Monday, January 09, 2006

Legislating the Internets

The title link goes to a story posted on Slashdot about a legislation signed by the President last Thursday. This new piece of legislation includes a provision making it illegal to harass a person over the internets anonymously. A prospective from C-Net's details the impact this could have on the operation of Usenets. Interestingly, the provision is titled "Preventing Cyberstalking" and is part of the Violence Against Women Act. If the statute were to be limited to this purpose only, than it would undergird the purpose of the act. However, the innocuous language of the act indicates that it may be farther reaching than its draft indicates.

The most disturbing part of this legislative act is two fold. First, it regulates conduct on the internet. Second, it was passed as an addendum to another bill sneaking by the totality of the legislative process. While in the first instance, the act controls behavior that would otherwise be illegal if perpetrated through some other medium (though it could control conduct that occurs in the privacy of an individual's home, or even crossing international boarders), the second instance demonstrates a trend in Congress to pass "questionable" legislation under the nose of the American people. Another example is the budget bill which contained a provision to permit oil drilling in ANWR. Legislation needs to be up front and explicit. Much of this back-door legislation is a method of strong-arming the democratic minority into passing legislation it would resist by placing small provisions in larger bills, like the budget, that would result in serious political consequences if they refused to comply with the bill's passage. Is this the way we want the political system to operate, to sacrifice the operation of the democratic process?


There are some interesting comments on this story running at BoingBoing.

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