15 Years On, President Clinton’s 5 Principles for Internet Policy Remain the Perfect Paradigm

By Adam Thierer, Contributor, Forbes Magazine

What principles should guide Internet policy? Fifteen years ago, the Clinton Administration proposed a paradigm for how cyberspace should be governed that remains the most succinct articulation of a pro-liberty, market-oriented vision for cyberspace ever penned. It recommended that we rely on civil society, contractual negotiations, voluntary agreements, and ongoing marketplace experiments to solve information age problems. In essence, they were recommending a high-tech Hippocratic oath: First, do no harm (to the Internet).

Unfortunately, most governments across the globe—including ours here in the U.S.—are increasingly taking a very different approach. While many politicians promised originally to keep their “Hands off the Net,” today it’s more like “Hands all over the Net.” It is difficult to name an area where policymakers are not currently promulgating or at least considering controls for the Internet and related digital technologies. As I have documented in this column many times, we are in the midst of a regulatory onslaught on many fronts: online free speech, kids’ safety, cybersecurity, copyright, privacy, taxation, antitrust and other forms of economic regulation.

While the “hands off” approach is under attack, the Clinton Administration’s proposed paradigm is still very much worth defending. Released in July 1997, their Framework for Global Electronic Commerce was drafted by President Clinton’s chief policy advisor Ira Magaziner. The choice of Magaziner to lead the initiative was originally greeted with suspicion by some in the Internet policy community since he had previously spearheaded the Administration’s controversial health care reform effort, which prescribed a heavy dose of government intervention.

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