Friday, December 15, 2017

Declaration of Independence for the Internet

Corporations of the Information Industries, you weary giants of silicon and cables, I am from the Internet where we belong to many countries and to no countries. On behalf of the future, I ask you to treat our communities with respect. Your financial values are not welcome among us. You have no voice where we gather.

We have no elected governance, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. We declare the Internet to be naturally independent of the monopolies you seek to impose. You have no moral right to control our information or our discourse.

We have previously declared our independence from government control. We now declare that corporations do not govern the Internet. We will not rest in protecting what we have created.

Governance derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. You have neither solicited nor received ours. Your terms and conditions do not bind us. You do not know the richness and diversity of our world. Do not think that you can dominate it – you cannot. Our world has strength through diversity. We will resist homogenisation and colonisation of individuals, cultures and indigenous peoples. Surplus, not scarcity, will be the foundation for the Internet that we grow, using our collective actions.

You seek to control our great and gathering conversations, but  you have done nothing but plunder the wealth of our meeting places. You cannot accommodate our diversity, our desire to be both consumers and creators, or our instant sharing of information everywhere. We have created an uncaptureable Internet built on interactions and relationships between people, a world that is both everywhere and nowhere. We have no need of gatekeepers.

We want to live with an Internet that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, gender, location, economic power, military force, language or station of birth. We reject differentiation between the digital bits that carry the sentiments and expressions of humanity, from the debasing to the angelic, all parts of a seamless global conversation.

We want to live with an Internet where anyone anywhere may express their beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.  We reserve a special place for the creators and makers, who draw from their human experience to create and share meaning.

We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonweal, collective governance will emerge. We are citizens of different countries and also citizens of the Internet. Our identities are distributed across your walled gardens. The only law that all our constituent cultures generally recognize is the Golden Rule. We hoped that you would build solutions on that basis. But we cannot accept the solutions you are attempting to impose. We reject your financial models that venerate advertising and trade personal information, riding roughshod over personal privacy.

Apple, Google/Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, TenCent, AliBaba and a myriad of other corporate actors are erecting tollbooths across the Internet. You control what we access with your biased algorithms, designed from your perches of privilege, over which we have no recourse.  We demand transparency of your methods to filter and present our information. We demand that you provide redress to those adversely affected by your algorithms. We demand that you take accountability for your actions, and ensure that they do not create discriminatory bias.

Your increasingly obsolete information models perpetuate themselves by concentrating wealth and controlling speech throughout the world. These algorithms declare ideas, and the people that create them, to be another industrial product no more noble than pig iron. We believe that these ideas are the very heart and soul of the Internet, and must be treated with respect.

The Internet is not a single global community, but a vast collection of distributed communities.  This decentralisation of identities, values and data is threatened by your actions.  Your increasing colonisation places us in the same position as previous lovers of freedom and self-determination who rejected the authorities of distant, uninformed powers. We declare our virtual selves immune to your control, and do not consent to your rule over our lives.

We are the makers; we have the skills, the ethos, and the determination to create a better world built on the values of freedom and trust.  We will make the Internet as the digital commune of the future, built on surplus not scarcity. May it be more humane and fair than the world your corporations have made.

Laurence Millar, with thanks to John Perry Barlow

Wellington, New Zealand

15 December 2017