This House Believes That the Internet Should Be Considered as a Common Heritage of Mankind


A principle of international law which holds that defined territorial areas and elements of humanity’s common heritage (cultural and natural) should be held in trust for future generations and be protected from exploitation by individual nation states or corporations. (Wikipedia)

There are generally two possible ways to expect where this debate will go: one is the discussion of whether internet satisfies the parameters so far of what constitutes a common heritage of mankind (like, as in, what are the other common heritages of mankind, what do they have in common, and where does internet fit in this commonness, so that internet can be considered as belonging to one of them?). The other is the discussion of how this will bring about the betterment to all the world. The discourse circulating around the existence of this common heritage of mankind has always been “…claiming that the expansion of hospitality with regard to ‘use of the right to the earth’s surface which belongs to the human race in common’ would ‘finally bring the human race ever closer to a cosmopolitan constitution’ and that it challenges the ‘structural relationship between rich and poor countries’ and amounts to a ‘revolution not merely in the law of the sea, but also in international relations’ one of the main architects of the principle under international space law claiming that it is ‘the most important legal principle achieved by man throughout thousands of years during which law has existed as the regulating element of social exchange’ this praise relating to the fact that international law in the common heritage of humanity principle is seeking to protect, respect and…”

Well, international stability.

Well, not so much of a proposal motion, more like value-judgment, yeah, but this is not like a COMPLETELY value-judgment one. The “proposal” nature of this motion relies in the characterization portion of this debate: Who are we? Who are we to consider something as something, and what gave us the right to consider (or not to consider) that this internet is (or is not) a common heritage of mankind?

That being said, let’s go.

Team Affirmative

  1. In order to preserve its existence.

There are a lot of sensitive data in the internet. The cloud storage part of it stores vital information pertaining to not only private institutions, but also geopolitical stability and such. Sure enough some governments would likely mistrust the internet and choose to go offline when storing their nuclear launch codes/password access to their institutional bodies and such, but that doesn’t mean that there is not even a single one who choose the internet as the medium. Hell, even Hillary Clinton used a public domain e-mail service to communicate really sensitive information privy to the government of the US.

Anyway, take a look at how United Nation’s Outer Space Treaty Article Four states parties to the treaty not to place in orbit around the earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner. The moon and other celestial bodies shall be used by all States Parties to the Treaty exclusively for peaceful purposes. The reason is because when an object has entered its orbit of being outer space, it gains immense access to penetrate the defenses of any country it would wish to destroy. The point of this argument is that when there is a certain place or area or item or weapon or whatchamacallit that possesses substantial impact, and a universal one on top of that, it should be automatically considered as a common heritage of mankind. Imagine the repercussions if things were otherwise, and a troll decided to install a massive virus that destroys all data in cloud.

  1. Because there are certain essential elements to cover.

The existence of this digital economy is one thing that could be considered what as a savior for small countries – small island states, like Singapore and Malta, for example. Malta strongly supported the EU’s work for a digital single market, by the way. The reason being is because due to lack of territory, not much commodity is going to be possible for production. This leaves no hope for manufacturing, agriculture, and maritime industries to prosper. Commercial business can, of course, seeing as they occupy less space compared to factories and other form of companies, but there is just this certain threshold to how high you can build your buildings and how many concrete you can cram on a certain spot. This leaves only the cyberspace. Combined with education, they will need this huge regional digital market. And regional markets will require a global one in order to cover reliable legal framework. This is what the Common Heritage of Mankind could provide. Moreover it is becoming increasingly accepted that Internet Governance problems could not be solved on a national basis alone but on a global basis.

  1. Because this legal framework is the only thing that can protect sensitive disputes and potentially destructive data.

When a piece of information is rendered obsolete and is now no longer relevant, should it be destroyed? This is the distinction between the values upheld in the EU and in the US. The EU has the Right to be Forgotten which allows EU citizens to petition search engines to remove material found to be “no longer accurate or relevant”, different from the US with a general freedom of information and 1st Amendment.

Anyway, let’s refer to Team Affirmative Argument 1 first. The whole idea and the premise which we want to base our arguments upon is that we would like our things, our data, to be protected. Now what about sensitive and potentially offensive data? Like a naked picture of me when I uploaded by mistake thanks to being drunk, and now I would like it to be removed, exercising my right to be forgotten?

