points of blight, Big Mother, and a wired version of Phyllis Shafley
posted March 1998
I am by no means Pollyannaish about the future of the Internet.
I prefer instead to leave the folks over at Wired to wax over-optimistically
about a future which consists of digital paradigms, the new economy and
"wired citizens". Despite the fact that a wonderfully eclectic
mix of people helped create the communities of the world wide web, there
is one group that can put a stop to it with nothing more than ill-considered
The reason for my latent distrust for the future of the Internet are recent
moves by various levels of government in the United States.
Three fronts, some being considered and others actively pursued -- consisting
of taxation, privacy and decency -- are once again conspiring to place
the future of the Internet in their hands. It's 48 points of blight, Big
Mother, and a wired version of Phyllis Shafley.
The 48 points of blight refer to 48 governors who adopted a resolution
in February calling on states to establish single tax rates on all electronic
commerce over the Internet and mail order purchases. With only the governors
of California and Virginia dissenting, the National Governors Association
passed a resolution urging Congress to enact legislation to regulate Internet
The resolution said such legislation should prohibit taxes on Internet
access or monthly fees, but it urged each state to "establish a single
statewide sales tax rate on all taxable electronic commerce and mail order
purchases." Only U.S. President Bill Clinton, legendary for sticking
to his promises, stands in the way of this resolution, promising a tax
moratorium of five years.
Big Mother comes in the form of Congress which currently has 80 bills
pending which deal with privacy, many of them addressing the Internet.
The fear among legislators is that the average person cannot be relied
on to read the fine print and decide whether to reveal personal information
to web sites about themselves. And the many software solutions which deal
with trivialities like 'cookies' is apparently not solution enough.
And decency? Did you really think the death of the Communications Decency
Act, struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1997, really spelled the
end to "protecting" children from real and imagined evils on
the Internet? During the first week of February, a "son of CDA"
was discussed in the Senate, a new piece of legislation which would modify
the restrictions in the original CDA enough so that it could pass constitutional
muster. Though methods already exist which would protect children, or
at the very least, allow parents to monitor the places they've been, legislators
seem to fear leaving any options to "the people."
Along with taxation, privacy and decency, various government bodies are
still attempting to limit encryption technologies, one of the most essential
parts of commerce. In no way is government finished with trying to recreate
a digital version of itself and its powers on the Internet, no matter
what Ira Magaziner, Clinton's Internet czar, thinks or says.
While few of us were active in the fight against the CDA, realizing perhaps
that the law would never get through the courts on constitutional grounds,
it is time to get involved now. Once the government gives itself the ability
to tax and regulate trade and content -- and unsavory things like pornography
is content -- over the Internet, the liberal atmosphere may well disappear,
replaced with content provided by big PAC donors and taxes sucked out
of the main demographic of the Internet -- educated middle-class Americans.
I would urge you to email your representatives and tell them to consider
carefully their actions, but many of them have revealed their real feelings
about the Internet and effectively blocked that avenue. Using that method
would yield a response not by a secretary or aide dismissing you with
a letter -- instead, you would likely receive a brush-off digital style
-- with email courtesy of an autoresponder.
Seems like they've learned at least one use for the Internet after all.
Thanks for reading,
Meanwhile, back at the ranch...
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