chapter  4
26 Pages

Outsourcing internet regulation: Des Freedman


On 8 February 1996, President Bill Clinton signed into law a major piece of legislation, the Telecommunications Act, the first comprehensive overhaul of US communications since the 1934 Communications Act. Broadly deregulatory in spirit, it contained within it one especially controversial section, the Communications Decency Act (CDA), which sought to regulate indecency and obscenity on a relatively new part of the world’s communications infrastructure, the internet, and to criminalise the circulation of pornographic content to people under 18 years of age. Later that day, many thousands of miles away on a mountaintop in Switzerland, the former Grateful Dead lyricist and internet freedom activist John Perry Barlow published a call to arms that combined righteous indignation with libertarian passion. Barlow argued that the CDA ‘attempts to place more restrictive constraints on the conversation in Cyberspace than presently exist in the Senate cafeteria, where I have dined and heard colorful indecencies spoken by United States senators on every occasion I did’ (Barlow 1996). His considered reaction: ‘Well, fuck them.’ There then followed a manifesto for an open and unregulated internet that

resonates in the online world to this day.