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Activists unite, declare 'Internet Freedom'

Cue the endless debate

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Anticipating the American Independence Day on July 4, a group of organizations and individuals have banded together in support of a manifesto they're calling the Declaration of Internet Freedom.

In the US Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson famously wrote that all people are endowed with "certain unalienable rights," including "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." The principles the Declaration of Internet Freedom espouses are somewhat less lofty: an uncensored internet, universal access to fast network connections, the freedom to connect and communicate, unrestricted technology innovation, and online privacy.

"We believe that a free and open Internet can bring about a better world," reads the Declaration's preamble. "To keep the Internet free and open, we call on communities, industries and countries to recognize these principles."

Organizations who have endorsed the Declaration include the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF), Free Press, Human Rights First, and Reporters Without Borders, among others – not to mention Cheezburger, Inc. and Fark.

Also listed are a number of individuals, including esteemed internet daddy Vint Cerf, Boing Boing's Cory Doctorow, author Neil Gaiman, and technology writer Dan Gillmor.

"The EFF community and millions of others fought together to stop SOPA and the powerful interests that sought to limit our innovation and free speech," the EFF said in a blog post endorsing the Declaration. "That fight left us both humbled and energized. It was a wake-up call reminding us of the fragility of a free and open Internet."

But not everyone seems equally pleased with the Declaration or its message. A website with a similar-sounding URL has since appeared (declarationofinternetfreedom.org), offering a rebuttal to the Declaration. This one is undersigned by a consortium of anti-regulatory, small-government think tanks and lobbyists, including Americans for Tax Reform, The Competitive Enterprise Institute, and The TaxPayers' Alliance, among others.

"We're not convinced Internet policymaking can be effectively guided by something as short as the 'Declaration of Internet Freedom' issued by Free Press and other groups," reads a statement on the contrarian site, which goes on to suggest that the Declaration's wording is too ambiguous and could therefore lead to increased government regulation (presumably always a bad thing).

If the Declaration's backers hope that it will help preserve the free and open Internet, however, just how it will do so remains unclear. So far, its main goal seems to be to open a public dialog on the issues. The Declaration's preamble continues, "Let's discuss these principles – agree or disagree with them, debate them, translate them, make them your own and broaden the discussion with your community – as only the Internet can make possible."

That last bit sounds ominous. ®

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