Legislating the Internet
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The Internetís birth dates to 1969, but it didnít hit the radar of the general public until about twelve years ago with the birth of the World Wide Web. In those twelve years it has also been discovered by Congress and state legislatures. Some laws passed concerning this modern mode of communication have made eminent sense, while others have been, shall we say, of questionable wisdom.
Eric Goldman writing for informit.com in late April briefly discussed a number of these laws. More are being proposed, drafted, debated, and passed or killed every day; in the 109th session of Congress alone, more than 1,000 bills introduced referred to the Internet in one way or another. Legislators interested in continuing to see their constituencies benefit from this remarkable technology could do worse than to study what has worked and what hasnít.
Granted, a little more than a decade isnít a very long time for some things. But weíre talking about the Internet here. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, in a keynote address he gave some years ago, observed that a calendar year was roughly equivalent to four Internet years Ė thus equating an Internet year with a quarter, an all-important stretch of time for any company that makes regular financial reports. Some of the laws that Iíll be discussing here have a real effect on an online organizationís bottom line, which may be one reason why it hasnít taken too terribly long for their consequences to become known.
I admit to the same biases that Goldman has. Like him, Iím a libertarian, and therefore would prefer to see as little regulation of the Internet as possible. Iím not immune to cries of ďThink of the children!Ē but Iím also familiar with the Law of Unintended Consequences, which always seems to accompany every law enacted by Congress as if it were some kind of invisible amendment. So without further ado, for your edification, here are some of the most significant pieces of legislation to affect that ďcollection of tubesĒ we call the Internet.
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