Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Political Parties Struggle to Define Internet Freedom...

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article yesterday titled, "GOP looks to rebrand as new Internet freedom fighters".  It describes current Republican efforts, led by Rep. Darrell Issa, to establish an "Internet freedom platform" that advocates against regulation, supports a ban on taxes, and focuses on online rights.

These are all apple-pie statements that nobody's going to disagree with.  The devil is, as always, is in the details.  What "Internet freedom" means for one person might mean something entirely different to another.

For example, take the issue of Net Neutrality.  A reasonable argument can be made by the anti-neutrality crowd that Internet freedom means preventing the government from regulating the nation's telecommunications companies.  It's the libertarian principle that the government should stay out of Internet affairs altogether.  On the other hand, the pro-neutrality crowd could argue that Internet freedom really means protecting the rights of individuals from censorship and anti-competitive trusts.

So does "Internet freedom" mean freedom from regulation for businesses, or freedom of speech and choice for individuals?

The WSJ article is right in suggesting that neither political party has thus far succeeded in narrowing their message of what it means to support the concept.  Republicans have taken heat from Internet activists for coming out against Net Neutrality and consumer protections, while Democrats have also come under scrutiny for backing anti-piracy legislation and clamping down on sites like Wikileaks, to name only a few quick examples.

Let's help our nation's politicians get better at this since they often seem so utterly lost in the darkness when it comes to Internet politics and policies.  Here are a few recommendations to help clue them in...
  1. "Internet freedom" should, especially for political purposes, refer to individual freedoms first, and corporate interests second.  This is why talking about no new sales taxes (and how it directly affects the individual consumer's wallet) is good, but talking about letting telecom corporations do whatever they want (regardless of the consequences to the individual) is bad.

  2. Focus on rights.  Freedom of speech, freedom of choice, privacy rights, etc.  These are all big-time winning issues.

  3. Avoid any appearance of "cracking down" on anything, except child pornography and cyberterrorism.  Government should stop overreaching on issues like preventing piracy by fining a 10-year-old girl $20,000, and should instead - oh, I don't know - put those same efforts into preventing the Chinese government from hacking our military's nuclear commands.  I dare any politician to oppose that idea.

  4. Get issue-specific:  Support Net Neutrality, protect individual data from being sold to third-party marketing companies without their consent, oppose the anti-piracy SOPA and PROTECT-IP Acts, support local-level WiFi initiatives, and come out staunchly against corporate efforts to track a person's location and browsing history through their mobile devices.  Oh yes, and on the international front, fight against any state-sponsored efforts geared towards censorship, or control of the Web's architecture, in general.

How's that for an Internet freedom platform?

What's really needed is the establishment of a set of constitutional principles that call for the government to adopt as much of a libertarian hands-off approach as possible, except when it comes to guaranteeing the protection of individual rights and liberties.

Sound familiar?


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