On Free Speech and the Rule of Law

In the past few weeks a lot of people have been forcibly denying Internet service to a lot of other people for political reasons that each attacker thinks are valid. I don't think there's any possible moral justification for this behaviour and I'd like to offer some reasons why both sides ought to cut it out. So if you're pro-Wikileaks and think anyone who won't provide them services is evil, or if you're anti-Wikileaks and you think that anyone who will provide them services is evil, and if you're participating in denial of service attacks on either basis, please listen.

Free Speech

Some say that Wikileaks is a journalist deserving "freedom of the press" but many others don't agree. People on both sides of the issue have now participated in "denial of service" attacks, against Wikileaks and those companies who provide services to Wikileaks, or against those who refuse to provide services to Wikileaks. These opposite ideological camps are far more similar than they may realize, and I hope that these similarities make the two camps as uncomfortable as they make me.

  1. both sides are willing to inflict collateral damage on innocent third parties and can offer arguments as to why their cause warrants this;
  2. each side thinks the other is evil and must be opposed and that the rule of law is neither fast enough nor effective enough to get the job done;
  3. both sides believe that the other side must not be allowed to communicate normally with customers, suppliers, supporters, etc.

I see no free speech advocates here. Both sides are committing censorship in the worst and ugliest sense of that term. Neither side can tolerate an open market of ideas or freedom of association. Neither side upholds the rule of law. This is an attempt at mob rule -- by both sides.

Rule of Law

John Adams wrote that "the very definition of a republic is 'an empire of laws, and not of men.'" Perhaps in some parts of the world, public affairs and even private affairs are ruled by men. But in the industrialized modern western world that has built most of the Internet infrastructure as we know it today, human affairs are ruled by law. Somehow we're willing to forget this in the heat of our political passions. The Internet has always had a distinct cultural "wild west" feel to it, and many of the world's laws aren't easily applicable here. But, we all remain citizens of our respective nations, and we live mostly in nations ruled by law. The Internet must reflect this also.

Denial of service is not merely a peaceful protest meant to garner attention for a cause. Denial of service is forcible and it is injurious. It is not like any form of civil disobedience, but rather it is criminal behaviour more like looting.

So if you find yourself marching along with a torch bearing mob, think it over, think about the rule of law and what kind of Internet you want for yourself and for future generations. Mob rule may be within your grasp, but you should be careful what you wish for.