A Historic Declaration of Internet Freedom

July 2, 2012

sopa protesters
SOPA protesters in New York, January 2012 (Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

Today, Amnesty International joined more than 100 organizations, academics, startup founders and tech innovators to sign on to a Declaration of Internet Freedom, a set of five principles that—if realized—would prove monumental in the longstanding fight for online freedom and universal human rights.

Many of these groups also banded together to educate about the risks and advocate for the defeat of the PIPA/SOPA bills in the US Congress (to read about our concerns with the bills, read this post).

The principles in the Declaration are simply stated:

Expression: Don’t censor the Internet.

Access: Promote universal access to fast and affordable networks.

Openness: Keep the Internet an open network where everyone is free to connect, communicate, write, read, watch, speak, listen, learn, create and innovate.

Innovation: Protect the freedom to innovate and create without permission. Don’t block new technologies, and don’t punish innovators for their users’ actions.

Privacy: Protect privacy and defend everyone’s ability to control how their data and devices are used.

The simplicity of these principles as stated do not betray the scale of the challenges before us. Behind each principle are structural impediments, powerful countervailing forces from government and industry, and above all else, a lack of awareness in many places as to the power, necessity, and interdependence of internet freedom to the full realization of so many human rights.

Over the next few months, join us on this blog as we unpack each principle in a human rights context, and what realization of each principle means for the most vulnerable, and the least free, among us.

Earlier this year, I responded to a NYT op-ed by Vint Cerf who—as one of the “grandfathers of the internet,” offered that internet access was not a human right. I concluded my post with reference to CEDAW, and CERD—international legal instruments that prohibit discrimination against women and based on race, respectively. These were interesting instruments for that argument, because although the rights enshrined in them were guaranteed by the two core human rights covenants, they were nonetheless necessary to reaffirm rights in the new global contexts at the time of their writing.

Let me end this post with references again to CEDAW. Some 12 years before the international legal instrument that is CEDAW came to be, there was the Declaration of Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. In fact, this is a common path for legal conventions that underpin the human rights regime.

Before there are legally binding conventions and treaties, there are declarations of principles that inform the process to follow. It is with a long view that I am happy to be a part of Amnesty International and its support for the above principles, and the inherent promises they represent.