Thursday, March 13, 2014

What Would an Internet Bill of Rights Look Like?

To little fanfare, yesterday marked the 25th birthday for the Internet's most successful "killer app" - the World Wide Web.  Its creator, Tim Berners-Lee, marked the day by releasing a statement and arguing for the urgent need to create an Internet Bill of Rights.

What would such an Internet Bill of Rights look like?  Berners-Lee believes it should be focused on the Web's original founding constitutional principles of open access and open architecture and, additionally, the protection of privacy rights.

These principles may seem on the surface to be apple-pie statements - meaning that nobody really opposes them in their simply-stated form.  However, very serious political debates have arisen demonstrating just how much the devil is in the details.  For instance, open access sounds great, but how does it play out in the F.C.C.'s rulings on Net Neutrality?  Likewise, everyone will publicly support the notion of individual privacy rights but, in actual practice, determining to what extent government regulations are desirable in order to set the rules for what type of data gets stored, and by whom, is certainly a bit more controversial.

The idea of an Internet Bill of Rights is not new, and should one emerge it will likely be more of an expression of constitutional principles (that's constitution with a lowercase "c"), and not a document with any sort of legal bearing.  That said, it can still be immensely valuable and important.

In typical "open" fashion, Berners-Lee is encouraging any and all Web users to head over to the Web We Want campaign and submit their own proposals.  So, armchair-pundits, here's your chance to help draft the legislation that you want to see.  It's a massive crowdsourced effort, like the Web itself.



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