cr> Jeff Johnson on Barlow


Richard Moore

Date: Tue, 13 Feb 1996
From: Jeffrey.Johnson@Eng (Jeff Johnson)
To: "Multiple recipients of list •••@••.•••"
Subject: Comments on Barlow's Declaration

While I certainly agree with the sentiment expressed in John Perry
Barlow's cyberspace declaration of independence, I think that the
declaration commits serious errors, both strategic and tactical.

On the tactical side, he errs by arguing that cyberspace differs from
the physical world, and that governments and laws from the physical
world have no jurisdiction there.  Though cyberspace is certainly
different in many respects from previous means of communicating, the
most important point we should be making is that those differences --
as great as they are -- are *irrelevant* to the question of what rights
and responsibilities exist there.  We should be arguing that the same
Bill of Rights that applies to all prior forms of communication has
undiminished jurisdiction in cyberspace.  Barlow himself made this very
point in an article in a recent special (Scenarios) issue of Wired:  he
said that for all the techno-hype about cyberspace, it's still
basically people talking to each other.  So he should know better.

The declaration is also tactically wrong because it will surely raise
the ire (and possibly vengeance) of people in Congress who resent the
Internet precisely because they do not understand it.  In a newspaper
story I read last week about the signing into law of the Communications
Decency Act, Senator Exon's aide on telecommunications matters was
quoted as saying something like (I don't remember the exact quote)
"These Internet people think they're somehow not subject to the same
standards as everyone else."  The aid is wrong, of course:  what we
want is for the *same* Bill of Rights that applies to everyone else to
apply to our chosen form of communication.  Barlow's declaration just
adds fuel to this fellow's (f)ire.

More importantly, the declaration is *strategically* misguided because
it perpetuates the idea, widespread among Internet users, that the main
things wrong with the Telecommunications Act of 1996 are the decency and
abortion restrictions.  In fact, those restrictions are obvious flaws
-- legislative aberations -- that will soon be declared unconstitutional
and brushed aside.  The rest of the bill -- unfortunately not an
aberation but the result of the usual corporate domination of the
legislative process -- will then remain, allowing massive corporate
monopolization and shopping mall-ization of the online world as it
expands to include more of the population, as well as the brushing away
of valuable historical checks and balances such as the doctrine of
common carriage, limits on control of media markets, restrictions on
secondary use of information, considering the broadcast spectrum to be
a public asset, etc.  We've got to stop being so solipsistic, i.e.,
caught up in defending our own rights on the Internet, that we fail to
defend the rights of everyone *else* to have a network that treats them
as citizens instead of as consumers.

Jeff Johnson


 Posted by Richard K. Moore  -  •••@••.•••  -  Wexford, Ireland
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