If Congress doesn’t change the law, what kind of activities will the FEC have to target?
We’re talking about any decision by an individual to put a link (to a political candidate) on their home page, set up a blog, send out mass e-mails, any kind of activity that can be done on the Internet.
Again, blogging could also get us into issues about online journals and non-online journals. Why should CNET get an exemption but not an informal blog? Why should Salon or Slate get an exemption? Should Nytimes.com and Opinionjournal.com get an exemption but not online sites, just because the newspapers have a print edition as well?
Why wouldn’t the news exemption cover bloggers and online media?
Because the statute refers to periodicals or broadcast, and it’s not clear the Internet is either of those. Second, because there’s no standard for being a blogger, anyone can claim to be one, and we’re back to the deregulated Internet that the judge objected to. Also I think some of my colleagues on the commission would be uncomfortable with that kind of blanket exemption.
So if you’re using text that the campaign sends you, and you’re reproducing it on your blog or forwarding it to a mailing list, you could be in trouble?
Yes. In fact, the regulations are very specific that reproducing a campaign’s material is a reproduction for purpose of triggering the law. That’ll count as an expenditure that counts against campaign finance law.
This is an incredible thicket. If someone else doesn’t take action, for instance in Congress, we’re running a real possibility of serious Internet regulation.
Enough to make your blood boil, right? Except it will be impossible to enforce. I can register a domain with a fake name and address in a foreign country, host the domain in still another country, then post anonymously to that website with an IP address from a third country, all without leaving my little town in Idaho. Oh, and the traffic from my bedroom to the other side of the international borders is encrypted. So how are they going to regulate that? What authority do they have to regulate websites and Internet traffic of foreign countries?
At another dinner, a year or two ago, with the same friend from last week I had expressed my concerns about how the internet and computers could be a real threat to freedom. The sniffing of your email traffic, the websites you browse, the things you buy, the people you communicate with, far, far too much information about you is known from your internet traffic. He dismissed it by rolling his eyes, a wave of his hand and the statement, “Computers and the internet are a far bigger problem for the government than they are for the individual.” Because to him this was so obvious I decided to think on it rather than push the subject with him. In the time since then I’ve come to conclude he is right. Yes, it’s a problem for the individual but it’s a bigger problem for the government. Look at what bloggers have done in the past couple of years. Look at the communication we get back from the war front. Look at the bind the FEC is getting into trying to regulate us.
Two lesson are important here:
The free flow of information is almost impossible to control now.
Freedom flourishes when you have the free flow of information.
Fascists everywhere know the second lesson and are rapidly learning the first. It won’t be long before the slow learners at the FEC, in the courts, and in our legislatures grasp both.