Today, TechFreedom joins a diverse array of groups celebrating Internet Freedom Day. The following statement can be attributed to Berin Szoka , TechFreedom President:
Today we celebrate the Internet’s ability to increase freedom and improve the human condition in ways both large and small. We unite in protecting the freedoms that have allowed the Internet to thrive. But for our movement to mature, “Internet Freedom” needs to become more than a slogan that anyone can rally behind. We need to transcend differences of party and ideology to support freedoms we all agree on–but also have civil, constructive conversations about disagreements of principle, from net neutrality to telecom, from antitrust to how to protecting consumers’ privacy.
Collaborating on our agreements should create a space for resolving our disagreements–or, at least, understanding them better. The best place to start that dialogue is with the two Declarations of Internet Freedom issued last July 4.
For now, we should all unite behind two clear and long-overdue reforms: First, Congress should protect Fourth Amendment values by requiring, in general, a warrant when law enforcement accesses files and communications we store in the cloud, or tracks our location. Second, Congress should amend anti-hacking statutes to ensure that violations of a website’s terms of service are not treated as federal crimes. Aaron Swartz should be the last person who ever takes his own life rather than face prison for downloads that should never have been crimes.
Szoka is available for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org . Find/share this release on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.
We believe freedom to be an essential condition of human flourishing and technological progress. We see the Internet (and digital services in general) as the vehicle for the greatest expansion of freedom in human history to date. Yet we recognize that the “Internet” of tomorrow may look nothing like the Internet of today. No one can plan the Internet’s evolution. The best policymakers can do is to respect the following core principles of “Internet Freedom”:
Humility . First, do no harm. No one can anticipate what the future holds and what tradeoffs will accompany it. Don’t meddle in what you don’t understand — and what you can all too easily break, without even seeing what’s been lost. Often, government’s best response is to do nothing. Competition, disruptive technological change, and criticism from civil society tend to resolve problems better, and faster, than government can.
Rule of Law . When you must intervene, start small. Regulation and legislation are broad, inflexible, and prone to capture by incumbent firms and entrenched interests. The best kind of “law” evolves one case at a time, based on simple, economic principles of consumer welfare — alongside the codes of conduct and practices developed by companies under pressure from competitors and criticism. Worst of all, when regulators act without legal authority, or regulate by intimidation, they undermine the rule of law, no matter how noble their intentions.
Free Expression . Don’t stifle the free flow of information, compel speech, or hold intermediaries (e.g., ISPs, social networks) responsible for the speech they carry. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act together provide an effective basis for reconciling free speech with other values.
Innovation . Protect the freedom to innovate and create without government’s permission, provided others’ rights are respected. Don’t block — or mandate — new technologies. Don’t punish innovators for their users’ actions.
Broadband . Government is the greatest obstacle to the emergence of fast and affordable broadband networks. Rather than subsidizing yesterday’s networks, free the market to build tomorrow’s. End central planning of spectrum and legal barriers to competition.
Openness . Open systems and networks aren’t always better for consumers. “Closed” systems like the iPhone should be free to compete with more open systems, like Android. Innovation happens at the “core” of networks, too — not just at the “edge.” Let technologies evolve and intervene, if at all, only when an abuse of market power clearly harms consumers.
Competition . Antitrust is regulation. It’s generally preferable to other forms of regulation when grounded in rigorous economic analysis, but even then, it usually fails to foresee what ultimately serves consumer welfare. The monopoly explanation for innovation in business models, corporate structure, and pricing is usually wrong.
Privacy . Don’t coerce private companies to disclose consumers’ data. If law enforcement needs private data, they should follow the procedures required by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — which generally means convincing a court to issue a warrant. Prevent private companies from abusing data about consumers: Punish deception and enforce corporate promises. Develop common law against “unfair” data practices — those that cause real harms without countervailing benefits, and where user empowerment is inadequate.