Think tank launches center on Internet policy issues

The Progress and Freedom Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, has launched the Center for Internet Freedom to advocate a market-based approach to Internet policy debates.

The expansion of the Internet into a utility underlying the nation's communications and commerce has resulted in a growing number of policy and regulatory issues being addressed by the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission and Congress.

'It is more important than ever that we keep government regulation out,' said Berin Szoka, a PFF fellow who is director of the center. 'We offer an alternative to the proliferation of advocacy groups calling for government intervention online.'

The center will produce analyses and critiques of proposals that it feels would diminish the online role of free markets and property rights. The center advocates technological innovation, user education and self-help, and industry self-regulation as an alternative to increased government regulation of online activities and business.

PFF studies on the implications of the digital revolution for public policy, and has had focus areas in its organization on communications and digital media.

'They wanted for some time to establish a program dedicated specifically to Internet issues,' Szoka said. The time was ripe for setting up the center because 'a lot has changed' in recent years, he said.

Everyone is in favor of freedom and privacy on the Internet, but people who share slogans now stand on different sides of the debates on how and to what extent the Internet will be governed. A few years ago, Internet policy was dominated by libertarian ideals that advocated minimal government involvement. But issues of online privacy, liability, net neutrality, and freedom of speech are generating greater pressure for government protection and regulation, which PFF feels would stifle growth and innovation.

There are legitimate debates to be held on serious issues such as child safety online, but these are hampered by inadequate understanding on the part of regulators, Szoka said.

'It is disturbing that the policymakers don't have a great technical grasp of the issues,' he said. 'I hope that regulation does not move faster than the understanding.'

The center will produce a series of reports and papers on issues facing users and regulators.

'The think I'm most fixated on now is the area of online behavioral advertising,' Szoka said. The practice of targeting the advertising that a user receives has moved beyond the use of cookies to use of data from packet inspection. 'The debate about packet inspection data will be one of the big issues in the next year,' and will involve not only targeted advertising but also issues of net neutrality and other uses of the data, he said.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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