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Internet Regulation: We Must Make the Circle Square

Posted by on December 2, 2008

[This post was originally written for my employer’s blog, Show-Me Daily.]

Megan Meier’s sucide happened over two years ago, but the trial of Lori Drew drew to a close just recently, with the jury finding her guilty last Friday of three counts of accessing a computer without authorization, and not guilty of felony conspiracy.

According to an interview with the jury forewoman on (a shortened version of a front-page article from the Post-Dispatch‘s print version) all but four of the jurors wanted to pursue the conspiracy charge “to send a message that Internet sites should be better regulated for fraud.”

First and foremost, this is clearly not the best reason to convict someone of a felony. “To Send a Message” is the reason the mafia does horrible things; not reasoned, civilized people. An example need not be made.

Moreover, the point they were trying to make is explicitly that the Internet needs better fraud regulation. We already have laws and precedents to protect people from deception and harm. If a person is wronged by another person, the victim has civil and criminal recourse. Increasing the depth or scope of regulation only confuses the important system of justice, creating possible victimless crimes and further inundating an already overburdened legal system.

This, of course, does not begin to address the issue of the difficulty (the near impossibility) of regulating the Internet. The free flow of information from place to place has brought with it drastically improved efficiency and productivity. Communication and media freedom are so cheap now that it is easy to take it for granted. At present, and in many ways, the Internet behaves much like a perfectly competitive marketplace, with sufficiently many demanders and sellers of all kinds that those who harm others or do business in a reprehensible way can be easily punished with a simple move to a competitor.

I propose to those who would impose new legislation on the Internet the following: Let the justice system and the marketplace function in their proper roles to deliver their respective products of punishment and all other goods/services.

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