Tuesday, October 02, 2012

The Politics Behind the Declaration of Internet Freedom...

The casual observer might make certain assumptions about a document titled, The Declaration of Internet Freedom.  One assumption they probably won't make, however, is that the document is almost completely meaningless in terms of content and that it's little more than a political tactic in the fight over cybersecurity politics.

First, here is the actual text of the Declaration of Internet Freedom, co-authored by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA):

We stand for a free and open Internet.  We support transparent and participatory processes for making Internet policy and the establishment of five basic principles:

  1. Expression: Don't censor the Internet.

  2. Access: Promote universal access to fast and affordable networks.

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

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

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

These are all, what we call, "Apple Pie Expressions".  Nobody is ever going to say that they support censorship, are for making the Internet a closed network, or are against innovation.  Everybody agrees with these principles.  It's like when politicians say that they are for education.  Of course they are.  Everybody is.  But the devil is in the details.

For instance, every American will say that the Internet shouldn't be censored.  But to what extent will we have disagreements over the the availability of pornographic material online, of cyberbullying, or of inciteful hate speech?

Or, while we'll all agree that people should have the freedom to innovate, to what extent will some adopt a stricter interpretation of copyright law in contrast to others when it comes to "creating without permission"?

And "protecting privacy"?  Let's not even get into that can of worms.

This Declaration of applie pie statements is so vague that it takes a principled stance on nothing at all.  I'm sorry to have wasted your time even suggesting you read it.

So what's really going on here? 

Despite the document's bipartisan authorship, it's really just a tool being deployed in the battle over cybersecurity policy.  Over the past few months, the Republicans have been pushing a cybersecurity bill through the House of Representatives while the Democrats have been pushing another one in the Senate.  There's been a failure to come to an agreement because of differences over the extent to which cybersecurity measures should be made mandatory for private businesses versus having those measures remain voluntary.  Despite Senators Lieberman and Collins dropping their mandatory requirements, there aren't enough votes in either chamber to pass the others' version of the bill.

Fast forward to last week where, as a result of this gridlock over an issue of vital national security, the Obama Administration made it known that it was poised to step in and issue an Executive Order in the absence of Congressional action.  Even this would really be just a vague set of apple-pie principles.

Rep. Issa is one of the major backers of the cybersecurity bill in the House and this meaningless Declaration of Internet Freedom has garnered over 51,000 signatures and the support of over 2,000 organizations and businesses.  Half of those might actually support the Senate version of the bill - which, by the way, has far more privacy protections - if asked.  But, nevertheless, those numbers clearly give Issa some semblance of political backing to wave around in this battle.



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