Regulation or Strangulation?

Internet Regulation

Regulation is needed in many areas, like banking and healthcare. Sometimes,  however, regulators get carried away, and strangle innovation with too much regulation. This almost happened with Bitcoin. The regulation we need I call light regulation. In 1995, I was Chairman of the Global Internet Project. The board and I traveled around the world meeting with government leaders and policy makers to convince them not to regulate the Internet. The Internet was an infant then, and we were concerned the growth and development of the Internet would be strangled with too much regulation. The U.S. Congress was clueless about the Internet (and still is as demonstrated by the incredible questions asked while Mark Zuckerberg testified). The Europeans, however, were aggressive and proposed a number of strong regulations. One was to impose a “bit tax” on all information which flowed through the Internet. A second was to ban the use of caching, which is what enables the Internet to perform well. Fortunately, both of these ideas went nowhere.

Brussels shifted its efforts to privacy. The result was The European Data Protection Regulation which went into effect on May 25th, 2018 in all member states to harmonize data privacy laws across Europe. It also applies to any company in the world which has European customers or users. This is why you have been seeing so many privacy policy pop ups and emails. Unlike how I felt in the mid-1990s, the time is right and the need is strong for privacy regulation of the Internet. The only question is whether the GDPR may be overkill. The 261 page beast has 11 chapters and 99 articles. Lawyers and consultants love it. I am cautiously optimistic it will be tolerable and helpful worldwide.

On a happy note, on Thursday, July 5, the European Parliament voted down the Copyright Directive, which had been approved by the EU’s Legal Affairs Committee. The goal behind the legislation was to change how copyright works on the Internet. There are many parts to it, but the two I was most concerned about are Article 11 and Article 13. With the strong pressure from media companies and publishers, it is possible the articles could be modified and voted on again.

Article 11 would have enforced strict checks on links within articles. For example, if I write a post about artificial cartilage and provide a link to an article at The Mayo Clinic, I would have been required to pay for a license to do so. Article 13 would have made publishers responsible for the content they post on their site, including comments posted by readers. So if you posted a comment about an article and included a picture of a link to another site which included copyrighted material, the publisher website would have been liable. This issue has been fought for decades.

Article 11 & 13 could have been a disaster for the Internet. Big publishers, media companies, and Internet giants have the resources to manage the regulations with big resources – but not so for small ones.. Although the regulation was European, millions of web sites of all sizes have European customers or readers (as I do). Small companies and thought leaders would not have been able to pay to provide links. The result could have been a global reduction in the sharing of ideas and innovation. Good ideas and thoughts do not all come from big organizations. One might argue to the contrary.  Without verifiable links, the regulation could have given rise to the spread of real fake news.

The really good news this week is members of the European Parliament agreed to allow internet voting. This will allow EU citizens to vote from non-EU countries and, presumably, allow expatriates in the U.S. or Asia to vote. In the U.S., we continue to disenfranchise 100 million potential voters because of our antiquated system, and a United States Senator sick at home cannot cast a vote in the Senate. Read more in Election Attitude – How Internet Voting Leads to a Stronger Democracy.

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