Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace

Tags:  itp networked media

A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace was written by John Perry Barlow, a “Cyberlibertarian” and a founding member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He wrote this essay while at a party World Economic Forum in Davos in response to the Communications Decency Act of 1996. He was outraged that this law was passed and saw it as a threat to the sovereignty of the Internet from foreign powers.

The Communications Decency Act made it a crime for anyone to share “indecent material” to anyone under the age of 18. It was struck down a year later in a Supreme Court case Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union on the grounds that that law was unnecessarily broad and suppressed the speech of adults.

The Declaration rejects government of the Internet by any “outside force.” He argues that there is no consent of the governed to apply laws and that the Internet is developing its own governing forces. Internal problems will be solved by using a “Social Contract.” He cites government ignorance of Internet culture. Barrow claims that the Internet exists outside any country’s borders, outside “physical space.”

There are clear parallels with the United States’ Declaration of Independence. America was originally a colony of Great Britain, and the Internet was originally created by DARPA (USA). America and the Internet both grew apart from their creators and rejected their governance. Barrow clearly had this in mind when he wrote:

These increasingly hostile and colonial measures place us in the same position as those previous lovers of freedom and self-determination who had to reject the authorities of distant, uninformed powers.

Barrow does acknowledge government control over “our bodies” but he rejects control over “our minds.” No government has the authority to govern in cyberspace.