Just last week the National Telecommunications and Information Administration — the portion of the Commerce Department that has long overseen the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers — said it was time for it to revoke its hands-off-the-internet policy.
That’s according to a February 24 speech by Assistant Commerce Secretary Lawrence E. Strickling.
In fact, “leaving the Internet alone” has been the nation’s internet policy since the internet was first commercialized in the mid-1990s. The primary government imperative then was just to get out of the way to encourage its growth. And the policy set forth in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was: “to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet and other interactive computer services, unfettered by Federal or State regulation.”
This was the right policy for the United States in the early stages of the Internet, and the right message to send to the rest of the world. But that was then and this is now.
Now the NTIA needs to start being active to prevent cyberattacks, privacy intrusions and copyright violations, according to Strickling. And since NTIA serves as one of the top advisers to the president on the internet, that stance should not be underestimated.
Add to that — a bill looming in the Senate would hand the president emergency powers over the internet — and you can see where all this is headed. And let the past be our guide.
Following years of the NSA illegally spying on Americans’ e-mails and phone calls as part of a secret anti-terrorism project, Congress voted to legalize the program in July 2008. That vote allowed the NSA to legally turn America’s portion of the internet into a giant listening device for the nation’s intelligence services. The new law also gave legal immunity to the telecoms like AT&T that helped the government illegally spy on American’s e-mails and internet use. Then-Senator Barack Obama voted for this legislation, despite earlier campaign promises to oppose it.