Editor’s Note: A provocative idea.
Summary: This is a serious and thoughtful look at how we might resolve the internet regulation dilemmas that have plagued us for 20 years. It’s a campaigning book — but in a subtle and evidence-based way.
By Wendy M Grossman for ZDNet UK Book Reviews
The early days of the internet were marked by a dualistic attitude towards regulation. The arrogant ‘technology-rules’ camp insisted that the internet couldn’t be functionally regulated, while the paranoid camp
feared that whatever regulation was tried would be damaging. Twenty years later, we still see these warring attitudes — often coexisting uneasily in the same people. Witness the debate that sprang up in response to David Cameron’s announcement a few weeks ago that he intended to push forward with nationwide filtering of objectionable web content. The weird thing is that both positions are true.
As Ian Brown and Christopher Marsden write at the outset of Regulating Code, we are entering the third decade of internet regulation. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it’s a reasonable contention. The internet began to reach popular attention with the 1993 release of Mosaic, which opened up the web, and the 1994 withdrawal of acceptable use policies barring commercial traffic. Although many of today’s battles have their roots in the very earliest online interaction, before that pair of developments there wasn’t much to regulate. After them, however, governments quickly became interested, and by 1996 the Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow was writing A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace to tell them that regulating the internet was none of their business. As Brown and Marsden write, few would now agree (and many did not agree even at the time).
Brown, now a research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, is a long-time researcher and activist; his work is well-known to anyone interested in digital rights and the work of Privacy International, the Open Rights Group or the Foundation for Information Policy Research. Marsden, the author of two books on internet regulation and network neutrality as well as several others, was a professor at the University of Essex School of Law when this book was published, although he has since moved to the University of Sussex, where he’s been a Professor of Media Law since April 2013.