Crixeo: Internet Bill of Rights

 

Is It Time for an Internet Bill of Rights?

When our founding fathers set out to ratify the U.S. Constitution, many were concerned about the amount of power being granted to the government over the individual. They expressly feared the threat to freedom and prosperity that a strong centralized power could become. And so, to address these concerns and ultimately prevent the government — or any entity — from becoming too powerful, the Bill of Rights was created. Proposed by James Madison, the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution were intended to protect human beings from the tyrannical rule of an all-powerful central authority. These rights were ratified in 1791, but the ideas behind them go as far back as the Magna Carta in 1215.

Basically, by being born human, you have a right to your own life, a right to liberty, and a right to keep property. This was the argument of British philosopher John Locke, who inspired the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. He also believed these inalienable rights should not be infringed upon by anyone — even governments, lords and kings. Why? Because these rights are not given to you by these entities, nor can they be issued on a piece of paper. You have the right not to be murdered, enslaved or robbed by anyone else, because you are a human being.

This is why, in the Bill of Rights, American citizens are granted, among other things, the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, a right to assemble and petition, a right to a fair trial and due process, a right to bear arms, and the right to not quarter (house) any soldier in your home. These specific rights were chosen for a reason, as many of America’s early citizens had already experienced the cruelties of censorship and servitude. As a result, they fought — and died — for individual sovereignty. They desired to be “owned” by no one but themselves, with the right to control their own lives and bodies as they wished.

Fast-forward to March 15, 1962. John F. Kennedy issues a “Special Message to the Congress on Protecting the Consumer Interest.” In it, he argues that the federal government is the highest spokesman for the people, and that it has a special obligation to be aware of the needs of consumers and to advance their interests. He then highlights four specific rights of the consumer:

1. The right to safety: to be protected against the marketing of goods which are hazardous to health or life.
2. The right to be informed: to be protected against fraudulent, deceitful or grossly misleading information, advertising, labeling or other practices, and to be given the facts needed to make an informed choice.
3. The right to choose: to be assured, wherever possible, access to a variety of products and services at competitive prices; and in those industries in which competition is not workable and government regulation is substituted, to be assured of satisfactory quality and service at fair prices.
4. The right to be heard: to be assured that consumer interests will receive full and sympathetic consideration in the formulation of government policy, and fair and expeditious treatment in its administrative tribunals.

Kennedy goes on to say, “The march of technology — affecting, for example, the foods we eat, the medicines we take, and the many appliances we use in our homes — has increased the difficulties of the consumer along with his opportunities; and it has outmoded many of the old laws and regulations and made new legislation necessary.”

HE THEN HIGHLIGHTS THE FOLLOWING:

1. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) must fight against deceptive trade practices and false advertising, while preventing monopolies and ensuring effective competition.
2. There should be “truth in packaging,” as misleading, fraudulent and unhelpful practices are incompatible with the efficient and equitable functioning of a free competitive economy.
3. All of us are consumers, so by acting in the interest of the consumer, we are acting in the interest of us all.

So is it time for an Internet Bill of Rights to be written? A lot has happened since 1962, and a whole lot more since 1215. Our relationships with our governments and leaders have changed drastically, as have our connections to each other. And halting progress to think about it is not an option.

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