By John Perry Barlow
"The Internet treats censorship as though it were a malfunction
and routes around it."
When Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) cofounder John Gilmore
stood before the Second Conference on Computers, Privacy, and
Freedom and uttered those brave words, I believed them. I'm not
certain I still do. Of course, they remain true-to the extent
that cyberspace exists in an end-to-end data cloud through which
any packet may travel to its address by multiple, unfiltered routes.
But increasingly, those routes are being channeled and filtered,
while their origins and ends get monitored and placed under legal
That the Internet's original absence of predetermined information
circuits and central switches had political implications was,
for some of its many fathers, a feature with intended social consequences.
I once asked one of them if he had simply been thinking of designing
a system that couldn't be decapitated by nuclear attack. "I can't
speak for the others," he said, "but I was thinking of a system
that didn't have a head." He knew, as Mitch Kapor subsequently
and succinctly put it, that "architecture is politics."
Despite concerns over the combination of governmental zeal and
cluelessness that led to the founding of EFF in 1990, I was a
strong believer in the notion that the architecture of the Internet
would always resist censorial control.
But of course, any sensible person knew even then that the great
Powers That Were-meaning, the dominant forces of the industrial
era-were not likely to stand idly by while their ability to control
information within their areas of authority melted in the Net-borne
solvent of anarchic packets. Too much was at stake.
It is true that information is power. But, more to the point,
power is information. For most of the history of humanity, the
primary method of asserting power, aside from force of arms, has
been by the control of information. Of the many revolutions to
be wrought by the Internet, the most profound lies in its long-term
capacity to degauss all of the local reality distortion fields
the mighty have spun among their subjects.
Now, all over the planet, the mighty have awakened to the threat
the Internet poses to their traditional capacities for information
control. As a consequence, even a thin summary of the institutions
currently struggling to control online information distribution-as
well as the nature of their specific immune responses-would fill
a thick book. There is suddenly a global epidemic of virtual censorship.
The Censors and Their Excuses
Generally, the entities that currently aspire to edit collective
human consciousness fall into the following broad categories:
- Local governments
- Cultural groups
- One-to-many information distributors and other legacy media
- Individual information "owners"
This would seem to be a diverse list, but my own sense-developed
out of years of battling various aspiring Net censors-is that
once one has stripped away the superficial particularities of
each censorial initiative, there remains one motivation: the retention
of power and wealth by the traditionally rich and powerful.
It is also seems that efforts to suppress material on the Internet
come from without-largely on the part of institutions and constituencies
that formed before the creation of cyberspace-and have little
direct experience in the virtual environment. With one notable
exception-those who would ban electronic junk mail-"indigenous"
digital culture seems to have a naturally libertarian disposition.
Examination of the various pretexts for proscribing information
shows that they fall into several broad categories, most of them
intentionally difficult to defend against. They are:
- Protection of children from exposure to sexual or violent material
- Prevention of the exploitation of children in the production of
child pornography by banning its distribution
- Political suppression of marginal groups-whether they be neo-Nazis
in Germany or women in Saudi Arabia
- Defense of national or commercial security-by preventing distribution
of encryption, decryption, or hacking software
- Protection of governments, corporations, and religions from destabilizing,
inflammatory, or embarrassing expressions by dissidents, whistle-blowers,
and turncoat insiders
- Limiting of the exposure of a certain culture to the expressions
of another it finds offensive, as well as access to those organizations
that defend such expressions
- Disarming of terrorists by preventing online distribution of information
about explosives or weapons manufacture and acquisition
- Reduction of the flow and consumption of illegal drugs by banning
information regarding their production or by banning positive
statements about their effects
- Prevention of communication among criminals, particularly hackers,
terrorists, and drug distributors
- Protection of governments and companies from the damaging revelation
of state or trade secrets
- Protection of privacy by regulating the exchange of personal information
- Restraint on the distribution of unsolicited solicitations, or
- Prevention of the noncommercial distribution of copyrighted material,
or what used to be called fair use
As I say, most of these goals have broad popular appeal, whether
universally or locally. Almost no one on the planet is going to
gladly proclaim the rights of kiddy pornographers, terrorists,
neo-Nazis, drug lords, spammers, or hackers. Within narrower contexts,
suppressing the expressions of gays, women, heretics, traitors,
and troublemakers is politically popular.
Indeed, despite the lip service that is paid to freedom of expression
in most parts of the world, people are generally inclined to defend
only the expressions of others like themselves, failing to recognize
that, in the words of John Stuart Mill, "Liberty resides in the
rights of that person whose views you find most odious."
