The Internet: The Infrastructure of Democracy
  A Civil Society Manifesto from the Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security
  10 March 2005. The Government of Spain is currently hosting the "International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security" that takes place in Madrid from 8-11 March 2005. The summit is one more attempt to discuss how to fight terrorism without restricting human rights and endangering the fundamental values of democracy. Another important event in this direction was the Council of Europe's "Declaration on freedom of expression and information in the media in the context of the fight against terrorism", adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 2 March 2005.

Some civil society people at the Madrid summit, including Joi Ito , Marc Rotenberg, John Perry Barlow, Wendy Seltzer and others, have worked all day yesterday drafting a document they have called "The Infrastructure of Democracy". The key idea is nicely phrased in the very first subtitle: "The Internet is a foundation of democratic society in the 21st century, because the core values of the Internet and democracy are so closely aligned." It nicely fits into both the discussions around human rights and civil liberties in the "war on terrorism" and around Internet governance.

They group is now asking for feedback. The drafting and commenting process is taking place on the Global Voices wiki. We document the draft below and encourage our readers to take part in further discussions and work around this.

The Infrastructure of Democracy: Strengthening the Open Internet for a Safer World
March 11, 2005

The Internet is a foundation of democratic society in the 21st century, because the core values of the Internet and democracy are so closely aligned.

  • The Internet is fundamentally about openness, participation, and freedom of expression for all -- increasing the diversity and reach of information and ideas.
  • The Internet allows people to communicate and collaborate across borders and belief systems.
  • The Internet unites families and cultures in diaspora; it connects people, helping them to form civil societies.
  • The Internet can foster economic development by connecting people to information and markets.
  • The Internet introduces new ideas and views to those who may be isolated and prone to political violence.
  • The Internet is neither above nor below the law. The same legal principles that apply in the physical world also apply to human activities conducted over the Internet.

Decentralized systems -- the power of many -- can combat decentralized foes.

  • Terrorist networks are highly decentralized and distributed. A centralized effort by itself cannot effectively fight terrorism.
  • Terrorism is everyone's issue. The internet connects everyone. A connected citizenry is the best defense against terrorist propaganda.
  • As we saw in the aftermath of the March 11 bombing, response was spontaneous and rapid because the citizens were able to use the Internet to organize themselves.
  • As we are seeing in the distributed world of weblogs and other kinds of citizen media, truth emerges best in open conversation among people with divergent views.

The best response to abuses of openness is more openness.

  • Open, transparent environments are more secure and more stable than closed, opaque ones.
  • While Internet services can be interrupted, the Internet as a global system is ultimately resilient to attacks, even sophisticated and widely distributed ones.
  • The connectedness of the Internet - people talking with people - counters the divisiveness terrorists are trying to create.
  • The openness of the Internet may be exploited by terrorists, but as with democratic governments, openness minimizes the likelihood of terrorist acts and enables effective responses to terrorism.

Well-meaning regulation of the Internet in established democracies could threaten the development of emerging democracies.

  • Terrorism cannot destroy the internet, but over-zealous legislation in response to terrorism could. Governments should consider mandating changes to core Internet functionality only with extraordinary caution.
  • Some government initiatives that look reasonable in fact violate the basic principles that have made the Internet a success.
  • For example, several interests have called for an end to anonymity. This would be highly unlikely to stop determined terrorists, but it would have a chilling effect on political activity and thereby reduce freedom and transparency. Limiting anonymity would have a cascading series of unintended results that would hurt freedom of expression, especially in countries seeking transition to democratic rule.

In conclusion we urge those gathered here in Madrid to:

  • Embrace the open Internet as a foundation of 21st Century democracy, and a critical tool in the fight against terrorism.
  • Recognizing the Internet's value as a critical communications infrastructure, invest to strengthen it against attacks and recover quickly from damage.
  • Work to spread access more evenly, aggressively addressing the Digital Divide, and to provide Internet access for all.
  • To protect free speech and association, endorse the availability of anonymous communications for all.
  • Resist attempts at international governance of the Internet: It can introduce processes that have unintended effects and violate the bottom-up democratic nature of the Net.


This document was drafted by participants in the Madrid Conference on Terrorism, Democracy and Security. For more information on the conference, please see the Safe Democracy website. The discussion sessions that led to this draft were broadcast via IRC - transcripts of that session are available: Morning Session, Afternoon Session.


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