Personal tools


One Planet
Volume 19, Number 3 The CPSR Newsletter Summer 2001

One Planet, One Net -
Fall 1997 (Volume 15 No. 4)

by Nathaniel Borenstein - CPSR Board

Editor Note: The E-mail addresses and URLs that are contained in the original article are may no longer be valid. I am leaving them in for historical accuracy. AHN

To kick off CPSR's 1997 program focusing on Internet governance, the CPSR board has embarked on the somewhat arduous task of defining a set of general principles that should underlie all future attempts to structure the governance of the Internet. After an initial drafting by CPSR board members Nathaniel Borenstein and Harry Hochheiser, the set of principles was further modified by the entire CPSR board at it meeting on October 3, 1997. The resulting document was unveiled in public at the CPSR annual meeting on October 5, and for electronic discussion on cpsr-activists and cpsr-cyber-rights mailing lists.

The following version is the October 29 draft, reflecting the first two weeks of comments on the document. This will be the first version of the document to be published as an Internet draft document in the IETF publication process, with comments solicited from all interested parties. Further drafts will be refined on the basis of these comments. The Board aims to publish the final version of the declaration as an Internet RFC in summer, 1998.

All comments on this document are welcome; please send them to: Open discussion of this documents on the onenet-discuss mailing list, which is archived at:

Principles for the Internet Era

The emergence of the Internet presents enormous opportunities and challenges to humanity. If we act carefully, we can ensure that the Net will be used to change the human condition for the better, and can prevent or mitigate its less desirable consequences.

For our global community to reach its potential in this networked world, certain principles must be understood and respected as we consider the more detailed daily questions that arise in the administration or governance of the Net. We believe that among these principles are the following:

  1. There is only one Net.
  2. The Net must be open and available to all.
  3. People have the right to communicate.
  4. People have the right to privacy.
  5. People are the Net's stewards, not its owners.
  6. No individuals, organizations, or governments should dominate the Net.
  7. The Net should reflect human diversity, not homogenize it.


The Internet is more than its constituent components--synergistically more than a combination of wires, computers, software, modems, routers, standards, and the applications that use them. The Net is the total of all of these, plus the collective knowledge and experience of a set of communities that have already experienced years of technical and social development and growth. The Internet is a unique conglomeration, with its own modes of interaction, languages of discourse, and cultural expression.

As the Net has grown, its nature has continually changed, reflecting the growing set of communities that have embraced Internet technology. This will continue to be the case as more and more of humanity uses the Net on a regular basis. The Net's American origin has shaped its development in many ways, but the Internet is larger than one single country, and over time may be expected to retain some aspects of its American origins, such as its open and democratic character, while rejecting others, such as the degree to which the use of English is required to make optimal use of the Net.

1. There is only one Net.

The nature of human beings, and the nature of their use of computing and networking technology, fundamentally demands interconnection. While there will continue to be occasional roles for separate networks, the overall dynamic will be for networks to join together to enhance their usefulness, and the most useful network will be the globally interconnected Net. People will demand the increased utility that comes from being universally connected. Because the flow of information on the Net transcends national boundaries, any restrictions within a single country may act to limit the freedom of those in other countries as well.

This does not imply that all Net access will be identical. Some Internet-connected networks will provide higher levels of service, or service guarantees. For better or worse, others may restrict certain categories of inter-network access in the name of security or user protection. Because they allow their users to participate in such global services as email and Web access, such networks are clearly a part of the larger Net, even though their restrictions may be ill-advised or harmful.

2. The Net must be open and available to all

There's not a second Net for minorities, dissidents, or prisoners, and if there were, it wouldn't be as useful because it wouldn't be as big and interconnected as the Internet. If a group were to be banned completely from the Internet, its ability to flourish in future society would be seriously threatened. For this reason, the rights of minorities are even more important in cyberspace than in the physical world, where emigration is at least sometimes an option.

The Net must be available to all who wish to use it, regardless of economic, social, political, linguistic, or cultural differences or disabilities. Any legislative or practical barriers that limit access to the Net will isolate those who are denied access while diminishing the value of the Net for all others, by limiting its ability to reflect the diversity of humanity.

3. People have the right to communicate

The right to communicate--that is, the right to exchange information with others--is fundamentally the right to be able to work together with other people in order to shape events and outcomes. It is predicated on the right of individuals to hold any belief, and to convey their ideas to others in any form they deem appropriate.

Because everything that flows over the Net is information, every use of the Net is inherently an exercise of freedom of speech, to be restricted only at great peril to human liberty. Such free expression becomes virtually meaningless if access to that expression is not itself protected.

The right to communicate includes the right to participate in communication through interacting, organizing, petitioning, mobilizing, assembling, collaborating, sharing, and publishing. It would be a tragic waste of the Net's potential if it were to be deployed and provisioned in such a way as to encourage most people to be only passive consumers of mass communication.

4. People have the right to privacy

The right to communicate is mirrored by the right to privacy. Privacy takes at least three forms: the sheltering of personal data from public view, the sheltering of private communication from public view, and the right of citizens not to participate in communications they find undesirable or intrusive.

