There is a lot happening around the world in relation to the internet. In a sense, everyone is trying to figure it out, to understand it, or to simply live with it. It is very possible, as history writes itself, that the Digital Revolution will be as pivotal as the Industrial Revolution.

Recently, there have been many calls for an “Internet Bill of Rights,” and even a push for a Declaration of Internet Freedom. This illustrates a striking point: There is a large faction of people who see the Internet as a Sovereign entity, independent of any country or nation. Currently, this is an ideal, as the practical truth is that the infrastructure of the internet is controlled in various parts by several countries. The people for a sovereign internet argue that this is not merely an ideal, but a necessity – if the internet is not open and free, it will not work properly. The internet transcends borders, so it is either subject to its own laws, or subject to all laws of all countries.

People have expressed particular distress at actions of the United states in relation to the Internet. The Department of State advocates a free internet to fight oppression, but sees no problem with suppressing websites which may be illegal under US law, or encourage acts against US law. The US seeks extradition of  individuals who violate US law while not on US soil, because it was on the internet. Politicians call the internet a lawless “Wild West” that needs law imposed upon it for its own good.

Aside from the fact that the Wild West analogy is an example of “You fail history forever,” all these actions are in fact consistent, provided you accept their core assumption: the US believes the internet to be a US colony. There is no inconsistency with supporting freedom, democracy, and opposition to tyranny, yet enforcing your laws on your own colony. There is nothing unusual about demanding extradition of an individual who committed a crime in your colony. If you see lawlessness in your colony, it is only natural to desire to impose order.

The issue at hand, however, is that the “people of the internet” see the internet much like the original American colonies – nominally, they show allegiance to their colonial masters, but they have been in the practical habit of self-governance. The colonies police themselves, enforce their own laws, and in all practical aspects remain a separate entity. This came to a head when the ruling powers began imposing their will on the colonies in the form of taxation and laws, such as the infamous Intolerable Acts. This is all American History 101, placed into a different context. Therefore, it should be no surprise that Americans who consider themselves in part denizens of the internet are calling for an “Internet Bill of Rights” or an “Internet declaration of independence.” Look at the list of grievances in the original Declaration of Independence. One more inflammatory than myself could argue that each and every grievance listed has a counterpart in this conflict between the US and the internet.

In Jefferson’s original draft, the Declaration included this phrase: “We might have been a free & a great people together; but a communication of grandeur & of freedom it seems is below their dignity. be it so, since they will have it: the road to glory & happiness is open to us too; we will climb it in a separate state, and acquiesce in the necessity which pronounces our everlasting Adieu!” He laments the irreconcilable differences, that the rift need not have been created.

Reconciliation is possible. Let us return to the ever popular example of “the Wild West.” Lawlessness in the Wild West came from the strong imposing their will on the weak, and law was enforced by the strong who stood up for the weak. The weak learned to adapt to the harsh new environment and became strong, and established their own laws and order. Once they had become a coherent whole, capable of some degree of self-government, they petitioned to enter the Union. There was no instance of the Federal government coming into town, shooting up the lawbreakers, and imposing their own laws on the people. That approach is absurd, because it is patently un-American. The laws come up from the people, and the ideals of the people are enshrined as laws. They are not handed down from an authority on high, to be imposed upon the people.

The ideals and principles of the people of the internet are not the same as those of any regional authority. They can’t be so, and they shouldn’t be so. Laws are relegated to the people on the local level because the realities of the environment are different. Water rights are much more nuanced in the Western United States, because there is much less water – it would be absurd to enforce some sort of national law of water rights, because the realities of the different regions mean that many, if not most – or even all – regions are poorly served by this national rule. The realities of the digital world are dramatically different from the realities of the physical world – it would be absurd to apply the rules of one upon the realities of the other.

There are principles, and there should be rules. But they should be grounded in reality, and they should come from the people. Americans hold very dear to their hearts that they should not be subject to the whims of a foreign and alien ruler on distant shores, who can’t be bothered to learn about the realities of their life. Is it so much of a surprise that the people of the internet, often steeped in the same ideals of the US, demand the same respect?