Keep the Internet Free

Free. Such a beautiful word. We all want freedom. Some people risk their lives for it, even die for it. Who can be against free? The word free is also used about the internet a lot. “Information wants to be free” was the maxim for the early days of the world wide web, back in the Nineties. These days we are told it’s important to keep the internet free. But what does that really mean? “Keep the internet free”. Some will tell you it means keeping it unregulated, that policy-makers and state institutions should not get involved with what happens in the fiber cables and mobile networks. That the government should stay out. Not such a bad idea, is it? I mean, we don’t want the government to monitor us – online or offline – at least not more than necessary. We don’t want it to read our e-mails or know who we meet. But is that really freedom? In all other parts of society, we like to think that the law and public institutions – at least in democratic countries – are there to protect the individual, sometimes against the government. To protect our rights. The justice systems guarantees a right to fair trial, for example. The right to an attorney. That’s regulation, government intervention, but its purpose is our freedom. Without it we would be less free, not more. The absence of government is not freedom, it’s anarchy. We would not accept that anywhere else, why should that be the norm online? Would it not be better to use the lessons learned from history to develop laws and institutions that function online? Not the exact same laws and institutions (circumstances are different), but with the same purpose: to protect the individuals’ rights. If freedom equals the absence of rule of law and democracy, I don’t think it means the same anymore.