The Internet Community Needs To Deal With Policy Making

LAST FRIDAY Michael Weinberg from Public Knowledge swinged by our office. It is always great to catch up with him. He spoke about their new initiative called Internet Blueprint to make new better and improved legislation to replace the texts of Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).

A massive protest against SOPA was launched on the Internet during the congressional hearings on the topic. The protest was successful, and the passing of SOPA was postponed. But it also received criticism from politicians. Just saying NO is not helping. They wondered how the text should be changed to make it acceptable for the Internet community. I think it is a valid criticism.

The Internet was – and still mostly is – an unregulated free haven since its inception. In the last decades, the internet has grown significantly in importance. For most people, the internet is as indispensable as phone lines or high ways.

But with that comes greater responsibility and economic impact. For that reason, there is a demand onto the government to regulate to ensure everybody on the internet is abiding the law.

SOPA & PIPA are two examples where that happened. The Internet at large protested – rightly so – against these two acts. These laws were clearly drawn up from a one-sided point of view. Mostly, to protect dying industries whom business models are heavily disrupted by the Internet and digitization of content.

But the response from Washington was also annoyance by the fact that Internet community only said NO and did not come with counter proposals and improvements. I understand why that happened because there is no mechanism to facilitate collaboration on law making on the Internet. Without it, I am not surprised it did not happen.

Public Knowledge has setup Internet Blueprint where the Internet community can participate in making an improved proposal to congress for the regulation of the Internet on the issues addressed in PIPA & SOPA. This is a great initiative. It fosters participation from the internet community on law making. I have a feeling that this is the way of the future.

Internet has changed the speed and availability of information dramatically. It means that the Internet community in some cases is better informed than people in congress. Instead of using that power to bitch and whine, it can also be leveraged to inspire involvement in law making. It can bring better balanced proposals, more involvement in government and law making, better approval ratings of a new law and it can speed up the process of the law making process. These are great wins for everybody.

The question is how congress and government officials feel about this. Up until now they had – after being chosen – “free” reign to create a world to their own liking. Of course, there are many people involved already, but still that is a small group compared to the population as a whole.

I have never been a fan by referendums, and this could be perceived as such. But it actually is not. Referendums require participation by everybody, and by clever (media) manipulation of public opinion by politicians, it always felt dishonest to me. Organizing referendums are major undertakings and collaboration on the internet is not. Collaboration is also self-selecting in nature which makes the process much more natural and authentic.

I hope the initiative by Public Knowledge is a success. I also hope it inspires others to setup similar initiatives, as well. But most of all I hope that somebody is inspired to build a platform to facilitate law making. Not only to improve new proposals, but also to improve existing laws and to make new laws. I see politicians, professionals and others working together and bring better laws much faster than we can do today. It will improve communication by bringing debates into the public domain and participation will improve public opinion of the government.