John Ostrowski

The Internet is the newest and most free medium of communication, which can be used to check both government and the mainstream media. This means, of course, that the government is already looking to regulate it. If certain legislators have their way, the end of free blogging on the Internet will come sooner rather than later.

Many people know the old adage, “It’s too good to be true.” Well, the Internet is most likely soon to fall victim to the adage, “It’s too good to be free.” Not that this should be surprising in any way. As communications and entertainment industries emerge and gain power, regulation of some type is all but inevitable. Self-regulation restricts the movie industry (via the Motion Picture Association of America) and print media (via promises of “objectivity”) – the latter falling in contrast with the original theory of print in the United States.

Government regulation restricts broadcast media (via the FCC) and even print media (via neo-liberal justices shirking the libertarian roots of the First Amendment). Not all regulation is necessarily a bad thing. Case in point, the Child Online Protection Act mandated that schools and libraries receiving certain federal discounts block obscene and pornographic material. In this case, the government both fulfills a moral duty to protect children from obscene material in certain public places and does not violate the First Amendment.

Political bloggers have thus far dodged the regulatory bullet. The McCain-Feingold Bill, which drastically curtailed freedom of speech by imposing limits on soft money contribution, does not apply to Internet speech—for the moment. The FEC sought to codify that “public communications” (which can be regulated under McCain-Feingold) did not include the Internet, but that addition was struck down by a District Court. In March of this year, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) tried to rectify this problem by proposing the “Online Freedom of Speech Act,” which would have excluded online content from “public communications.”

In response to this move, an alternative anti-free speech bill was proposed that would place under regulation those sites whose expenditures totaled more than $10,000 annually. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Tom Allen (D-Maine) and Charlie Bass (R-N.H.) was laughably titled “Internet Free Speech Protection Act.” This is a pure example of Orwellian double-speak, as the purpose of the bill is certainly not the protection of free speech on the Internet. This fact didn’t stop Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), a supporter of the Allen bill, from issuing a press release condemning Hensarling’s bill as the one being “deceptive.”

John Ostrowski

John Ostrowski is a former intern. He is currently a senior at University of Illinois.

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