As we celebrate one Independence Day, I can’t help but think of another Declaration of Independence. This one was delivered in Davos, Switzerland on February 8, 1996. Like the American Declaration of Independence, the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace repudiated the sovereignty of the old power and asserted the authority of the new. As with the revolutionary document of 1776, conflict soon followed its issuance. However, the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace did not usher in a new era. It may rather have been a last defiant gesture in the face of crushing defeat. Penned by John Perry Barlow, the Declaration told nation-states that they had no place in Cyberspace:
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.
It told them they could not restrain free expression in Cyberspace:
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.
It even declared (perhaps to the horror of IRS agents, intellectual property attorneys, and fashion designers everywhere):
Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us.
Eleven years later, the walled garden of the Chinese Internet is a reality, assisted by American companies. The National Security Agency monitors the Internet, and it is well understood that intellectual property rights are being vigorously defended on the Internet. The only question is who should bear the burden of doing the policing. The revolution is dead.