Why Horses Are Not in the Constitution

Neither the word “gun” nor “rifle” appear in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, or Federalist Papers nor does the word “newspaper” or “web site.” But guns, rifles, newspapers and yes, websites are vital for the health of our nation. Of course, it does mention the words “press” in the first amendment to the constitution, and the word “arms” in the second, and those are the things that give us the right to have our guns, rifles, newspapers and websites.

That, to me, seems to be the conclusion of Vint Cerf’s op-ed in the New York Times yesterday – that we shouldn’t tie a particular technology with fundamental rights. Unfortunately he used a particularly bad example to demonstrate this:

The reason this example is bad is because it conflates a right with an entitlement with a requirement. Cerf is also given the right to bear arms, but he is neither required to own a gun, nor is gun industry compelled to give him one. These are, of course, the differences between rights, requirements, and entitlements.

But one underlying thing that Cerf misses, is how vital universal network access is to civilization and democracy. When we look at the history of information technology, we often talk about language, stone tablets, papyrus, and the printing press, but in the middle there is the function of the Post, invented by Cyrus the Great to create the largest empire the world had ever seen, in about 500 BC. Since then, every thriving civilization has had a strong and universal network at its underpinnings.

While the word “network” in the scope of being an interconnected group of people until our grandparent’s generation, our framers were deeply committed to the idea that there should be “a network” and that everybody should have access to it. The right to assemble, of course, assures it, but it goes further than that. Look at what James Madison had to say about Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, giving Congress the power of the post:

Inscribed above the Postal Museum is this quote as well:

Indeed, the United States Postal Service is one of the few government agencies required by the United States Constitution. Just as our framers knew not to require every person to have a horse, but to build instead a document that could last through centuries of rapid technical advancement, I deeply suspect that if Vint Cerf – upon sailing west and deciding with his colleagues to found a new country – would not write a constitution giving Congress the authority to develop post roads without first giving it the authority to lay fiber. Who, knowing of today’s technology when starting a country, would invest in yesterday’s?

This country was founded upon the principles of universal access to a network. It’s been vital to the underpinnings of commerce and democracy, and while “access to the Internet” may not specifically be a human right, connection to the network of citizens has been a civil right that’s been vital to our democracy since the very beginning.

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