Government Intervention and Internet Regulation
Government Intervention and Internet Regulation Internet is a global network that connects millions of computers together and allows people to communicate and share information with each other in an effective and easy way. It has become the most widely used means of communications of recent times. “The number of U. S. homes with one or more personal computers increased by 16% (in 1995) to about 38 million households, up from 33 million in 1994 and 25 million in 1993” (Fox 9). Along with that staggering stat, the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science has reported that 95% of the public has access to the Internet” (“Free Essay”). Internet is filled with a lot of information on almost every topic in the world and anyone can access that information anytime he or she wants and most often that information is available for free. The very fact that everything is so easily available over the internet has become a cause of great concern because people can access information that they are not supposed to view.
This has given the rise to a great debate over the use internet regulation versus the concept of net neutrality. “Internet regulation is basically restricting or controlling access to certain aspects or information” (“Internet Regulation”). The proponents of regulation argue that some form of government intervention is necessary to keep a check on the information people access over the internet because that information might be a source of harm for the society in general.
Whereas on the other hand, the proponents of concept of net neutrality state that if a person pays for his internet access, then there should be no restrictions on the content that he can view. Because internet is filled with all sorts of information and anyone can access unsuitable information at anytime, some sort of government intervention is necessary in the form of internet regulation to uphold the morals of the society. There are several ways through which internet can be regulated.
Government can make use of the “state control approach” to “intervene directly and place technical controls on the content that can be accessed by their citizens” (Darlington). “A classic case is Saudi Arabia where all of the country’s Internet service providers have to go through a central node where the Saudi authorities block access to sites hosting pornography, those believed to cause religious offence, and web sites containing information on bomb-making” (Darlington).
Another form of regulation, “the self regulation approach” is based on “voluntary initiatives by the Internet Service Providers (ISP) industry” (Darlington). As per this approach, the ISPs try to control the type of content available to the customers and they keep a check on information being accessed over the internet. “Classically this is the approach in Britain where there is no written constitution and government has shown no wish to legislate” (Darlington).
And perhaps the most commonly used and widely accepted form of regulation is the use of filtering techniques through which access to some parts of the information can be controlled for some particular users. For example, parents can use filters to restrict their children from viewing inappropriate explicit content. One of the arguments for having regulation is that internet can be accessed by anyone. Initially, it was supposed to cater to the needs of the American military establishments. Then its uses spread over to the academic communities and today it can be accessed by any individuals from any country and belonging to any age group.
For example, a child can easily view inappropriate content from his bedroom at any time he wants. This should not happen because that material can corrupt the mind of that child and can have some serious negative effects. “As the speed of the Internet increased dramatically with the development of broadband access in the late 1990s and early 2000s, not only has more of this type of information become more available, but also users have been able to access this information in greater quantity” (“Internet Legal Definition”).
So in such circumstances, “we must have some procedures for tackling illegal content on the Internet and some mechanisms for allowing end user control of what is accessed on the Internet” (Darlington). “It is argued that the genesis of the Internet was such that it embraced and fostered a new spirit of freedom, openness and experimentation and that these values must remain an integral feature of the Internet” and if any form of regulation is introduced then the whole essence of the internet will be lost and people would not be able to access the vast resources of information that it has to offer (Darlington).
The opponents of regulation also argue that any form of internet regulation is against the individual’s rights to freedom of expression and the concept of net neutrality because in such a scenario a person may not be able to choose the content he wants to view. However, it should be clearly understood that society is greater than a single person and if such rights of freedom cause harm to the values of the society as a whole, then it is perhaps the responsibility of the government to intervene and restrict the rights given to every individual in order to maintain those values. There is offensive content on the internet”, so this justifies the use of internet restrictions (Darlington). Internet is filled with explicit content. There are thousands of websites that contain pornographic materials which is considered inappropriate for minors and mostly this content is available for free, so there is no additional cost of viewing it besides the charges paid to the ISP. “Also there are some sites which propagate extremist views, often of a racist nature” (Darlington).
