"In an interview with the Guardian, Tim Berners-Lee proposes a bill of rights for the web.
His plan is part of a wider initiative, The Web We Want, a campaign for a 'free open and truly global Internet.'
Berners-Lee suggests that governments need an increased understanding of technology, and a revisiting of legal issues such as copyright law.
More controversially he proposes removal of US control of IANA claiming "The removal of the explicit link to the US department of commerce is long overdue. The US can't have a global place in the running of something which is so non-national". He sees the web at risk of fragmentation into "national silos" if people do not fight for the web.
There is potential overlap here with Article 19 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights , which states,'Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.' Would an internet bill of rights be successful in nations where the principles of the UDHR are ignored ?
Given the anarchic evolution of the internet, is it possible or desirable to attempt to control it in any way?"
This is not only desirable, it is essential. Here's why:
- Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is great, until you read it a bit more closely. It gives you the right to "hold opinions without interference". It also gives you the right to "receive and impart information". What it does not do it connect the two; it does not say that you have the right to communicate your ideas without interference.
- Article 29 is really bad, because it overrides all of the others. Governments are allowed to restrict your rights (including Article 19) for all sorts of general reasons: "respect...of others", "morality", "public order" and "general welfare".
In other words, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees you nothing at all, unless your government happens to be agreeable.
These restrictions were put into place for the simple reason that governments don't want to give up power. If rights were genuinely unrestricted, almost every country would be blatantly violating the rights of its citizens. Saudia Arabia treating women like property, Austria outlawing any questioning of the Holocaust, the USA prosecuting hate crimes - governments really do not want their citizens having freedom to hold and communicate ideas without restriction.
We desperately something written by citizens, not by politicians intent on keeping their power. Something written by citizens insisting on their rights, not by governments intending to restrict them. At the moment, we really have nothing. No universal human rights, except at the sufferance of government entities. I've long dreamed that the Internet might slowly supersede governments, but it currently looks like governments are succeeding in fragmenting the Internet and preserving their position of absolute power.
Perhaps, if we are lucky "Web We Want" can be part of a movement to reclaim the power of the Internet, and to finally establish fundamental rights that cannot be restricted at a whim of those in power.
it does not say that you have the right to communicate your ideas without interference
I don't understand. "Information" may include representations of ideas. Certainly, any digitized idea is straight up information, and so should be communicable.
Article 29 may seem bad, but it really made sense before the advent of the Internet. Consider the following hypothetical scenario: there is a country ruled by people of the class G, with a small minority of people of the class J. At some point, G people in charge decide to exterminate the J people, so J people go into hiding. Now, suppose a third party outside of the this country, in a place where human rights mean something, obtains names and addresses of a bunch of J people. Should they be able to communicate this info across all borders? It makes sense to say "no", because that would certainly be a terrible setback for the human rights of J people involved. The inclusion of "morality" is in this list is probably its lowest point, but even then, it says "just requirements", so we can at least hope that "unjust" requirements of morality (such as silencing all women, for example) may be safely ignored.
Now, I agree with you at least on the point that UDHR is not sufficient in the modern day: not if we want to fully exercise our right to free expression. But this is because we have an entirely new way of exchanging ideas, the Internet, and so we need a novel set of rules. It does not matter who writes this stuff, by the way; it would suffice if it was worded right, and was enforced.
But we do need an Internet charter, for sure. My biggest wish is to see the acceptance of the universal human right to say and post anything the fuck we wish on our private, non-profit sites, and do so without any fear of censorship or retaliation of any kind (aside from criminal interference, but that can't be helped). The hypothetical scenario breaks down with the advent of the Internet, because it is now practically impossible to prevent the information from reaching the place where it's wanted. We could try to defend the J people by gagging this guy or that, but in all but most unrealistic circumstances, we won't ever get a chance to gag anyone, because the info will be transported in seconds, without any chance of us knowing that the transaction took place.
And we really should be able to say ANYTHING, no matter how offensive or threatening, and that is because of two very interesting properties the Internet has. (1) Everything's been said already anyway. (2) Everyone can, but no one has to read your private, non-profit blog.
It would be wrong to let people say whatever they want if they are shoving it down other people's throats, but the Internet is not like that. And so every time someone is prosecuted for, say, making a threat on the Internet, it is a great injustice, because of singling out to the extreme. Everything's been said already, so why don't we prosecute EVERYONE who's made a bomb threat via the Internet? Why not bring to justice EVERY case of cyber-bullying? If we already in fact ignore 99.99% of all threats and insults, with no ill effects to ourselves, why the fuck are we prosecuting the remaining 0.01%? Would not we be better off by simply ignoring them, just like we ignore the rest?
Let's give people a way to be taken seriously over the Net. Let's say: sign your shit cryptographically, at the very least. Show us that you are making an effort to be taken seriously, and not just drunk at 3am, or left your gmail open in the public library. And if you don't want to go that extra mile, then to hell with you: it's all just a part of the ocean noise.
Governments are allowed to restrict your rights (including Article 19) for all sorts of general reasons:
This is just codifying the practical reality. Do you think the declaration of martial law is constitutional in the US? I rather say it explicitly is not - it is the suspension of the constitution during a crisis. Governments will want to keep that option open; it is strongly in their interests to maintain public order under any circumstance.
No universal human rights, except at the sufferance of government entities
What you are talking about is anarchy (or "pure democracy" if you prefer; when national boundaries are crossed it amounts to much the same thing), in the sense of having no strong central government. While the Web might allow citizens to organize quickly in response to threats on their freedoms, it depends on an enlightened and educated (and attentive) citizenry, something which has arguably never existed. The Web may, once again, make this possible, particularly in the generation now growing up with almost ubiquitous access, but it is far from clear that individualism will triumph over centrism and nationalism. It will require grassroots, international cooperation. I'm rather pessimistic about this possibility occurring in my lifetime, although I do think it is inevitable, particularly once humans establish a large presence extra-terrestrially on an ongoing basis.