There has also been, in recent years, a widespread conceptual-and
often legal-conflation of images with acts, depictions with deeds.
For many, it is not sufficient that misuse of children is illegal.
They contend that graphic expressions of such misuse must also
be prohibited, including those artificially generated images that
involve no actual children at all. By the same token, describing
how to make a bomb is seen to be the same as detonating one, detailing
the weaknesses of a computer system is as heinous as breaking
into one, and so forth.
Furthermore, very few policymakers are sufficiently Internet savvy
to recognize that when they attempt to regulate what may be expressed
online, they are "thinking locally and acting globally," imposing
their legal will on people far beyond their jurisdictions. Often,
their own constituents are as unaware of the online world as they
are. Thus, for example, the wildly unconstitutional Communications
Decency Act (CDA) was able to be enacted by the U.S. Congress
by a lopsided margin-to the apparent satisfaction of an electorate
that was still largely offline.
While it is unlikely that a similar bill could be passed by Congress
today without an outcry from a much more wired public, there are
many parts of the world where the online communities constitute
as small a percentage of the population as obtained in the U.S.
when the CDA passed.
In technologically sophisticated areas, censorial legislators
are now using speed, stealth, and obfuscation to pass suppressive
laws that would probably encounter stiffer opposition were the
public aware of their implications. As I write these words, Congress
is rushing to pass something called the Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation
Act. This bill would not only ban any online discussion of methamphetamine
manufacture but also would criminalize positive statements about
the use of methamphetamine and many other drugs, including marijuana.
Few are aware of this bill, fewer are aware of its provisions,
and, with a name like that, very few indeed are likely to publicly
oppose it. There have been a number of laws recently passed to
serve the interests of institutional copyright holders. These
laws have, in my opinion, grave consequences for the free flow
of ideas. Very few citizens are aware of the chilling implications
of, say, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which essentially
eliminates fair use in digital media.
Other, related laws-in the U.S. and elsewhere-turn copyright violations
into criminal acts, greatly lengthen the term of copyright, and
generally extend to institutions of various sorts the ability
to censor by asserting ownership. For example, Microsoft Corporation
is currently forcing the removal from Slashdot.com of embarrassing
revelations about the security weaknesses of its software on the
grounds that some of these postings quote internal documents that
This is but the latest in a series of cases in which an institution
has used intellectual property law to censor material it finds
offensive, but I will defer for a moment a discussion of the larger
relationship between current developments in copyright law and
digital freedom of expression.
The Emperor's New Clues
I would continue to be sanguine about this global outbreak of
legislative and regulatory bit-blockage, maintaining my faith
in the ability of the Net to route around it-and, more important,
in the persistent cluelessness of the oppressive-but I find that
the forces of control have become more sophisticated. No longer
can we assume that we will be spared their tyranny by their incompetence.
They're getting smarter, and, moreover, they are being aided by
various forces that, while they may be motivated more by commerce
than morality, are creating systems that can serve either agenda
Currently successful or promising methods of censorship, whether
by governments, organizations, or cultural zones, include the
Blocking of access. According to a recent report by Leonard R. Sussman, senior scholar
at Freedom House, a New York-based human rights organization,
at least 20 countries- including Cuba, Iraq, Myanmar, and North
Korea-thoroughly restrict their citizens' access to the Internet.
While this will likely change as satellites make the Internet
available to anyone with a small dish in the attic, many of these
same governments also restrict access to digital hardware in general.
In Myanmar, merely having possession of an unregistered computer
can draw a 20-year jail sentence. Meanwhile, the government of
Kazakhstan is studying Myanmar's laws and is expected to emulate
Many countries are also seeking to turn telecommunication carriers
and Internet service providers (ISPs) into the content cops of
the Internet. For example, the Swiss Federal Police Bureau recently
proposed setting rules aimed at controlling racist and pornographic
material on the Internet as well as at keeping organized crime
and white-collar crime offline. Under the proposed rules, Swiss
Internet service providers would be required to block their customers
from accessing any sites proscribed by Swiss authorities. Even
placing the telecoms and ISPs in charge of controlling access
may not be terribly effective, since proscribed material may be
easily transferred to new sites-in a digital shell game that is
faster than the observational capacities of the censors. Consider,
for example, the explosive proliferation of international sites
carrying the German magazine Radikal after the German government prohibited it on any site within
Germany's borders. No German ISP could have kept up with the growth
of new-and often disguised-repositories of Radikal.
