The Internet Is Not (Fully) Open, Nor Should It Be

Robert D. Atkinson August 13, 2015
August 13, 2015

The Internet is not completely open, nor should it be, writes Rob Atkinson in Innovation Files. As a case in point, the world should welcome the recent announcement by major Internet firms including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo, which are taking steps to block images of child sexual abuse. Because what is being blocked is rightly deemed to be horrific and socially corrosive, even the groups typically opposed to any form of censorship, such as Electronic Freedom Foundation, are staying silent. So the real questions for policymakers are: What content should be blocked, how should those decisions be made, and who should be responsible for blocking content? Clearly, society should want as little as possible to be blocked or taken off the Internet, but that does not mean that we should oppose attempts to block online materials that are clearly illegal. Regardless of what U.S. law is, some nations, especially authoritarian ones, will engage in blocking practices that organizations like ITIF will and should oppose. But to argue that blocking child pornography (or even pirated content) gives carte blanche to dictatorships misses the point. Dictatorships will engage in those practices whether or not there are laws in democratic nations against malware, pirated content, or child pornography on the Internet. We must recognize that while a key factor in making the Internet one of the greatest technological innovations in human history is in fact its open and permission-free system, that openness and permission-free quality is not unlimited—and recognizing and accepting this does not make someone into an Internet totalitarian.