Internet free speech isn’t under attack just in the People’s Republic of China, where “at least 23 journalists and about 50 cyberdissidents are in jail,” according to a 2004 report by Reporters Without Borders, a civil-rights group.
Internet free speech also is under attack, albeit in a much different way, in the country that invented the Net — the United States.
On Nov. 2, the House of Representatives failed to pass a law, HR1606, which would have banned the Federal Election Commission from regulating blogs — short for web logs, Internet sites on which people post their thoughts, sometimes many times a day, on anything from politics to pelicans.
The failure to pass HR1606 “in effect clears the way for the government to move ahead with rule-making to govern political speech and campaign spending on the Internet,” The Associated Press reported Nov. 3.
One of those strongly opposing HR1606 was Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass. He griped that allowing unregulated blogs opens up “new avenues for corruption to enter the political process,” AP reported.
You might as well say the same thing about any unregulated free speech.
“The FEC will now come up with some regulatory rules for the Internet,” said John Samples, director of the Center for Representative Government at the Cato Institute. “At a minimum, it will regulate blogs directly funded by parties. There is no longer a barrier between election speech and other kinds of speech.”
He said it has yet to be determined by the FEC to what extent private blogs will be regulated. It’s possible, he said, the FEC could limit regulations only to those directly related to campaigns.
But if the FEC goes toward the other extreme, regulation could get really tight. We wonder if Joe Blogger could be regulated if, say, his hardly seen blog includes a link to make contributions to a politician or group? “Yes, it could come into play,” Samples said.
The Internet is an incredibly economical way to exchange ideas and data. Restrictions would seem to fly in the face of the First Amendment, which reads, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”
It’s simply shameful that Congress did not pass HR1606.