Justin Baker

@justindesign

The Declaration of Neutrality—Internet Freedom as a Constitutional Right

How our freedoms of speech and of the press are grounded in internet neutrality

The Wired

The Declaration

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that the internet shall be created equal, that it is endowed by its creators with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The internet is a living ecosystem of free speech, where all content can be created and shared. It is a means by which we can communicate with our loved ones, share ideas, and laugh at cat GIFs. We can create, access, and share applications and services — reaching audiences far and wide. More importantly, we can craft our own pursuit of happiness.

We can go where we want and consume anything — we have the liberty and personal freedom to choose for ourselves what we want or don’t want to see.

Liberty, by definition, is the freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions. It is a power or right of doing, thinking, speaking, according to personal choice.

It is with this liberty that we have been able to innovate as a nation, proliferate new technologies, and share transformative ideas.

The First Amendment

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
— The First Amendment of U.S. Constitution

In an era where the internet serves as the primary communication method for a majority of Americans, it is evermore important that it stays neutral. This neutrality ensures that we have the freedom to access the content we want and that the press is not abridged from creating and disseminating its own content.

In a non-neutral world, your internet service providers (ISPs like Verizon and Comcast) can gate which websites and applications you get to access. They can make you pay more to use Google to search, yet make Yahoo free (sorry Yahoo..). They can prevent you from accessing information from your favorite news sources.. they can prevent you from reading this Medium article.

Without a neutral internet, your freedom and liberty would become a function of how much you are willing to spend to access the things you want.

Thirty years ago, one could argue that gating internet access wouldn’t substantially abridge the rights of the press or the people from creating or accessing information. In the 1980’s, we still relied on TVs, printed news, phones, and direct word of mouth. In 2017, this has shifted dramatically. The internet… this connection of wires and computers all around the world has become the primary utility for exchanging and accessing information.

When you curtail that freedom of access, you curtail our freedom of speech and the freedom of the press.

And here are the numbers to show how pervasive and essential the internet has become as a means of speech, communication, and news:

81% of Americans use social media (2017)

40% of Americans get most of their news online (2016)

70% of Reddit users, 66% of Facebook users, and 59% of Twitter users are most likely to get their news from each site (2016)

Internet Freedom May Soon be Gone

This is not a political issue — this is a fundamental constitutional issue. This is an issue that impacts every one of us.

What we do online, who we vote for, what websites we visit… all of that doesn’t matter. We are all internet users and we all belong to this connected web of people and things.

And, we pay for that connection. We pay for the liberty to be connected to everything and anything. Once that is taken away, then we are paying for the ability to see what others want us to see, or what we can afford.

We take this freedom for granted.. and 2017 may be its last year.

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Justin publishes weekly, inspiring content in design, tech, and life. Follow him on Medium for more.

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