Net ElectoralChoices?

Last year I wrote a series of essays for, looking to discern Internet-related issues in the coming election.

As the election comes into the home stretch, it’s a good time to ask, “Are these questions really at issue between the parties?”

The answer, in most cases, is no. The fact is that on most Internet issues, the parties themselves are divided between the forces of order and those more interested in individual rights. Democrats have the ACLU and former district attorneys Republicans have a governing wing and an I-hate-government wing.

On Internet issues, Buchanan and Nader find a lot of common ground, as do Bush and Gore. It’s both ends against the middle.

This is reflected in what’s happening on a host of Internet issues. On cryptography, for instance, Republicans and Democrats have made common cause against Republicans and the Democratic Administration. On questions of speech and filtering, both parties supported the dreaded Communications Decency Act and support mandatory filtering of subsidized access.

On the question of spam, you’ll find both Republicans and Democrats supporting H.R. 3113, which seeks to outlaw spam and members of both parties opposing it, often with the same rhetoric. On enforcement, it was the Clinton Administration that came up with Project Carnivore, but I can’t believe a former CIA director’s son would dismantle it.

The issue of open access for ISPs on cable has been pretty much decided. The ISPs will gain access after the cable head-ends get a big head-start, and the cable companies have simply redefined the issue as they prepare to roll-out “free” interactive TV services that charge sites for carriage.

Some Republicans have made the case that they oppose sales tax on Internet purchases, while Democrats favor them. But the charge for imposing a levy was headed by Governor Mike Leavitt of Utah, and a more Republican man can scarcely be imagined. (I think he’d take that sentence as a compliment.) The big, unanswered question for tax proponents is, where is the store? From where will the tax be imposed? Is it from behind your screen? Is it the shipping address? Is it where you’re registered to vote? And can governments really enforce 1,000 different tax rates against every small store in cyberspace?

One word in that last sentence, enforce, may be the key to the whole business. Both parties believe that laws they favor can and will be enforced in cyberspace, while consensual rules (like those against spam and for the sharing of files) created within the Internet itself will be enforced only by “vigilantes.” I wonder how many college kids will go to jail over their MP3 collections before government figures out the Net?

On questions of governance, neither Bush nor Gore has spoken about ICANN. I’m just guessing Pat Buchanan doesn’t want some New World Order out of Switzerland deciding the U.S. Internet policy, do you?

No, on most issues especially copyright it’s government as a whole that is arrayed against the consensus of the Internet. November’s election will change nothing on that score.

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