is from Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of reddit, and Josh Levy, from Free Press. The second is spearheaded by TechFreedom and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Even Ron Paul has joined the crusade with a manifesto from his Campaign for Liberty.
The most basic is the initial Declaration focusing on five basic principles: Expression, Access, Openness, Innovation and Privacy. The Preamble challenges us to discuss the principles — agree or disagree with them, debate them, translate them, make them your own and broaden the discussion with your community — as only the Internet can make possible.
We took this challenge to heart at Untold. We did some roleplaying, acting as politicians, hackers, Internet service providers, the Motion Picture Association of America, corporations, media providers, rights organizations and the average Joe. It was enlightening to see the large range of opinions because of the wide variation in motivations.
Afterwards, we were able to have a healthy debate on the principles and future of internet freedom. I encourage everyone to join the discussion — on the web, at the office or at home.