The existence of this framework of Internet being a Common Heritage of Mankind would grant me that. It just so happens that when a material is rendered obsolete, it is not deleted completely, but rather, have its most logs expunged and erased from existence, but that’s only on face value whilst actually all of them still have a little bit of trace in the form of archives. And the United Nations have been exercising this. It is ethical, and justified. Because otherwise, going by the argument of “should be granted the right to be forgotten”, then all dying languages should be left to die. And all books covering Leninism and Stalinism should be burnt.

Team Negative

The whole tendency of Team Negative’s argument is actually ruling out that internet should be classified as a res nullius instead of a res comunis omnium, as in, that place (the internet) should be considered as a “nullius” – “null” authority – a jungle with no particular authority, and thus go by the rule of the jungle where everything is free. Instead of a “comunis omnium”, an omni-community “all” community, having shared vested interests and hoping from a togetherness sense of belonging.

  1. Because the implementation of a regulation is the start of the Internet losing its original identity.

Let’s talk about the philosophy behind the idea of the Internet. Timothy Berners-Lee, the essential creator of the internet, created the internet in hopes that it would be a free exchange of information. Today, the internet is a haven of anonymity and library of all types of knowledge. Granted, the internet is also home to cyber warfare, contraband trading, and illegal conduct. However, that alone does not warrant destroying what the Internet was meant to be. Implementing any regulation would start a chain reaction of adding more and more regulation until the internet can no longer serve its original, vital purpose. This piece of motion is all people need to justify another action. Take a look at how courts consult and refer to prior cases before passing a new verdict upon their current case.

Here’s your ticket to destroying the original purpose of the Internet.

  1. Because the internet being regulated is going to greatly hamper the potential of criticism.

Destroying anonymity through over regulation could restrict those who have great ideas or criticisms from expressing their point of views, lessening the market place of ideas; and excessive regulation can deter people from sharing what knowledge they may have if it were to be subject to prior approval or forever under the scrutiny of review and possible termination.

This is actually the reason behind the establishment of the deep dark web and TOR project. Sure enough, we can see drug dealings, human trafficking, and weaponry deals and hitman services running rampant over there due to the absence of censorship and any control (not only from the government but also from other types of officials), but that is the venue for government critics and arguments to develop as well. It is not as if the Internet is a safe place on servers in China where everything is being controlled and filtered, because that also means that the government is running an autocratic one, and is a dictatorship.

  1. Because the regulation varies widely and there is not a consensus as of yet to the nature of the internet.

Take a look at the EU’s right to be forgotten. Erm. Yes, again. You can refer to Team Affirmative Argument 3 for this. The problem that this ideology differs among various different places, makes the nature of this Internet inherently different from the sea. Thus, compelling arguments that say that like the sea, the internet encircles the globe, and, like the sea, the Internet is used for benign activity, such as commerce and leisure, but also for destructive activity, such as theft and combat, and, the sea has sailors and pirates whereas the Internet has cyber professionals and hackers, those are all rendered invalid. The traits do not resemble one another, and thus Internet should not be considered as a common heritage of mankind.

The similarities between the Internet as a medium and the sea as a medium suggest that international principles governing the use of the sea could effectively be applied to the use of the Internet. Upon inspection, however, this theory quickly erodes for numerous reasons. Perhaps the most significant obstacle is the lack of a common heritage to the Internet. Common heritage is the critical component that has allowed the law of the sea to develop.

Customs governing the use of the sea probably began to emerge when humans first encountered other humans at sea. These customs grew out of a recognition that the sea was an incredibly vast shared space that no one nation could hold in the way that land territory could be held. The sea was recognized as the common heritage of mankind. Seafaring parties intersected with both allies and enemies in this shared space. Customs and laws continued to develop over millennia to regulate these encounters. As humanity’s access to the sea increased, international norms increased, including codifying many of these customs in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). These laws were based on the idea that all humans enjoyed freedom of the sea because it was common heritage.  The laws fostered shared use of the sea while deterring nefarious actions on the sea.

As a recent phenomenon, the Internet has no such common heritage, although it has become a common resource. The Internet traces its origins back to a research project completed by the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) during the 1960s. Its usage grew exponentially until it became the truly globe-spanning super network of today, reaching an estimated 3 billion people. Now, because the United States was the primary driver of early Internet adoption, its infrastructure and usage patterns have developed in such a way that most of the world’s internet traffic passes through the United States. This position offers the United States unique advantages and opportunities that the United States is unlikely to relinquish.