In mid-2008, Rasmussen conducted a poll to find out how Americans felt about 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 due to fears about children being exposed to online violence or pornography and abuse by social networking predators.

A Glance at Censorship.

China is not the only place that censors Internet content. The trend is on a rise worldwide. For example, in the UK, a page within 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. Because the offending content was an image of an album cover, there was the possibility that Amazon’s US shopping and auction content would be blocked from UK viewers.

Also in the censorship arena is the increasing volume of politicians who are complaining about blogs not correctly reporting the facts about their campaigns or other political events. The regulatory environment may be further impacted by journalists and mainstream media who are seeing online content take a bite out of their readership and sales. While news and political reporting are not currently regulated in the United States, it would not be surprising if politicians begin to talk about licensing requirements or some form of authority ranking for blog owners and other online reporters.

Filtering on a National Scale.

If it passes Parliament, Australia’s ‘great firewall’ may become the most obtrusive form of government control of the Internet in a democratized country. The goal is to filter out child pornography, but the firewall has nonetheless sparked fierce 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. Despite the fact that the filter is not totally accurate or effective, it slows down Internet speeds by up to 86.

Internet Taxes.

For years, there have been rumors in the US about a federal Internet tax, but nothing has come of it. Many Americans, including their representatives in Congress, are leery of an Internet sales tax. State governments, on the other hand, are eyeing the Internet as a source of revenue. The 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 shocked if Internet taxes become an issue in the near future.

Licensing and Disclosure Requirements.

As odd as it sounds, there has been some talk by a handful of legislators that people should be licensed to surf the Internet. Their reasoning is that is a person has to get a license to drive a car, then he or she needs to get a license to surf the Internet’s information highway. To get a license, users would have to pass a test on basic Internet and computer knowledge, such as how to use email, how to run an anti-virus program and so on. 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. Regulatory accountability is not a far-fetched idea, particularly if one views copyright suits, politicians complaining about the accuracy of news and blogs, and stringent regulation of medical claims with respect to health products. 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.

Conclusion.

The above examples provide a glimpse into what the future may hold when it comes to Internet regulation. Because so many people refuse to take responsibility for their children’s Internet activities and for their own Internet use, it is likely that we as Internet publishers will see an increasing amount of regulatory proposals.

The first step toward protecting oneself from Internet regulation is to publish a legally sound privacy policy statement on your website.    Learn how to write a good privacy statement and policies page at the Not Guru blog.

Internet regulation and trends are periodically discussed here:  Internet Regulation articles at the NotGuru blog.

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