U.S. government should not regulate the Internet. One important reason is that it would go against the nations' right to freedom of speech. The government has used a number of reasons to support its quest for regulation, such as protecting children, yet it has ignored the fact that there are other methods to control harmful and illegal material online without hindering the Internet's growth and capabilities.
This paper will show that it would be impossible for any single government or nation to completely regulate the Internet, because by nature, the Internet is resistant to control and regulation.
The Internet was created by the defense-related ARPANET project, which was a communications tool for the United States government in the late 1960's linking a decentralized system of computers that could resist a nuclear attack (Copeland, et al.). Today, this tool, which was once viewed as little more than an emergency fallback system, has grown into one of the most popular methods of international communication.
The Internet is about freedom -- freedom of speech and choice. When a person logs on to the Internet, he or she can choose whether to give a real name or a pseudonym. While on the net, he or she can speak freely and find information on just about anything. There are seemingly limitless forums through which he or she can communicate. This freedom is the backbone of the Internet. However, freedom and law are always in conflict.
Due to the enormous popularity of the Internet, the United States government is now extremely concerned with how it can apply governmental functions of regulation to the Internet -- an entirely new dimension of communication.
The Problems Created by the Internet
Traditionally, governmental authority has been basically limited to its individual geographical territory (Kizza) The Internet transcends these boundaries. Therefore, one of the main problems that the Internet creates is that traditional laws used to prosecute criminals and regulate commercial transactions do not work when applied to Internet transactions.
For example, different areas tax transactions based upon where they occur. Internet transactions, which link buyers and sellers across the globe, are not regulated by any particular city, state or country (97). This raises numerous concerns regarding commerce. In addition, in the past, governments levied import taxes on international transactions, but these traditional regulations do not apply to data of commercial value that flows over the Internet.
Recent studies have shown that the federal and state government only take a minor loss in tax revenue from Internet sales. If they imposed tax regulations online, it could potentially cripple potential entrepreneurs as they strive to find a place for themselves on the Internet. Senator John McCain has introduced a bill that would permanently ban Internet sales taxes by specifically outlawing any future attempts to impose a sales tax structure on Internet sales (101). In my opinion, this legislation is the best solution regarding the issue of Internet commerce and the government's attempt to regulate it.
Addressing the Issues
Governments across the world have addressed these issues, wondering how they can come up with a way to regulate Internet content and commerce, but their solution have been lacking.
According to Ira Magaziner, U.S. Presidential Advisor on Internet Policy, "governments are ill-equipped to handle the Internet, because it changes too rapidly, it's too decentralized and too international. The digital age moves too quickly for government action." (Riley, p. 51)
However, numerous groups around the world are planning and studying ways to regulate the Internet. The U.S. government is at the forefront of these efforts.
The major problem with regulating the Internet is that this would hinder the publics right to freedom of expression and censor the Internet. The Internet is a borderless medium that does not originate in any particular place. Therefore, it is impossible to try to mandate cultural norms. The Internet should remain unregulated, providing a platform for free expression.
Reasons for Regulation
As the Internet becomes an increasingly popular method of communication, the government becomes more interested in regulating it, for a variety of reasons.
The Internet is the first medium in history that allows people all around the world to communicate their ideas at any time and place (Samoriski). The government wants to regulate the Internet because it fears lack of control over it.
The government claims that the Internet should be regulated because pornographic and hate sites need to be controlled. However, these sites are only a very small part of the Internet. In addition, there are already existing laws throughout the world that regulate these sites, enabling authorities to track, investigate, arrest and convict parties engaging in illegal Internet activities, including credit fraud, hacking, pedophilia and more (117).
Government regulation, such as blocking Web sites from harmful or illegal content is a drastic and unnecessary measure that does solve the problems presented by the Internet. Even if the regulation were successful, it would be impossible to solve the problem of sites outside the U.S. The government still continue to argues that this regulation is necessary, particularly to protect the children.
In an article published in Time magazine, critics of government regulation argued that censorship is a far less important issue than good parenting. I agree with this article and do not think that it is the government's responsibility to regulate Internet content. It is the responsibility of the parents. (Miller 76).
The government tries to manipulate the situation to use protecting children as its primary reason for regulating the Internet. For example, when it was trying to regulate Napster, government officials said, "Shawn Fanning, an 18-year-old college dropout, wrote the code that changed the world. His fate, and ours, is now in the court's hands. It is now in the government's hands to decide whether worldwide file sharing shall stay legalized"
Yet critics said that this charge was ludicrous. "Napster is not harming the industry, certainly not so much that it has to be shut down before trial" (Greenfeld 64). People around the world supported this sentiment, accusing the government of trying to regulate Napster because it was taking away from sales. Until the Internet came into existence, the U.S. government controlled most of the new communication methods.
As the Internet increases in size and capability, the government will most likely increase its efforts to regulate it. However, this will mean that the world will have to adjust its views to conform to those of the government. Government regulation is a danger to the Internet, as it will become useless as a mass communication device and a place for freedom of mind and thoughts.
The very nature of the Internet resists regulation. However, the government is tempted by the Internet's popularity, and wants to take control of it. It is unnecessary to regulate the Internet at this point and if the government did take the reigns, it will undoubtedly hinder its natural growth and development. Any restrictions would change the way the Internet is progressing, which would ultimately change its impact on society.
Against Government Regulation
President Clinton declared in 1997 that he was not supportive of governmental regulation of the Internet. He said "technology, not another federal law, is the best way to keep their children from peeking at porn and other objectionable online material."
Clinton created a plan to prevent unlawful access of pornographic sites. The plan consisted of three parts: enforce current child pornography and obscenity laws on the Internet's content, promote the use of filtering software and rating systems, and educate parents about how to use this technology effectively ("Clinton: Technology is the Answer").
Clinton's plan was unique in that it recognized that the ultimate responsibility lies within the parents. "Technology is not a 'silver bullet,' and is no substitute for parental involvement." (White House release: Family Friendly Internet)
Several other government officials have voiced their opposition to government regulation of the Internet. Rep. White (R - WA), proposed the "Internet Protection Act of 1997," which was created "to ensure that the development of the Internet and interactive computer services is unfettered by Federal and State regulation."
This act aimed to prevent the federal or state governments from implementing any type of regulation of the Internet, unless certain criteria are met (Internet Protection Act of 1997). The bill permits Internet regulation when "regulation of Internet information services... is not in the public interest," yet it fails to define "in the public interest."
However, the bill argues that the Internet should not be used to promote "rapid and efficient technological and commercial innovation, deployment, and adoption of Internet information services." (Internet Protection Act of 1997)
Obviously, children can find pornographic material on the Internet and I agree that they should be denied access to it. However, a solution has not been found that keep children from accessing pornographic material without regulating adults access to it. Therefore, there should be no regulation at all. Current attempts by the government have been unsuccessful in finding an adequate solution, so they should not be permitted to…