Internet freedomsare under threatas never before.Governmentseverywhere arestriving to controlonline activity, eggedon by traditionalbusinesses andindustries. An outcry in the US led to draftlaws against online piracy being put onhold earlier this year. But another similarinitiative, the Anti-Counterfeiting TradeAgreement (ACTA), has been makinggreater headway, having been quietly ratiedby the US and a number of other countries,and is causing consternation among internetusers in Europe especially.As social media commentator Jeff Jarvisnotes, many things bother would-be regulators:‘piracy, privacy, pornography, predators,indecency, and security, not to mentioncensorship, tyranny, and civilization.’ But fromanother viewpoint nothing much has changedin the past ten years. The internet is working just the way it did then, and the sky hasn’tfallen in. So why the rush to x it now?It’s true that technological advancesbring anxieties aplenty. However withhindsight these are often seen to havebeen overblown. Take social networkingsites: when MySpace took off a few yearsago, fears were aired of the potentialthreat it posed to young people fromsexual predators. In the US that quicklyled to calls that access to such sites bebanned in schools and libraries, and thatage verication be compulsory. In factsubsequent research showed that theconcerns were seriously overstated.And who now remembers the outcryagainst Google’s Gmail service in 2004, inwhich targeted advertising is based on users’interests? The fear of mail being read byGoogle led to attempts to ban such targeting.However, when it was understood that it wasalgorithmic processes that were ‘reading’ theemail, not actual humans, the panic subsided,and the service is now happily used by 350million people worldwide.Digital commentator Adam Thierernotes a ‘precautionary principle’ at work here. It holds that, since every technologycould pose some theoretical danger or risk,public policies should tightly control thoseinnovations until their developers can provethat they won’t cause any harms. In otherwords, the law should always ‘play it safe’. Butthis poses a serious threat to technologicalprogress and human prosperity, he argues.A regime guided at every turn by thisprecautionary principle would make digitalinnovation and progress impossible.For his part Jarvis advocates resistance.The reason why governments and somebusinesses want to ‘throttle’ the internetis because they see it as a threat to theirpower, he claims, and if ordinary citizens don’twant to lose its benets they will have toght back. If its enemies prevail, the digitalconnectivity we take for granted today couldeventually be a fond but distant memory.
oliticians love to regulate, and with something as big anduntrammelled as the internet intheir sights they have plenty to work with. But the internet is working
just ne, and they should leave it alone,
argue digital media commentators.
The fight againstregulation
I n F o c u s
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