Global cybercrime accords. In the Radikal case, freedom was preserved by the inability of the German government
to effectively extend its authority beyond its borders. This seems
about to change. Using the recent outbreak of the love bug virus
as their justification, the Group of Eight industrial nations
convened a mid-May conference in Paris to create, according to
French interior minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement, "a world convention
on cybercrime and to harmonize their laws to crack down on hackers,
virus writers, software pirates,and other Internet fraudsters."
Chevenement and others attending the three-day conference called
for an international cyberregime, consisting of governmental and
corporate institutions that would prevent the creation of safe
zones for "illicit content or criminal activities" on the Internet.
"It is time," said Chevenement-in a phrase that should quicken
aging hearts everywhere-"to restrain the excesses of an unfettered
freedom" in cyberspace. G8 leaders are expected to take up the
conference's recommendations at their annual meeting in July in
But of course, the love bug was especially frustrating because
it originated in the Philippines, a country that has no laws covering
illicit computer behavior. Thus, the industrial powers are suddenly
eager that the authorities in technologically unsophisticated
nations put into place laws, enforcement systems, and information
prohibitions that those authorities themselves may not understand.
I have heard numerous reports recently from developing nations
that the G8 nations- most notably the United States-are pushing
hard for the passage of stern cybercrime laws as well as for the
installation of radical new surveillance technologies. One of
these, recently seen on sale at a cybercrime meeting in Norway,
would enable law enforcement officials to implant undetectable
Trojan horses in e-mail attachments that, once in place, could
scan for any proscribed activity and make clandestine reports
to the authorities every time the user went online.
Of course, once a government has put such granular cybercrime
detection systems into place, the systems may be easily put to
the task of looking for any material that might be deemed offensive.
Worse, if the American government prevails in its efforts, it
will install a global system for censorship so that no country
could provide safe haven for any kind of information that discomforts
certain stiff old men in Washington.
Filtering. It is a great irony that the Platform for Internet Content Selection
(PICS) standard, upon which most filtering is based, was originally
devised to ward off government censorship by enabling families
to filter out material they deemed inappropriate for their children.
It was not anticipated that such "families" as the People's Republic
of China, large corporations, or embattled public libraries would
find it equally useful. In any instance in which Internet traffic
into and out of an area can be constrained to one channel, that
channel can be filtered to pass only expressions considered inoffensive
by those who control the channel.
Often, the determination of what is appropriate is made not by
the authority imposing the filter but by the commercial creator
of the filtering software. Most of the providers of such software
don't reveal what sites are actually being blocked by their filters,
thereby proscribing more than their customers may wish. In addition
to blocking pornography, for example, many commercial filters
also block access to Web sites that promote free expression.
Ratings systems. A particularly insidious new form of censorship is being developed
in Europe in the form of a system that would classify and rate
Web sites according to whether or not they contain potentially
offensive sexual, political, or violent material. The rating initiative
is being driven by the Bertelsmann Group with legal assistance
from Yale Law School. According to its proponents, the ratings
system would ward off official censorship by setting up a system
of "voluntary" standards for evaluating the material Web publishers
may place on their sites, in much the same way that film ratings
by the Motion Picture Association of America have prevented government
censorship of American movies.
The analogy is unfortunate. While it may be possible to set standards
for American movies within the cultural standards of the United
States, the Internet is a global communications environment. What
might be an offensively explicit sexual site under American or
Saudi Arabian standards might be considered quite tamein Sweden.
By the same token, Americans are quite comfortable with depictions
of violence that would be considered excessive almost everywhere
else in the world. Furthermore, once sites have begun to rate
themselves, it is a simple matter for censors of whatever sort
to make compulsory what might remain voluntary elsewhere. The
well-intentioned designers of the proposed ratings systems would
do well to study the lessons of PICS in this regard.
Finally, in accordance with the ever-useful follow-the-money rule,
I think it worth nothing what entities are driving the filtering
initiative. They are the major old media, Eurocrats, Yale, and
other artifacts of the industrial period. Whether wittingly or
not, they may be using ratings as a means of prolonging their
attenuating longevities. That is, the use of ratings systems naturally
drives expression toward traditional forms that fit easily into
the categories being designed by those who are paying for their
development. CNN.com is easy to rate. But what about Slashdot.com?
