Congressional technology laws have a long history. From the Internet’s beginnings as a DARPA project to today’s child protection laws like CIPA, Congress has had a hand in the Internet’s development and evolution. ICANN currently manages the “day-to-day” work of running the internet for the US government. ICANN received its official charter from the government in 1998 and has since considered becoming an international organization to reflect the Internet’s worldwide influence.
ICANN’s formation is important because it provides a layer of insulation between the government and the Internet. It allowed the Internet to grow rather than “be grown” by the government. Also, as a corporation ICANN must support it self and retain some measure of efficiency, a property not often associated with governmental agencies. This insulation has also protected it from many of the ills associated with lobbying. Intense lobbying by industry groups such as the RIAA and MPAA have resulted in laws like the DMCA and DRM measures. Even an architect of the DMCA admits that it has not been effective (Citation), yet Congress has changed nothing and allows the RIAA and MPAA to subpoena people’s personal information from their ISP. This has recently been overturned in the courts, however, (Citation) and it remains to see what impact this decision has on the RIAA’s attempts to sue peer-to-peer file sharing program users. Meager attempts by Congress such as the FAIR USE bill have been fiercely opposed by the RIAA.
One Senator’s ignorance of Internet issues has destroyed his support among the technology community. Ted Stevens infamous “The Internet is a series of tubes!” speech has produced many laughs at his expense, including techno remixes of the speech and t-shirts with the best quotes. (Shirts)
While Mr. Stevens may be the face of a technologically uneducated Congress, the repercussions of ignorance reach beyond funny videos and t-shirts. E-commerce is a multi-billion dollar business and it all rides on the laws and regulations set forth by the government. The music industry is fighting tooth and nail to keep changes in law from happening, unless it benefits them of course. The RIAA is in fact lobbying to increase the damages per song from peer-to-peer file sharing from the current maximum of $150,000. This has not garnered them many supporters, in fact hate websites like this have sprung up that show the RIAA in an evil communist or Nazi manner.
The government and industries like music need to wake up and see that trying to lock down and criminalize peer-to-peer file sharing of any kind is wasted effort. It also gives the impression to many uneducated citizens that peer-to-peer file sharing is inherently illegal. This is simply not true. Never before has information been exchanged on such a massive scale, and these technologies could have a tremendous impact on distributing educational materials, but instead receive almost exclusively negative press. Just because something can be used for illegal purposes does not make it illegal, guns can be used for murder yet are legal and the oceans transport thousands of tonnes of drugs every year, but we will never stop ships from plying the waters.
The federal government needs to establish simple, loophole free guidelines for Internet crimes prosecutions. Loopholes are particularly easy to take advantage of in cyberspace. Where business “occurs” is sometimes a matter of where the server’s are located. They can still provide services to the entire world while dodging the laws of many countries. The Pirate Bay is a prime example, the operators even provide humorous responses (under “Legal Threats” at the bottom) to take down notices they receive from lawyers. Since they are not located in the United States these letters have little bearing on them. Issues such as this must be cleared up before more elaborate legislation can be crafted. A strong house cannot be built on a weak foundation and the current legal foundation on the Internet is shaky at best. Although with the current administration eroding basic civil liberties I’m afraid that Internet rights and laws are not people’s primary concern. They need to realize that the Internet is simply an alternate reality. A loss of rights online can quickly mutate into the physical world. Congress must educate itself about the wonders of cyberspace and the opportunities it holds, or else make way for those who do.