Online censorship is increasingly becoming a problem, with regulations, laws and bills threatening the openness that has in part resulted in the success of the internet. Industry figures last year argued SOPA threatened the web; while the bill was defeated, countries continue to try and push through variations, urged on by powerful media giants. The UK and other countries are also seeing court orders forcing ISPs to block websites. Additionally, corporations and patent trolls alike block technologies, holding back innovation.
The Declaration of Internet Freedom has now been created to help build a movement of internet users who’ve previously united to stop threats such as those already outlined, and to push proactively for online freedom. Josh Levy (JL), Internet Campaign Director at Free Press, spoke to .net about the declaration and the problems facing the internet.
.net: What are you trying to achieve with the declaration?
JL: If we can get as many people to speak out for something as we can get to speak out against something, [governments] and big internet companies will have to listen and future internet policy will reflect the need to protect the open internet.
.net: Do you believe the notion of a free and open internet is under threat?
JL: Absolutely. The free and open internet is in danger of dying a death by a thousand cuts. Legislation that would grant the US federal government an unprecedented ability to spy on what we do and say online, or to block our speech, is being pushed by big companies and their friends in government. These bills would irrevocably damage the foundation of the open internet and would harm our ability to communicate online.
In addition, companies like Verizon and Comcast are trying to put the internet genie back in the bottle. They want to turn the open internet into 21st century TV – a platform for one-way ‘content consumption’. They're introducing punitive data caps that favour their own content in order to achieve this.
These same companies enjoy quasi-monopoly status thanks to corporate-friendly policies they've lobbied for in Washington. This has resulted in a lack of broadband competition in the USA, meaning higher prices, slower speeds and fewer people having access to high-speed internet.
.net: Are elected officials part of the problem, in not really understanding the technology?
JL: Elected officials need to understand what it is they're regulating. That means getting to know the technical foundation of the open internet – and why you can't mess with it – and the reasons why openness is so important culturally, politically and economically. Online innovation depends on it; our ability to engage politically depends on it; and the most creative work of our time depends on it.
But internet users also need to get involved. The government will always try to regulate the internet. That's why we need a seat at the table whenever internet policy is being decided, to make sure policymakers are held accountable and the open internet is being protected. We need to make it clear to [governments] that [they] must protect the free and open internet at all costs.