Alteration of the architecture. Back in the days when the technical architecture of the Internet
was being designed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF),
we could take comfort in the essentially libertarian culture of
that "technarchy." Their decisions, motivated by a sense of engineering
elegance as well as by a desire to see that packets flowed as
freely and swiftly across cyberspace as possible, resulted in
the end-to-end system that has so successfully resisted censorial
control to this point. Most of them were academics and were thus
free to serve their personal consciences rather than the economic
goals of their employers.
This is now changing. Increasingly, the members of the IETF, of
the World Wide Web Consortium, of the newly formed Internet Corporation
of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), and of other standards-setting
bodies represent so-called stakeholders-corporate entities from
the Internet industry-rather than individual Netizens or objective
engineers and scientists.
In their quest for market share, corporations are naturally motivated
to pursue standards that will direct traffic through their networks,
servers, or operating systems. In each of these areas, troubling
monopolies have formed. More than 80 percent of all of the routers
in the world are made by Cisco Systems. Nearly half of all the
servers on the Internet run Microsoft NT. A very high percentage
of all packets travel through networks owned by WorldCom/MCI or
AT&T. Despite the emergence of ICANN, Network Solutions continues
to dominate top-level domain-name registration.
Any one of those companies is now in a position to unilaterally
redefine the underlying elements of Internet architecture to its
own commercial advantage. For example, if Microsoft decided to
"extend and improve" the TCP/IP protocol so that Microsoft-"flavored"
packets flowed more swiftly through NT servers, the resulting
commercial advantage would eventually put Bill Gates in a position
of control over the flow of information. Given Microsoft's current
efforts to censor expression on Slashdot.com, this is not a power
I would care to entrust to him.
Meanwhile, pioneer Internet architect David Reed recently brought
to my attention a Wall Street Journal article describing a new
Internet consortium composed of Nortel Networks, AT&T, Qwest Communications
International, Sun Microsystems, BT, and NBC that is setting standards
for broadband networks. According to the article, "Part of the
group's planned technology would enable high-bandwidth networks
to identify the Web user." The resulting opportunities for censoring
the expressions of such users are obvious.
This is only one of many initiatives that would move us away from
the end-to-end, packet-switched model-the model to which John
Gilmore referred in his quote at the beginning of this article-and
toward a circuit-switched network rather like the phone system
the Internet is replacing.
While the goals of these initiatives may be well-intentioned-real-time
video interactions, reductions in latency to serve voice-over
Internet protocol-the eventual effect likely could be the conversion
of the data cloud into a complex of predetermined routes that
would be easily monitored and censored either by those who operated
them or by the governments within whose jurisdictions they operated.
The problem is that all of these potential threats are of a highly
technical nature and are being discussed in forums and formats
that may be inaccessible to those most concerned with protecting
their future liberties. Nevertheless, it is incumbent on those
of us who want to pass on to our descendants a free cyberspace
that we maintain an awareness of the decisions being made by these
new corporate Internet architects.
Surveillance and fear. It is often unnecessary to restrict access to the Net or to
filter it in order to suppress both free expression and contact
with it. There are innumerable current examples of efforts-official
and private-to monitor Internet traffic. These include everything
from the National Security Administration's Echelon project to
current efforts by Britain's MI5 and Home Office to monitor <I>all
</I>e-mail in the United Kingdom, to Metallica's compiling a list
of all Napster users who have digitized copies of its songs. While
the Internet greatly enables private communications, the fact
that all of cyberspace is subject to automatic and rapid search
makes it one of the most easily surveilled environments humans
have ever inhabited.
It might be argued that surveillance and censorship are separate
matters, but they are not. As Louis Brandeis pointed out in his
historic dissent in U.S. v. Olmstead, the case that enabled wiretapping in the United States, the
ability to communicate privately and without fear is essential
to ensure freedom of expression. The mere possibility that one's
words are being secretly monitored by censorial authorities produces
a climate of fear.
The area in which this form of censorship is used most often and
effectively is in the workplace. Slightly over half of American
companies now routinely monitor their employees' e-mail, Web surfing,
or both. One might argue that observing the sites they visit is
not censorship, but I would strongly disagree. Freedom depends
not only on the ability to speak but also on the ability to be
heard. When employees of an organization-or citizens of a country-believe
that accessing certain material may endanger either their livelihoods
or their lives, the creators of that material are effectively
censored. Indeed, it often seems the case that the best way to
silence expression is to deafen the potential audience.
Of course, if censorship is related to the visibility of communications,
to browsing behavior, or to the files one stores on one's own
computer, then official policies regarding cryptography also play
a key role in censorship. The current global situation regarding
official policies toward encryption is now extremely confusing.
