Yesterday, that great invertebrate in the White House signed into the law
the Telecom "Reform" Act of 1996, while Tipper Gore took digital
photographs of the proceedings to be included in a book called "24 Hours in
I had also been asked to participate in the creation of this book by
writing something appropriate to the moment. Given the atrocity that this
legislation would seek to inflict on the Net, I decided it was as good a
time as any to dump some tea in the virtual harbor.
After all, the Telecom "Reform" Act, passed in the Senate with only 5
dissenting votes, makes it unlawful, and punishable by a $250,000 to say
"shit" online. Or, for that matter, to say any of the other 7 dirty words
prohibited in broadcast media. Or to discuss abortion openly. Or to talk
about any bodily function in any but the most clinical terms.
It attempts to place more restrictive constraints on the conversation in
Cyberspace than presently exist in the Senate cafeteria, where I have dined
and heard colorful indecencies spoken by United States senators on every
occasion I did.
This bill was enacted upon us by people who haven't the slightest idea who
we are or where our conversation is being conducted. It is, as my good
friend and Wired Editor Louis Rossetto put it, as though "the illiterate
could tell you what to read."
Well, fuck them.
Or, more to the point, let us now take our leave of them. They have
declared war on Cyberspace. Let us show them how cunning, baffling, and
powerful we can be in our own defense.
I have written something (with characteristic grandiosity) that I hope will
become one of many means to this end. If you find it useful, I hope you
will pass it on as widely as possible. You can leave my name off it if you
like, because I don't care about the credit. I really don't.
But I do hope this cry will echo across Cyberspace, changing and growing
and self-replicating, until it becomes a great shout equal to the idiocy
they have just inflicted upon us.
I give you...
A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace
Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I
come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask
you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have
no sovereignty where we gather.
We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address
you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always
speaks. I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally
independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral
right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true
reason to fear.
Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. You
have neither solicited nor received ours. We did not invite you. You do not
know us, nor do you know our world. Cyberspace does not lie within your
borders. Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a public
construction project. You cannot. It is an act of nature and it grows
itself through our collective actions.
You have not engaged in our great and gathering conversation, nor did you
create the wealth of our marketplaces. You do not know our culture, our
ethics, or the unwritten codes that already provide our society more order
than could be obtained by any of your impositions.
You claim there are problems among us that you need to solve. You use this
claim as an excuse to invade our precincts. Many of these problems don't
exist. Where there are real conflicts, where there are wrongs, we will
identify them and address them by our means. We are forming our own Social
Contract . This governance will arise according to the conditions of our
world, not yours. Our world is different.
Cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself,
arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications. Ours is a
world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live.
We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice
accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.
We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her
beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence
Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and
context do not apply to us. They are based on matter, There is no matter
Our identities have no bodies, so, unlike you, we cannot obtain order by
physical coercion. We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest,
and the commonweal, our governance will emerge . Our identities may be
distributed across many of your jurisdictions. The only law that all our
constituent cultures would generally recognize is the Golden Rule. We hope
we will be able to build our particular solutions on that basis. But we
cannot accept the solutions you are attempting to impose.
In the United States, you have today created a law, the Telecommunications
Reform Act, which repudiates your own Constitution and insults the dreams
of Jefferson, Washington, Mill, Madison, DeToqueville, and Brandeis. These
dreams must now be born anew in us.
You are terrified of your own children, since they are natives in a world
where you will always be immigrants. Because you fear them, you entrust
your bureaucracies with the parental responsibilities you are too cowardly
to confront yourselves. In our world, all the sentiments and expressions of
humanity, from the debasing to the angelic, are parts of a seamless whole,
the global conversation of bits. We cannot separate the air that chokes
from the air upon which wings beat.
In China, Germany, France, Russia, Singapore, Italy and the United States,
you are trying to ward off the virus of liberty by erecting guard posts at
the frontiers of Cyberspace. These may keep out the contagion for a small
time, but they will not work in a world that will soon be blanketed in
Your increasingly obsolete information industries would perpetuate
themselves by proposing laws, in America and elsewhere, that claim to own
speech itself throughout the world. These laws would declare ideas to be
another industrial product, no more noble than pig iron. In our world,
whatever the human mind may create can be reproduced and distributed
infinitely at no cost. The global conveyance of thought no longer requires
your factories to accomplish.
These increasingly hostile and colonial measures place us in the same
position as those previous lovers of freedom and self-determination who had
to reject the authorities of distant, uninformed powers. We must declare
our virtual selves immune to your sovereignty, even as we continue to
consent to your rule over our bodies. We will spread ourselves across the
Planet so that no one can arrest our thoughts.
We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more
humane and fair than the world your governments have made before.
February 8, 1996
John Perry Barlow, Cognitive Dissident
Co-Founder, Electronic Frontier Foundation
It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can
stand by itself.--Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia