Wednesday, February 15, 2006

US Feds Will Govern Those Who Would Not Govern Themselves

From left, Mark Chandler of Cisco, Elliot Schrage of Google, Jack Krumholtz of Microsoft and Michael Callahan of Yahoo at the hearing today.

In a New York Times article today by Tom Zeller, Jr., a House Subcommittee plans to introduce legislation by this weekend that would restrict an Internet company's ability to censor or filter basic political or religious terms. The legislation would also establish standards for internet companies operating abroad. Whether these standards include the criteria required to reveal an anonymous e-mailer’s identity to a foreign government was not specified.

In another Tom Zeller article, Republican Christopher Smith of New Jersey offered some harsh criticisms for US-based Internet companies for “sickening collaboration" with the Chinese government and for "decapitating the voice of the dissidents" there. California Democrat Tom Lantos also said, "I do not understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night." Well said, Mr. Smith and Mr. Lantos!

"We always reserve the right to get better," Mr. Callahan, Yahoo's general counsel, said in a phone call last weekend. Way to stand up for your rights, Mr. Callahan!

While this may sound like an encouraging development, it does not necessarily bode well for the future of freedoms currently enjoyed by internet users. Since these four companies (Yahoo!, Google, MSN, and Cisco) did not govern themselves when dealing with China, it is becoming apparent that they may have to answer to a higher authority with regard to how they will do business abroad, and ultimately in the US as well.

Today, the US Government is inserting its legislation into the internet world in what appears to be a very positive manner. However, this may subject industry leaders to future legislation that is not so positive.

No government is beyond reproach, and the US government has specifically been under fire lately for its apparent lack of concern for personal privacy and civil rights. The warrantless wiretapping of phones has been at the forefront of several news cycles, but what has slipped by practically unnoticed is that these thousands of intrusions have included warrantless monitoring of e-mail as well. Is this the governing body we want guaranteeing the freedom of internet users in the US and abroad?

If the US Government has appointed itself the official policeman over the internet, shame on the Big-4 internet companies for letting it happen.


Blogger Ontario Emperor said...

Congress often adopts a "you regulate yourselves or we'll regulate you" approach toward entities (e.g. Major League Baseball after the steroids scandal). However, Congress is more successful in this approach when approaching monopolies rather than oligopolies. The Yahoo guy is thinking in the back of his brain, "If I divest from China," Google will just jump in. Sadly, government regulation may be required at this point, although you're correct in noting that once government starts regulating, it can regulate anything (e.g. dissemination of information about the Vice President's recreational pursuits is a threat to national security).

12:19 PM  
Blogger Bob Merkin said...

Lantos is Congress' sole survivor of the European holocaust of the 1930s and 40s. As a teen in Hungary, he was a slave laborer for the Nazis.

How did the Nazis find all the Jews in Germany and occupied Europe? They bought the technology and the systems from the world's leader in digital information processing: IBM. Every concentration camp inmate's tattoo was from an IBM-designed system.

IBM was just doing what every publicly held company is obligated to do: Go into every profitable market to return profit to its investors.

And now Google, Yahoo, MSN and Cisco are doing it again to help the leading totalitarian police state oppress and silence its citizens.

The fact is, these companies are NOT regulating themselves regarding things as fundamental as helping police states throw dissidents into prison. These are American companies that were nurtured in their infancy by constitutional American freedoms.

I'm delighted Lantos and Smith are introducing legislation which hopefully will forbid these (theoretically) American companies from leading the world toward a nightmare future of totalitarianism.

6:33 PM  

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