The use of personal data, including financial and demographic information, should be under the control of the person to whom it refers. Internet users have a right to maximal control over the way information about them is collected, used, and disseminated. This does not imply that all such collection, use, and dissemination is unacceptable, merely that it must be disclosed to the information's owner, who must also be given the ability not to participate in any unacceptable uses of that information.

Privacy of communications must be accessible to all who desire it. Network users should be free to use any technical measures that help ensure that their communications remain private. Among the aspects of communication which may need to be kept private are the fact that a communication exists at all, its content, and the identities of the communicating parties.

Privacy from unwanted communications is also fundamental. People have a fundamental right to minimize unwanted intrusions and demands on their personal space and time. Communication is not a unilateral activity, and one person's right to communicate is bounded by another's right to choose not to communicate. Accordingly, human beings on the Internet have the right to select the communications in which they wish to participate.

5. People are the Net's stewards, not its owners

Because there is only one Internet, it must be treated as a global commons, the shared trust of all humanity. The price of reaping the benefits of the shared global Net must therefore be an obligation to respect the rights of others who may wish to use the Net in different ways.

We must work to preserve the free and open nature of the current Internet as a fragile resource that must be enriched and passed on to our children. Administered inappropriately, the Net could become an unprecedented tool for the repression of dissenting individuals and groups, or it could become a vast commercial wasteland.

Individual pieces of the Net, such as wires, routers, and servers, have individual owners whose economic rights and interests must be respected. However, the Net itself is not owned by anyone. No grouping of individuals, businesses, or countries can be said to "own" the Internet, any more than they can be said to "own" the air we breathe or the ecosystem in which we live.

6. No individuals, organizations, or governments should dominate the Net

The Net can be managed only in the loosest sense: administered, but never controlled. This administration should be conducted in a truly open, inclusive, and democratic manner, to channel the fundamental dynamics of the Net for the betterment of humanity. To prevent the dominance of the net by a few large organizations, the technical infrastructure should be based on fully open protocols, competitive products, and an open standardization process.

Attempts to control the Net will inherently risk serious damage to the liberty of human beings. Questions of administration or governance should always be resolved by erring in the direction of more freedom and empowerment for the least powerful and least influential among us.

7. The Net should reflect human diversity, not homogenize it

The Internet is remarkable in its global reach, in its ability to span and unite diverse social groupings and communities. This is potentially its greatest promise and its greatest threat.

With open access to any and all communities, the Net can be as varied and multicultural as life itself. It can facilitate dialogue between communities and individuals that might previously not have encountered each other in a dozen lifetimes. As such, it can be a tremendous positive force for diversity in human affairs.

However, insofar as the Net is seen as defining a single global culture, or permitting humanity to speak with a single voice, it could become a homogenizing force, working to suppress diversity in favor of a bland globalism. This would be a significant loss to humanity.

For this reason, the Internet should be administered with the goal of promoting diversity rather than reducing it. Wherever possible, access should be enriched for those who are not a part of any dominant social groups, particularly for linguistic minorities and economically underprivileged groups. Insofar as the Net is the context in which a significant portion of humanity's future will be played out, no part of humanity's diversity should be left behind.

All comments on this document are welcome: please send them to

Fall 1997


Nathaniel S. Borenstein, Ph.D. Chairman & CEO,

Summer 2001

In 1997 and 1998, the CPSR board, with broad input from the membership, drafted a general statement of principles that represented our core belief about the role of the Internet in human affairs. The result ( was a set of seven simple statements, generally known as the "One Planet, One Net" or "OneNet" manifesto. These 55 words, along with a couple of pages of explanation, made a brief splash among the membership and in the larger world, then quickly seemed to fade into the general obscurity of CPSR's archives.

However, the OneNet manifesto has quietly continued to make an impact on both CPSR and the world. Internally, the OneNet principles, and the discussions that they stimulated, led directly into CPSR's work on Internet governance and DNS administration, which has become one of CPSR's most active program areas. In the larger world, the manifesto was widely read by those involved in setting telecommunication policy, and was translated into multiple languages.

The OneNet principles are certainly not perfect. (Even the name is problematical: the phrase "one net" seems to invite geeky argumentation about the definition of a "net" and whether or not two networks can be interconnected without becoming a single network.) In time, it will probably make sense for CPSR to re-evaluate and update them. But for nearly five years now, they have successfully served as a philosophical touchstone, uniting CPSR's diverse membership and providing a clear framework for our Internet-related agenda.

"What's Inside"

the end [ top ] Newsletter Index

© Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility
P.O. Box 717
Palo Alto, CA 94302-0717
Tel. (650) 322-3778
Fax (650) 322-4748

Archived CPSR Information
Created before October 2004

Sign up for CPSR announcements emails


International Chapters -

> Canada
> Japan
> Peru
> Spain

USA Chapters -

> Chicago, IL
> Pittsburgh, PA
> San Francisco Bay Area
> Seattle, WA
Why did you join CPSR?

I especially value the networking events listing and the CPSR annual conference when I get to attend.