CIRCA:A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace (by John Perry Barlow)


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John Perry Barlow is an American poet and essayist and one of the founders (alongside Mitch Kapor and John Gilmore) of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) – which is “an international non-profit digital rights advocacy and legal organization based in the United States,” formed in 1990 (Wikipedia). Barlow wrote "A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace" in February of 1996 as a response to the Communications Decency Act of 1996 which the EFF considered “a threat to the independency and sovereignty of cyberspace” (Wikipedia).

  • The Communications Decency Act sought to regulate/restrict pornography on the internet.
  • Two significant outcomes: the regulation of “indecency” and “obscenity in cyberspace,” and distinguished “operators of Internet services” from “publishers” (Wikipedia).

Quotes from Barlow’s Declaration:

“I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you [Governments of the Industrial World] 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.”

“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.”

  • So, Barlow considers cyberspace outside the jurisdiction of Industrial World’s governments.

“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.”

“We are forming our own Social Contract.”

  • involves ideas of autonomy, collectivity, and legality

“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.”

  • lack of embodiment and boundaries (refer to CATaC for discussions of embodiment)

“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 all based on matter, and there is no matter here.”

“We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonweal, our governance will emerge.”

“The only law that all our constituent cultures would generally recognize is the Golden Rule.” He insults the Telecommunications Reform Act (of which the Communications Decency Act is a section), a law passed in 1996 in the United States.

“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.”

  • almost sounds like an allegorical manifesto

“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.”

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