In December 1998, the Clinton Administration managed to bully
the 33 member nations of the Wassenaar Arrangement into signing
an agreement that bound them all to uphold the same strict (and
unenforceable) embargo on the export of strong encryption technology
that had dominated U.S. encryption policy since the height of
the Cold War. This was particularly surprising, since several
of the Wassenaar countries, notably Germany, had vowed publicly
that they would not place any restrictions on encryption.
Shortly following this agreement, America's own ban on encryption
export was overruled in federal court and then formally rescinded
by the Clinton Administration this past spring after many years
of battle between civil libertarians and both the National Security
Administration and the FBI. On the other hand, the Wassenaar Agreement
remains apparently in effect, leaving open the question of what
principles the U.S. government will uphold in this area, as well
as of what it expects of the other member nations.
Meanwhile, the governments of France and numerous other nations
maintain an outright ban on the use or possession of strong encryption.
Whether this applies to proprietary media players is not known.
Weirder yet, the United Kingdom has proposed the Regulation of
Investigatory Powers statute, which would compel citizens to decrypt
any file that a law enforcement official believes to contain data
needed for an investigation. Those who failed to do so and could
not prove that they had lost, forgotten, or destroyed the presumed
key could face two years in jail.
Even while the authorities in some areas are attempting to prevent
the hiding of offensive materials through the use of encryption,
another form of encryption-related censorship has arisen in the
United States: the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The
DMCA not only encourages entertainment companies to use strong
encryption in the protection of their copyrighted products but
also criminalizes efforts to break these codes as well as the
possession of any tools designed for that purpose.
Last year a young Norwegian programmer created a program, DeCSS,
that broke the copy protection code used on digital video disks
(DVDs). His purpose was not to make possible the wholesale piracy
of DVD-stored films but rather to address the fact that the members
of the DVD Copy Control Association-an entertainment industry
cooperative loosely affiliated with the Motion Picture Association
of America (MPAA)-had failed to provide drivers that would make
it possible to play DVDs on Linux systems. Only by breaking the
protection code could such a driver be written.
In the fashion of the open-source community, DeCSS was widely
distributed on the Internet. Shortly following this, every site
where it could be found in the United States was ferreted out
by the MPAA and charged with criminal violation of the DMCA. That
proscribing this code might be an unconstitutional violation of
expression apparently never occurred to Congress or the MPAA.
But there are now several court battles under way to demonstrate
legally that DeCSS is a form of speech and that efforts to prohibit
it as a criminal instrument should be struck down.
Despite the disparate legal horsepower of the contesting parties-Congress,
the MPAA, and the record industry against the EFF, 2600 magazine, and a disparate group of Linux weenies-it may be that
being right still counts for something. As this is being written,
the EFF has succeeded in overcoming an MPAA motion to censor publicity
about the New York trial itself. Showing astonishingly low regard
for free expression, the MPAA had attempted to bar the press from
reporting on the proceedings and to require the participants to
refrain from public discussion of them.
The Ultimate Censorship
The DeCSS case is almost certainly a harbinger of what I would
consider to be the defining battle of censorship in cyberspace.
In my opinion, this will not be fought over pornography, neo-Nazism,
bomb design, blasphemy, or political dissent. Instead, the Armageddon
of digital control, the real death match between the Party of
the Past and Party of the Future, will be fought over copyright.
The Party of the Past seeks to turn all existing human creation
into mere property. Not only does this debase human creativity;
it is also economically inefficient, it diminishes the fertility
of the creative ecosystem, and, finally, it can be done only by
fundamentally curtailing freedom of expression. But you can't own free speech.
During the time since Gutenberg made possible the industrialized
distribution of information, a large number of powerful institutions
have arisen worldwide to serve that purpose. And they have served
it well. From 1500 to 1969, they provided almost the only media
by which individuals could transmit their beliefs, expressions,
and creative works to the masses, in whose minds they desired
to plant the seeds of new thought.
Indeed, most creators were so desirous of proliferating their
works that they were willing to convey the ownership of those
works to the distributors. Originally, what was being conveyed
was not considered property but rather the exclusive rightto undertake
commercial distribution of an expression for a limited period
Interestingly, during the brief period since the Internet began
empowering individuals with the ability to spread their works
over a broad area of mind without using the traditional intermediaries,
there has been a dramatic increase in the terms of copyright licenses
worldwide, and the expression intellectual property has become popular.