Though such explicit material is legal to be viewed by an individual of a certain age which in most countries is set at 18, there is no one particular way of making sure that it is not viewed by anyone under this age because individuals can mislead the system and hide correct personal information. So in such a scenario, the most effective way for individuals who have responsibility of the children, like parents and teachers, is to limit the access to such material through the use of filters. These filters allow censorship of inappropriate material using the ratings provided by the websites.
However, it should be kept in mind that this censorship technique “enable adults to control their own access to material so they do not stumble across things (advertising, violence, erotica/pornography, religious or political material etc. ), which offend them” (“Internet Regulation”). So in a way it is a matter of personal choice and responsibility which gives an individual the power to choose what he views because one can easily change filter settings to control the type of content available to him.
Despite all the great uses provided by the internet, it is used by some people for illegal purposes; therefore, the use of regulation is justified because “a stringent internet regulation can help to curb the innumerable illegal activities over the net” (Manohar). Examples of such criminal activities include “copyright theft, credit card fraud, financial scams, money laundering, hacking, industrial espionage, cyber terrorism, actual terrorism, bomb making instructions, prostitution, certain forms of gambling, drug use, drug smuggling, suicide assistance, defamatory allegations, cyber stalking” (Darlington).
In recent times, people have started to complain about the ever increasing number of spam emails that are sent over the internet. “The number of spam messages sent increased nearly 300 percent from 2001 to 2002 — from 14,078,511 to 55,683,103, according to e-mail filtering company Brightmail” ( Kornblum). “Spam refers to submitting the same message to a large group of individuals in an effort to force the message onto people who would otherwise choose not to receive this message” (“Spam”).
In order to ensure that people do not indulge in such criminal activities and the society remains unharmed, the government must intervene to stop any of these activities from taking place by imposing restrictions. Some people argue that the internet is an enormous network which is growing rapidly as time progresses, so it is not possible to regulate the internet. The argument provided here is flawed because the fact that the internet is so large makes regulating it more difficult, but because it is difficult it does not mean that it should not be regulated.
Some also argue that because “internet is different in operation from other communication networks”, so it should not be regulated (Darlington). “Whereas radio and television is pumped into millions of homes simultaneously (push technology), the Internet is an interactive medium and requires a particular user actively to seek a particular site or application (pull technology)” (Darlington). The very nature of the way in which the end user consumes the internet makes a good argument for having some sort of formal restrictions.
In the case of radio and television, there are certain restrictions on the amount of violence and sex that goes through. So even if an individual wants to see something “special”, there is absolutely no way in which he can do that if nothing such is broadcast at that time, but the case of internet is quite different. A person can view anything, anytime and anywhere he wants. Therefore, regulation acts as a great measure to ensure that a check is maintained over the usage of the internet.
Some people even argue that it is not the responsibility of the government to protect the children against the inappropriate content that is available over the internet because it has got other tasks to take care of and instead “those responsible for them at the time – parents, teachers, guardians, supervisors – should control what they access on the Internet” (Darlington). “While children and teenagers need a certain amount of privacy, they also need parental involvement and supervision in their daily lives” (“Free Essay”).
One way suggested by these people requires the parents to spend time with their children when they are online so that they can keep a check on what their children are accessing. But this kind of total control can not be exercised by those responsible for children because they can not be present at all times. Furthermore, internet can now easily be accessed on mobile devices so it can be easily misused and in the case of a school where a teacher has to look after a lot of students, it is practically impossible for her to monitor the activities of each student at the same time.
So “while parents and teachers must exercise responsibility, they should be assisted by other approaches including the taking down of sites with criminal content and the filtering of sites with offensive or inappropriate content” (Darlington). The debate over the topic of internet regulation versus the concept of net neutrality has become a great issue these days because of the ever growing increase in the usage of the internet and its implications on the society in general.