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Techdirt, Reddit & others congregate for "Declaration of Internet Freedom"

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by Chloe Albanesius, 06 Jul 2012News

In an effort to prevent the passage of legislation like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), as well as ISP blockades, various Internet groups joined forces to launch the Declaration of Internet Freedom, a set of principles organizers hope will be embraced by lawmakers, private companies, and average Web users alike.

The effort - organized by Free Press, Harvard's Kennedy School, Techdirt.com, Reddit, and Ben Huh's Cheezburger network - invites Web users to "stand for a free and open Internet."

The declaration covers five basic principles: Expression (don't censor the Internet); Access (Promote universal access to fast and affordable networks); Openness (keep the Internet an open network where everyone is free to connect, communicate, write, read, watch, speak, listen, learn, create and innovate); Innovation (protect the freedom to innovate and create without permission. Don't block new technologies, and don't punish innovators for their users' actions); and Privacy (protect privacy and defend everyone's ability to control how their data and devices are used).

During a conference call with reporters this afternoon, Josh Levy, the Internet campaign director at Free Press, said the groups have been working since Jan. 18 - Internet blackout day - to "figure out what comes next and how do we marshal the energy of more than 13 million Internet users ... who now realize that the open Internet is a fragile thing."

In opposition to SOPA and its Senate counterpart, the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), various Internet sites went dark in January for one day, prompting the demise of SOPA and PIPA. The bills aimed to stop "rogue" overseas websites that traffic in pirated goods, but detractors argued that they would make it easy to cut off access to legitimate websites.

"This is about building political power for Internet users [by rallying] millions of people around a very basic set of principles," Levy continued. "When it comes time to build policy, we can stand up and say Internet users need a seat at the table."

Cheezburger's Huh said that come Election Day, supporters will look to elect those who adhere to the Internet freedom principles. The group isn't looking to back a specific candidate per se, he said, but "from this comes the legislation and lobbying and representatives."

"This helps establish a baseline, so when you have something like SOPA and PIPA," lawmakers know where supporters stand, said Mike Masnick, CEO and founder of Techdirt.

When asked if the Declaration of Internet Freedom was targeted more at the government or ISPs, Levy said the group did not have a "defined target" because both sectors cross-pollinate so much when it comes to the Web.

What's next? The group is asking Web users to chime in on the principles and make suggestions for how they might be approved. There will be forums on Reddit as well as TechDirt and Cheezburger, where organizers will collect peoples' thoughts.

"The ways we're going to harness those responses are still being worked out because we want this to be as open and inclusive as possible," Levy said. "We'll be working over the next few days to find the best way to respond."

If you like it as is, you can also sign the declaration online.

SOPA and PIPA might be dead, but the next controversial bill making its way through Congress is the Cyber Information Sharing & Protection Act (CISPA). Supporters claim it will enable companies to better share data about cyber attacks, but detractors again argue that it will provide the government will easy access to your personal information while granting immunity to firms that hand it over. The bill passed the House and has moved to the Senate, though there has not yet been any significant traction.

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