The Declaration: Principles of the Law Governing the Internet

Unrestricted worldwide exchange of information
Social media has enabled people from all over the world to communicate with each other, to exchange information and ideas, to educate each other, to organise protests, to express solidarity and to challenge injustice.  Bypassing controlled space imposed by governments and by compliant media, people have sought the facts about issues and sought the opinions of others who are directly involved.

The easy and immediate exchange of information has helped to prevent cover-ups and to expose lies by governments.  For example, it is less easy for a representative of a government to claim something happened or did not happen if a live video of the incident has already been seen by millions worldwide on social media.

Social media interaction between people from all over the world has countered the constant othering and xenophobia from various governments and think-tanks.  It has shown that issues and problems around the world are similar with similar causes and similar solutions.

The resultant knowledge accrued from social media interaction has been used to challenge governments informatively.  Armed with the facts, people have been able to refute claims and to destroy fraudulent analyses. 

Clearly, worldwide public knowledge of facts and cross-border solidarity are problematic for those who rely on public ignorance to retain control.  Censoring of and restricting access to social media has become a necessity for governments.

State response: Censorship
Using the guise of reacting to irregularities in funding for the Leave campaign prior to the referendum on EU membership in 2016 and using a faux campaign to counter “intimidation” of elected representatives, Tory MP Damian Collins has been at the forefront of a strategy of preparing a narrative that seeks to conclude with restrictions and censorship applied to online communication.

Tactics enacted so far included a concocted report by Lord Bew on “intimidation of politicians” followed by intent to restrict the right to vote and the right to stand in elections led by Minister for the Constitution Chloe Smith.

This week, Collins and a gang of capitalist politicians from the second division of influential countries have declared what they would like to be the basis of ‘Principles of the Law Governing the Internet.’

The five principles were included in The Declaration and are reproduced below.

i. The internet is global and law relating to it must derive from globally agreed principles;
ii. The deliberate spreading of disinformation and division is a credible threat to the continuation and growth of democracy and a civilising global dialogue;
iii. Global technology firms must recognise their great power and demonstrate their readiness to accept their great responsibility as holders of influence;
iv.  Social Media companies should be held liable if they fail to comply with a judicial, statutory or regulatory order to remove harmful and misleading content from their platforms, and should be regulated to ensure they comply with this requirement;
v. Technology companies must demonstrate their accountability to users by making themselves fully answerable to national legislatures and other organs of representative democracy.

Notes on the five principles
i. Clearly, it is absurd to expect every country in the world to agree to similar rules regarding access to and use of the internet.  Some countries are very censorious toward online communication – for example, China and Saudi Arabia; some countries have laws that allow state intrusion into online privacy – for example, Britain and its Investigatory Powers Act; other countries are opposed to both censorship and to intrusion.  Laws are different in different countries as are economic systems, trade relationships and military alignments.  How could a single set of laws for internet use bypass these differences?

ii. The authors of The Declaration fear challenges to the “growth of democracy.”  That is a stringent political concern.  Some countries exist with non-democratic systems of government – for example, Vietnam and Cuba.  Advocating non-democratic systems of government is a legitimate political act.  The inference from this proposed principle is that only a particular system of government (democracy) should be allowed to be promoted online and promotion of other systems should be banned.

iii. Global online social media platforms are not “holders of influence.”  Their respective platforms provide tools for communication, both useful and destructive, but the caretakers of the platforms should not be exercising influence.

iv. In authoritarian countries some social media platforms have agreed to severe censorship including the removal of political expressions of free speech.  This principle of The Declaration appeared to fully endorse such behaviour.

v. Social media platforms are answerable to their users and should certainly not be answerable to state bodies.

The Declaration
The declaration affirms the Parliamentarians’ commitment to the principles of transparency, accountability and the protection of representative democracy in regard to the internet,” claimed the pre-preamble in The Declaration.  By “transparency” the authors meant access by state agencies to private communications by civilians; by “accountability” they meant the social media platforms being accountable to state agencies rather than accountable to their users; “protection of representative democracy” was an assertive statement against non-democratic society.

The Declaration’s preamble was Orwellian.

It is an urgent and critical priority for legislatures and governments to ensure that the fundamental rights and safeguards of their citizens are not violated or undermined by the unchecked march of technology.”

A translation of the above would be that capitalist states are frightened that easy immediate communication between the people of the world could undermine the authority and capability of governments: Fear of the consequences of free-flowing undiluted information.  

The democratic world order is suffering a crisis of trust from the growth of disinformation.”

A “crisis of trust” in the “world order” should be welcomed.  “Disinformation” is a problem but the flow of information is what scares the “world order” the most.

The Declaration affirmed that “representative democracy is too important and too hard-won to be left undefended from online harms.”  That was another signal of the intent to censor and remove non-democratic political views from online discourse.

Another pseudo extract from ‘1984’ re-stated the real intent of The Declaration.

It is incumbent on us to create a system of global internet governance that can serve to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of generations to come, based on established codes of conduct for agencies working for nation states.”

The latter part of the above sentence ignored the fact, mentioned above, that different countries have different laws regarding free speech and political expression and, so, “established (worldwide) codes of conduct” are unattainable.  

The first part of the above sentence was archetypal doublespeak.  The words “serve” and “protect” meant “control,” and “fundamental rights and freedoms” meant whatever rights and freedoms that those in control choose to bestow upon the people.

Tory MP Damian Collins, chair of DCMS select committee and The Declaration signatory

Second division
The signatories of The Declaration were representatives from the governments of Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Ireland, Latvia, Singapore and Britain.

No-one from the entire continent of Africa.
One signatory from the entire continent of Asia.
No-one from a non-democratic country.
No-one from Russia, China or USA.

Serve and protect
The Declaration was laughable grandstanding but it contained disturbing indicators of authoritarian intent. 

Instant worldwide communication, sharing ideas and information, and live broadcast of political activism and state behaviour are positive consequences of the ease of use of social media platforms.  Ideas, analysis, facts and opinions are distributed instantaneously without any media or government filtering.  That is what frightened the governments whose representatives devised and signed The Declaration.

Related blogs
Tory plan to restrict right to vote
GCHQ Director Jeremy Fleming and IP Act
Analysis of Bew Report
Rafael Behr fears twitter

The Declaration: Principles of the Law Governing the Internet

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