Internet regulations: More harm than good

Originally published in the Fullerton College Hornet, Vol. 79, Issue 3; 9 Sep 1999

In the current political climate, the Internet and its innate libertarianism is a threat.

The tax-and-spend politicians don’t seem to understand how a system can self-regulate without government interference. The Internet as it is known today first came into existence in the late 1980s. For the last ten years, it has been growing exponentially.

In the debate over the Internet, politicians have, thus far, taken a largely hands-off approach, especially after the “Communications Decency Act” was declared unconstitutional. But Congress’ patience is wearing thin and an onslaught of regulations are likely to be introduced.

For all their posturing — on any issue — new regulations will not protect our children or individual privacy. What will occur is an imposition of new costs that will do more harm than good, and will further increase the already enormous size of the government.

An unregulated, free-market organization — essentially what is already in place — can accomplish what online “privacy” regulations cannot.

Internet users already have the power to manage how their information is used and distributed. They have the option to avoid sites with poor or unposted privacy policies and can set their browsers to reject cookies. If information is provided on a Web site with a posted privacy policy and that policy is violated, the user can file suit under existing contract law.

Parents can protect the privacy of their children through such self-regulatory coalitions as The Online Privacy Alliance, whose member sites include Disney, the Direct Marketing Association and Microsoft.

The OPA requires Web sites to allow their visitors to choose how their information is used and to opt-out when sites want to distribute information to third parties.

It also prohibits sites from collecting a child’s address or e-mail address without prior parental consent.

Regulations will not effectively protect children. They will only give parents a false sense of security. The key is that parents remain aware of their children’s activities online.

By its very nature, the Internet is unhindered by the various burdens that exist in other media — costs of printing or video post-production. It is the responsibility of those on all sides of the issue to remain aware, both of the nature and accuracy — or lack thereof — of the information provided.

Unpopular views can be found online as easily as in the “real” world. They are protected under the First Amendment, which was written specifically to protect unpopular ideas.

The current crop of politicians in Washington is afraid of new ideas and what they don’t understand. How can we trust the Internet to those who are so afraid of computers that they won’t allow them into the halls of government?

The simple answer is that we cannot expect others to live our lives for us. We must take responsibility for ourselves and ask no less of our neighbors.

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