Net Neutrality and Censorship: It’s Not About Property, It’s About The Agreement
Freedom of Speech – Rick Falkvinge
My recent post suggesting that ISPs should introduce retaliatory censorship produced very interesting reactions, ranging from enthusiastic endorsement (“Hell Yes”) to resolute rejection (“Hell No”). These unusually diverse and emotional responses across the entire register set me thinking.
Mike Masnick on TechDirt also floated the idea as a quick test balloon, and encountered the same diversity of comments. Attempting to get the overall feel from the comments here and there, there was a feeling that while it would have a strong effect and feel good from a purely vindicative standpoint, it was just… wrong.
Not everybody agreed, though. There were some really good responses in sorting out the concepts of censorship and property, pointing out (rightfully) that censorship is when somebody else exercises power over what traffic that your property may carry, whereas property rights dictate that you can instruct your property to do exactly whatever you please, and also sell or rent services as you please. This position is contrary to Net Neutrality.
There was also a great deal of confusion as to what constitutes censorship, which led me to understand that censorship is not what people really have issues with. While censorship is bad — as in really bad — it is not what lies at the heart of the emotion here, when ISPs are forced to filter somebody out from the net and existence, as the exact same reactions are produced when they do the exact same actions voluntarily.
Rather, it’s Violations of The Agreement that are at heart.
The Agreement that is the Internet. Because that’s what the Internet is: it is a world of ends, an agreement on how to move bits from origin to destination. An agreement between thousands of different operators of small independent networks. That’s all it is, and its immense value lies in its simplicity. It is not property. Nobody owns it, nobody controls it. It is an agreement which is carried only in the spirit of everybody’s adherence to it.
This Agreement says a couple of things, like everybody being an equal, everybody having communications, and a number of other things that make it the greatest leveler of the playing field ever invented by humanity. This does not go over well with the previous kings-of-the-hill of humanity, even if everybody else loves it.
The Agreement has not been written down anywhere. It’s in the spirit of the Net, in the air and in the water, which is also why vindicative lawmakers and obsoleting industries are trying to take themselves the right to change it by force.
Going back to Net Neutrality, being involved in lawmaking, I need to weigh important values against one another. There were libertarians on my blog arguing strongly against Net Neutrality laws as they would limit property rights. As I give them right in the premise, I disagree with the conclusion.
The libertarian ideology comes from a time centuries ago when Property was the solution to everything. Today, it is Knowledge, and specifically Transfer of Knowledge.
Free Speech rights are more important than property rights. Much more important, even. I will illustrate this by the fact that most countries have taxes, limiting the property rights of its citizens, but limits on freedom of opinion and speech are very rare if existing at all.
Arguably, you may not falsely yell “FIRE!” in a crowded theater, so some particular expressions of opinions are banned. But not all expressions of a particular opinion: it would be perfectly ok to whisper “the flickering crimson glow behind that door, does that look like a fire to you?” to the person next to you in the theater. Thus. freedom of opinion — and some expression of every opinion — is practically universal, even if every expression of a particular opinion isn’t allowed.
This leads my to my point: Free Speech rights today are synonymous with upholding of The Agreement.
In the 21st century, the Internet IS free speech, IS assembly, IS the press.
People exercise their fundamental rights through the net today. Therefore, the net is as fundamental a right itself as the rights that are exercised through it.
Therefore, I have to conclude that libertarians who think that property rights dictate that The Agreement can be violated at will as an exercise of property rights are, well, wrong. The Agreement supersedes property rights as Free Speech today depends on The Agreement, and as demonstrated, Free Speech is more important than property rights.
That does not mean that Net Neutrality should be made into law, for practical reasons of policymaking and politics. The instant that particular box is opened, lobbyists and corporates will be all over it, and we will risk getting a law that says the very opposite of The Agreement once it goes to the voting floor. That path is a dangerous one.
I also conclude that violating The Agreement for the sake of punishing violations of The Agreement is the wrong thing to do. I’m not sure how to reign in the MAFIAA, which was the original question posted, but that particular path appears inconsistent.