During the year 2008, Rasmussen conducted a poll to find out where Americans stood with respect to 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 Glance at Censorship.
Censorship of Internet content is on the rise, and it is not just limited to communist China anymore. 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. An album cover was viewed as offensive and inappropriate. Since it was a photo of a physical good, there was the possibility that Amazon's US auction and shopping content would be blocked from UK viewers.
Within the censorship arena is the increasing volume of complaints from politicians who feel that blogs are not correctly reporting the facts about their campaigns or other political news. Add to this mix the journalists and mainstream media who are seeing online content take a bite out of their readership and sales. While Internet news publishing is not currently regulated in the US, it would not be surprising if politicians begin to talk about journalism requirements or some form of authority rank for blog owners and other online reporters.
Filtering on a National Scale.
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 sparked intense debate, including free speech arguments. Reportedly, the government will ban at least 1300 websites. A problem is the lack of transparency or right to dispute a ban because the government has not disclosed the urls of the sites that will be on the banned list. Internet speeds are reduced by up to 86% but despite this, the filtering is not 100% accurate and is therefore not effective.
For years, there have been rumors in the US about a federal internet tax, but nothing has come of it. Many Americans, including Congressional representatives, are leery of an Internet sales tax. Budget-challenged state governments, on the other hand, are eyeing the Internet as a source of revenue. New York state, for instance, imposed various vendor and affiliate registration requirements that would make non-resident sellers responsible for reporting New York state sales taxes. 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.
Some legislators have talked about licensing Internet use. Their rationale is that if a person has to get a license to drive a car, he or she needs to get a license to surf the Internet's information highway. License requirements would include basic knowledge about anti-virus programs, email use and so forth. 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.
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.