Groups that fought anti-piracy bills post their ‘Declaration of Internet Freedom’

A coalition of more than 100 cyber liberties groups and Internet advocates unveiled a set of five principles on Monday aimed at protecting the openness of the Internet. 

Called the “Declaration of Internet Freedom,” the five baseline principles are meant to guide lawmakers as they craft legislation impacting the Web. Supporters of the principles, including Public Knowledge and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, want to solicit feedback from the public this summer and hope lawmakers will sign on as supporters.

“This declaration is not a set of policies — it’s intended to inspire policy,” Free Press Internet Campaign Director Josh Levy told reporters on a conference call. 

The groups hope the principles will prevent legislation similar to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA), legislation they opposed earlier this year with a series of online protests. Critics of SOPA and PIPA argued the bills would result in censorship on the Web and stunt innovative start-ups.

Supporters of the declaration hope the activism stirred up by the anti-piracy bills will lead to a robust online discussion of what constitutes a free and open Internet.

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The five principles — expression, access, openness, innovation and privacy — are described in very brief and basic terms. For example, the principles call on lawmakers to “protect the freedom to innovate and create without permission” and to “promote universal access to fast and affordable networks.” 

But Levy said the supporters intended to keep the declaration “as high level as possible” and will avoid targeting any specific actors or proposing new legislation.

The principles are “meant to put a line in the sand about what we think the Internet should look like and what things should be protected when we talk about Internet freedom,” Levy said. 

Sen. Ron Wyden’s (D-Ore.) press office offered its support for the principles, tweeting the declaration “is just what we need.”

But it’s already facing some push-back.

Libertarian groups TechFreedom and the Competitive Enterprise Institute released their own declaration over the weekend and voiced concern with the rival one backed by Free Press in a blog post on Monday. The groups wrote that the other declaration “blurs the distinction between political and civil society while endorsing certain business models over others.” 

TechFreedom President Berin Szoka also argued in the post that the rival declaration could invite “further government intervention in the name of freedom.”

Levy welcomed further debate on the principles, but dismissed TechFreedom’s claim that they favor certain business models. 

“The point is for the public to engage with this document however they want,” Levy said in a statement. “More than 100 groups and individuals took part in discussing and crafting the principles, which do not blur distinctions or favor any business models, but we're glad to have the discussion. We’re interested in building bridges, but can’t speak to what other groups' goals are."