Emerging Internet Regulation Trends

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In mid-2008, Rasmussen conducted a poll to find out how Americans felt about Internet regulation.  49% said that they thought the government should regulate the Internet in much the same way that it regulates radio and television.

This trend toward government regulation of the Internet is apparently due to fears about child pornography and other tasteless websites being available for children to view, as well as social networking abuse by predatory adults. 

A Brief Review of Censorship.

China is not the only place that censors Internet content. The trend is on a rise worldwide.  For example, in the UK, a page wtihin Wikipedia (and in some instances, the entire Wikipedia site) was blocked because of a complaint filed with a quasi-governmental agency known as the IWF.  Because the offending content was an image of an album cover, there was the possibility that Amazon’s US shopping and auction content would be blocked from UK viewers.

Also in the censorship arena is the increasing volume of politicians who are complaining about blogs not correctly reporting the facts about their campaigns or other political events.  Add to this mix the journalists and mainstream media who are seeing online content take a bite out of their readership and sales.  While news and political reporting are not currently regulated in the United States, it would not be surprising if politicians begin to talk about licensing requirements or some form of authority ranking for blog owners and other online reporters.

Nationwide Filtering.

If it becomes law, Australia’s ‘great firewall’ will be the most restrictive mandatory government control of the Internet in the world’s democratic countries.  Ostensibly for filtering out child pornography, the firewall has fueled intense debate, including free speech arguments.  The government reportedly will ban at least 1300 websites, but it has not disclosed exactly what sites are on the banned list.  While the filter will not achieve 100% accuracy and its effectiveness is therefore questionable, it will nonetheless slow down Internet speeds by up to 86%. 

Internet Taxation.

For years, there have been rumors in the US about a federal internet tax, but nothing has come of it.  Many Americans, including their representatives in Congress, are leery of an Internet sales tax.  State governments, on the other hand, are eyeing the Internet as a source of revenue.  For instance, the state of New York has imposed a tough state sales tax law that would make non-resident vendors responsible for reporting taxes on sales to New York residents.  Amazon, which has affiliates all over the world, has sued, and as of this writing, a decision has not been rendered.  Do not be surprised if Internet taxation becomes an issue in upcoming years.

Licensing and Disclosures.

There has been talk by some legislators that people should be licensed to use the Internet.  Their argument is that is a person needs to be licensed to drive a car, then he or she should be licensed to surf the information highway.  Licensing requirements would include having to pass a test about anti-virus programs, email use and so on.  While it is unlikely that this idea will gain traction, it is not unreasonable to speculate that content writers will need to follow licensing and disclosure requirements for their web publications.  With copyright violations, politicians griping about the accuracy of news, and regulations concerning what can and cannot be said with respect to medical or health related products online, public accountability is not a far fetched idea.  For instance, the new Internet regulations in Canada (if passed in February 2009) will address Canadian content and copyright issues and might impose a ranking system on websites that is similar to movie ranking systems.  Given the opinion of many Americans that the Internet should be regulated in the same way that radio and television is regulated, the logical conclusion is that Internet publishers will need to register with whatever agency is created to administer online media.

Conclusion.

The above examples provide a glimpse into what the future may hold when it comes to Internet regulation.  In view of the growing desire of people to see more Internet regulation instead of self responsibility, it is likely that we as Internet publishers will see an increasing amount of regulatory proposals.

The first step toward protecting oneself from Internet regulation is to publish a legally sound privacy policy statement on your website.    Learn how to write a good privacy statement and policies page at the Not Guru blog.

From time to time, Internet regulation and trends are reviewed here:  Internet Regulation articles at the NotGuru blog.

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