US to Explore Ending Hands Off Internet Policy

Reader Andrew Gilbertson sent me links to The Register’s piece on a discussion at the NTIA and a transcript of remarks by Lawrence Strickling.

The reasoning given is that many important social services are moving online. I have to quibble, wondering if civil services or public services would have been a better choice of words. However, I really take exception to the very large remit being proposed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Under the auspices of protecting key infrastructure, such as confidence in online credit card transactions, they have laid out five policies areas they want to pursue.

  1. Privacy
  2. Child protection
  3. Cybersecurity
  4. Copyright protection
  5. Internet governance

OK, to be fair, I picked as an example a case that highlights my real point, that this list is way out of scope with merely addressing infrastructural concerns. I can see how cybersecurity and internet governance are reasonable policy areas into which the NTIA might wade. But all of the rest should not be treated any different online than they are offline.

We have plenty of law enforcement agencies at multiple levels who can and should be addressing all forms of harm to and exploitation of children. Doing so online should merely require appropriate additional investigative resources and perhaps training, not new regulations or legislation. We have a horrible track record with regards to trying to mandate online content filters and rightly so.

Privacy may be long overdue for some legislative action but I am unsure that either policy making or execution should reside with the NTIA. The FTC has already been doing some promising work in this area and incorporating privacy abuses with regards to online commerce would be a more natural fit. Otherwise, proper handling of private data should be everyone’s responsibility–any agency, company or service should have to meet minimal, perhaps legislated, standards and be subject to plain old judicial oversight and action.

I am, of course, most incensed by the inclusion of copyright protection in this list. Cyber exceptionalism in current legislation already has put us in a horrible state where free speech and fair use are routinely trod upon. The tenor of Strickling’s remarks suggests nothing about reform or re-balance, rather trotting out the same tired rhetoric about protecting rights holders that got us here in the first place.

In his submission, Andrew expressed a concern about the lag inherent in legislation when dealing with fast moving technology and innovation. I think such caution is due, that the least amount of regulation should be pursued if at all. If the goal at its heart is really ensuring decent access to public services, a goal with which I can agree, then this laundry list needs to be hacked down considerably and focused solely on the issues surrounding such access. Anything else opens up the legislative process to further capture by moneyed interests, not better serving the public interest which is what is nominally being served by this discussion.

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