Declaration of Internet Freedom

Jul 01

We believe freedom to be an essential condition of human flourishing and technological progress. We see the Internet (and digital services in general) as the vehicle for the greatest expansion of freedom in human history to date. Yet we recognize that the “Internet” of tomorrow may look nothing like the Internet of today. No one can plan the Internet’s evolution. The best policymakers can do is to respect the following core principles of “Internet Freedom”:

Humility. First, do no harm. No one can anticipate what the future holds and what tradeoffs will accompany it. Don’t meddle in what you don’t understand — and what you can all too easily break, without even seeing what’s been lost. Often, government’s best response is to do nothing. Competition, disruptive technological change, and criticism from civil society tend to resolve problems better, and faster, than government can.

Rule of Law. When you must intervene, start small. Regulation and legislation are broad, inflexible, and prone to capture by incumbent firms and entrenched interests. The best kind of “law” evolves one case at a time, based on simple, economic principles of consumer welfare — alongside the codes of conduct and practices developed by companies under pressure from competitors and criticism. Worst of all, when regulators act without legal authority, or regulate by intimidation, they undermine the rule of law, no matter how noble their intentions.

Free Expression. Don’t stifle the free flow of information, compel speech, or hold intermediaries (e.g., ISPs, social networks) responsible for the speech they carry. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act together provide an effective basis for reconciling free speech with other values.

Innovation. Protect the freedom to innovate and create without government’s permission, provided others’ rights are respected. Don’t block — or mandate — new technologies. Don’t punish innovators for their users’ actions.

Broadband. Government is the greatest obstacle to the emergence of fast and affordable broadband networks. Rather than subsidizing yesterday’s networks, free the market to build tomorrow’s. End central planning of spectrum and legal barriers to competition.

Openness. Open systems and networks aren’t always better for consumers. “Closed” systems like the iPhone should be free to compete with more open systems, like Android. Innovation happens at the “core” of networks, too — not just at the “edge.” Let technologies evolve and intervene, if at all, only when an abuse of market power clearly harms consumers. 

Competition. Antitrust is regulation. It’s generally preferable to other forms of regulation when grounded in rigorous economic analysis, but even then, it usually fails to foresee what ultimately serves consumer welfare. The monopoly explanation for innovation in business models, corporate structure, and pricing is usually wrong. 

Privacy. Don’t coerce private companies to disclose consumers’ data. If law enforcement needs private data, they should follow the procedures required by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — which generally means convincing a court to issue a warrant. Prevent private companies from abusing data about consumers: Punish deception and enforce corporate promises. Develop common law against “unfair” data practices — those that cause real harms without countervailing benefits, and where user empowerment is inadequate.