THE BLOG

To Protect the Most Fundamental Rights of Internet Users, We Must Always Be Skeptical of Any Call for Regulation

13/04/2015 09:10 | Updated 30 December 2015

beyondtheballot

The Internet is the largest knowledge base that has ever existed. Its rapid development became possible greatly due to its unregulated nature at its starting point. The "anarchical" character of the Internet allowed all users to contribute their share of knowledge and make it accessible to other users around the world. The vision of Wikipedia is based on this simple, yet revolutionary, concept of allowing free and unlimited access to the sum of all human knowledge.

As knowledge is the most fundamental tool to free people from having their rights and freedoms infringed, this vision has become a great source of hope to oppressed people all over the world. At the same time, it has become one of the greatest sources of fear to oppressive regimes. When knowledge is accessible to everyone, it is much harder to control the people by imposing false consciousness of limited choices. When information is quickly communicated on social media platforms with no governmental command, revolutions have better chances to succeed. When the Internet connects the world to a small global village, human rights violations are less likely to hide unnoticed in the dark.

When considering the issue of regulating the Internet, we must not overlook the possible harmful implications of even seemingly minor regulation. Every governmental intervention carries with it limitation of personal rights, whether its primarily aim is to serve the governments' interests and control or even where it is limited solely to the legitimate purpose of protecting and serving the citizens themselves.

The danger to personal freedoms is clear where local Internet regulations allow China, for instance, to block access to politically sensitive Wikipedia pages, such as the entry on Tiananmen Square protests. Such regulation serves solely the interest of the Chinese authorities on the expense of the people's right to information. Similarly, policies that allow wide censorship of news website and private blogs, act directly against the best interest of the public while serving no cause other than the enforcement of excessive governmental control. These regulations and policies should be fought against no less determinedly than any other human rights violations practiced by dark oppressive regimes.

However, even milder regulations by progressive democratic governments must be observed skeptically. Regulation that allows governmental inspection over private users' logs, severely compromises the privacy rights of unlimited online users. Such is the case of the NSA's surveillance programs, revealed by Edward Snowden. Likewise, regulation that allows state authorities to retrieve and retain private personal information from email providers, hosts of private blogs and social networking sites, dramatically limits freedom of expression, even while being restricted by legal safeguards.

Indeed, governments have a role in allowing safe use of the Internet for the benefit of all common users. Nevertheless, security protection and cybercrime prevention should not be used as easy justifications to excessive restriction of privacy rights and personal freedoms. In order to protect the most fundamental rights of Internet users, we must always be skeptical of any call for regulation. Current regulation must also be carefully and durably observed for any unnoticed expansion of its implementation. The Big Brother will always want to collect more information about us in order to gain power and control. We should not make it easy on him.

Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia and Orit Kopel, CEO of the Jimmy Wales Foundation for freedom of expression.