Clearly there are people in the world who’s sole job it is to ruin the Internet. Eighty-percent of these workers it appears in my opinion, work for some kind of media institution (the other twenty work for a government agency of some sort). One would imagine these people would be experts and have some sense of Internet politics and culture. Yet I read articles like the one linked in the above Slashdot post and wonder… is anyone allowed to suddenly have an opinion and pressure for legislation to regulate and control the Internet?
Regulation and legislation are almost ironic terms when talking about the Internet. I won’t claim to know the intention of those who developed it, but I do know that at one time it was meant to be used as a global network to facilitate the exchange of information openly and freely. Somewhere along the line however, the number of Internet users reached a critical mass and people began using the Internet in new ways that some felt must be regulated. This imposition of regulation has had numerous equivocal consequences ranging from jailing Chinese bloggers to lawsuits being launched against 70-some-odd year old ladies who’ve never touched a computer in their lives. All of these problems are related to groups of people trying to tell other people how to use the Internet and what information they are allowed to share by using it.
A whole new class of criminals are being created every day by this regulation of a system with so much potential to enlighten us all as a species.
Canada itself has remained on the fence for a long time in terms of Internet legislation. It has been able, for the most part, to maintain a balance between the ideals of the Internet and the political pressure from lobbyist groups. However, almost every week I read articles about yet another lobbyist group trying to impose more regulation on the Internet. Usually it’s the CRIA/RIAA goons bad-mouthing Canada for its policy on file-sharing; but regulation of content is a new one.
First off, regulating the content of the Internet is impossible. Even the “great firewall of China” isn’t impervious. In fact, there are Canadian-supported projects that are helping Chinese dissidents to bypass it. There are companies like SecureComputing (SmartFilter) that are profiteering off of dictatorship-style regimes that attempt to control the media their citizens consume; but there’s always a way to circumvent their blocks. It goes without exception — the Internet’s infrastructure was designed to be able to route around anything that blocks access, be it a nuclear explosion wiping out a cache of DNS servers or a proxy filtering network content.
If these big media companies and groups want to survive into the next decade, they are going to need to replace these people they have now with people who are educated in Internet politics and history. Society at large cannot afford to have the blind leading the blind. If we are to remain innovative and pursue progress, we must be able to push the boundaries of what is possible and people must be empowered to rigorously pursue that goal. Regulation is the antithesis of progress and currently that is largely what these lobby groups are focused on. I encourage the Canadian government, and governments the world over, to consider progress and be bold enough to maintain a healthy balance between the two.
Lastly, I’d also like to address the method with which we govern the Internet. Currently, each country has its own policies when it comes to content and legality. However, some countries are vying for the power of ownership over the entire system. This is the most dangerous form of regulation. If one country did control the whole Internet, I imagine they would have a really huge headache on their hands as network after network they control would be crushed by pissed-off script-kiddies and system administrators the world over. If we all wanted to avoid that scenario, I think we need only look at the original intentions of the Internet… clearly only the IETF or some internationally recognized body of engineers and developers should maintain control of the Internet to protect its progress from over-regulation.