The lone Swedish Pirate Party member of the European Parliament is drafting an Internet Bill of Rights. Will it be any more successful than the last few attemps?
Pirates aren't generally known for taking inspiration from America's Founding Fathers, but the lone Pirate Party member in the European Parliament is calling for an Internet "Bill of Rights."
Two weeks ago, MEP Christian Engström announced that he was partnering with the Greens to work on an Internet Bill of Rights that would one day be submitted to the European Parliament—and he wanted the collective wisdom of the "swarm" to help him draft such a document. Engström's own key principles were three: a set of fundamental rights (privacy, etc), network neutrality, and "mere conduit" protection for ISPs.
It's his view that the European Parliament may be ready to take up such a document now that it has laboriously finished hammering out the Telecoms Package, a set of reforms that included some mild protection against Internet disconnections.
He may be right, but hearing about another Internet "Bill of Rights" makes our collective eyes here in the Orbiting HQ glaze over just the teensiest little bit. Significant Internet policies, like network neutrality, are difficult to implement; bundling net neutrality with a list of other controversial rights (decriminalizing P2P use, for instance) makes such a project almost impossible to pass.
It's not as though an Internet Bill of Rights is a new project; indeed, the idea keeps popping up. Just a week before Engström's announcement, Internet historian Ian Peter called for a set of "Ten Commandments" for the Internet and suggested that the UN-backed Internet Governance Forum might draft such a document.
Groups involved with the IGF have been trying to do this for years. In 2005, an Internet Bill of Rights was first proposed "following an appeal (IBR, 2005) authored by the former chair of the European Data Protection Agencies Council, Stefano Rodotà, that highlighted the necessity of a 'Charter of the Rights of the Net.'" In 2006, the call was repeated at the IGF meeting in Athens. In 2007, Boing Boing (which is now excited about Engströ's project) praised an IGF Bill of Rights that included "really kick-ass values."
The Internet Rights and Principles group was formed to draft such a document and did some work between the next IGF meetings. It is still active, but it's not clear how much work continues to be done.
Internet-bill-of-rights.org, at one time a hub for the movement, no longer exists. More than four years after the Charter of the Rights of the Net was proposed, no such document guides the way that governments around the world approach the Internet.
Going back even further, EFF co-founder John Perry Barlow took inspiration from a different founding document and penned the "Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace." The Declaration was "utopian" in more ways than one; it singled out cyberspace as a "non-space," a new world without borders or territory in which governments had no say. It was also hugely pompous in its grandiosity.
"Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind," it opened. "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...
"You claim there are problems among us that you need to solve. You use this claim as an excuse to invade our precincts. Many of these problems don't exist. Where there are real conflicts, where there are wrongs, we will identify them and address them by our means. We are forming our own Social Contract. This governance will arise according to the conditions of our world, not yours. Our world is different."
The Internet has muddled along pretty decently so far without any such founding documents, and past attempts at crafting them haven't come to much. But with the 'Net becoming increasingly crucial to people's lives, perhaps it's time for a Bill of Rights after all. If so, though, it faces the familiar obstacles: what organization would pass such a Bill? And who can agree on what it should say once you really try to include everyone: ISPs, content providers, public interest groups, law enforcement, and 4chan?
Source: ars technica