Practically every piece of commercially valuable art, literature,
music, and scientific discovery that has been created during the
past century or so is now owned by those traditional distribution
institutions-publishers, record companies, entertainment conglomerates,
broadcasters, film studios, universities, scientific journals,
and a host of other entities whose primary creative talents reside
in their accounting and legal departments.
All of those institutions properly regard the Internet as their
eventual undoing. There is almost no service of value that any
of them provide that cannot be performed over the Internet more
efficiently, more rapidly, and with far greater profit and control
extended to the actually creative. Knowing this, they are clutching
ever more tightly their only remaining assets: the expressions
of millions who no longer own their own creations.
As I write this, a debate is raging over Napster.com, a pioneering
site that indexes the music files on millions of personal hard
disks so subscribers can exchange music directly. Of course, much
of this music is copyrighted, and the music industry (and a few
actual musicians) are extremely distressed at the potential loss.
The industry is working on shutting Napster down despite the fact
that there is no copyrighted material being stored on its site,
and the industry will probably prevail by sheer legal force.
The legal community has so far failed to address what is most
fundamental here, namely, that there has arisen a profound disparity
between accepted social practice-the behavior of millions of people
who made Napster one of the fastest-growing phenomena in the history
of the Internet-and a body of law that would declare all of them
Only the most brutal autarchies are capable of enforcing laws
that almost none of their constituents instinctively support,
and, in the long run, it will be no different here. The ethical
standards emerging in cyberspace support the widespread, noncommercial
sharing of copyrighted expression, and both the law and the economic
models that support creative work will eventually adapt to that
reality. Furthermore, the traditional distribution institutions
will almost certainly either die or be transformed into entities
that actually promote the spread of expression rather than constrain
Nevertheless, they could cause great harm on their way down. They
may be capable of imposing the ultimate censorship, denying posterity
most of the important works of the past 150 years. In their increasingly
draconian efforts to prevent the wildfire digital reproduction
of their property, they will likely ensure that the works they
now own are not converted into open digital form and that those
works that have been digitized are removed from cyberspace. Meanwhile,
the traditional physical media in which those works are currently
embedded will deteriorate, become lost, or run out of still-operating
devices capable of extracting their contents.
By these means, the media giants might well go to their graves
with all that they still own forever embedded in the corpses and
lost to future generations. This process has already begun. Every
day thousands of people decide not to risk digitizing and making
works generally available because of the fear they may draw the
attention of the copyright police. Given the immense amount of
material in question, the conversion process will require the
collective endeavors of everyone who is interested in preserving
particular works. If the public is legally dissuaded from lending
its efforts to the task, only those works already in the public
domain will be digitized.
But works from the more recent past will be lost. Books and journals
will forever go out of print and be forgotten. Music will remain
imprisoned on LPs that no one can play. Filmstrips will rot into
brittle shards of celluloid. In a hundred years, no one will know
that much of the work we now treasure ever existed.
Of all the censorship efforts undertaken by the various institutions
mentioned earlier, it is this last example-censorship to protect
the property rights of the moribund-that I fear the most. It must
not be allowed to take place.
Ultimately, I'm optimistic. I have believed, since I first came
upon the Internet, that one day it would enable any people, anywhere,
to express whatever they wished-distributing their expressions
to all who were interested and ensuring their posterity-without
fear of punishment or censure. I have believed that the Internet
promises humanity more freedom of expression than we have ever
experienced and that the fruits of that freedom will transform
our species into one great and God-like Mind. I have realistic
hope for a future in which economic productivity is vastly amplified
by knowledge, in which inequities in distribution are leveled,
and in which the meek might outthink the mighty.
I still believe in that future despite all of the efforts to forestall
it that I've touched on here. I believe in it because I believe
that the ripe force of unconstrained creativity is already working
on methods to preserve itself. Even though Napster will probably
be crushed, there are already new methods for storing and sharing
proscribed materials, such as Gnutella and Freenet, that have
no centralized servers or legally vulnerable entities to shut
down. Moreover, there are already data havens springing up where
rogue governments are defying the G8 and allowing servers within
their boundaries to contain any information the users wish to
place on it.
Mostly, I believe in that future because I fully expect most of
the human species to have Internet access within the next decade.
Once that has happened, the Party of the Past will lose its currently
unwired constituencies, and there will be few left who believe
the excuses it still uses to mute the human spirit.
Indeed, I believe that eventually the truth really will set us free.