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Cyberspace Declaration of Independence

By John Perry Barlow
   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 Cyberspace."
   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
   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 or conformity.
   Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and
   context do not apply to us. They are based on matter, There is no
   matter here.
   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 bit-bearing media.
   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.
   John Perry Barlow
   Davos, Switzerland
   February 8, 1996