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'Internet Freedom' Is a Republican Platform Plank; Democrats To Have a Policy, Too

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Tuesday, August 28 2012

The concept of "Internet freedom" is expected to become part of the Republican party platform for the first time on Tuesday when the party's platform committee votes to ratify language that it had drafted earlier last week. The move addresses the recent demands of dozens of Internet activists and groups for both parties to adopt language addressing the issue, and illustrates the enduring impact of the movement created by the broad protests against the Stop Online Piracy Act in January.

The platform committee was scheduled to approve the following language as part of its official party platform sometime on Tuesday:

Protecting Internet Freedom
The Internet has unleashed innovation, enabled growth, and inspired freedom more rapidly and extensively than any other technological advance in human history. Its independence is its power. The Internet offers a communications system uniquely free from government intervention. We will remove regulatory barriers that protect outdated technologies and business plans from innovation and competition, while preventing legacy regulation from interfering with new and disruptive technologies such as mobile delivery of voice video data as they become crucial components of the Internet ecosystem. We will resist any effort to shift control away from the successful multi-stakeholder approach of Internet governance and toward governance by international or other intergovernmental organizations. We will ensure that personal data receives full constitutional protection from government overreach and that individuals retain the right to control the use of their data by third parties; the only way to safeguard or improve these systems is through the private sector.

The language appears to be a little less detailed than what was reported by the the conservative outlet the Daily Caller on Friday. Yet however vague it is, the party has for the first time officially articulated a viewpoint on the role that the Internet plays in our society, and its relationship to the government. While Internet policy wasn't part of the Democrats' official platform in 2008, then candidate Obama had a fully-articulated policy on net neutrality, which his administration has implemented. House Republicans have strongly opposed that policy, and the Republican party platform explicitly criticizes the administration for that policy, saying that it's trying to "micromanage telecom as if it were a railroad network."

The document also criticizes the administration for its record on broadband rollout and the lack of inventorying of federal agency spectrum to be auctioned off for "taxpayers' benefit."

And also as might be expected, the language focuses on less regulation, protecting the online ecosystem of innovation, and protecting the current multi-stakeholder system of governing the Internet, echoing the statements of various members of Congress and Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell earlier this year when hearings were held on the potential impact of a December meeting of the International Telecommunications Union.

The last part concerning the protection of "personal data" from government overreach also reflects the ideas expressed in the libertarian-leaning Campaign for Liberty's manifesto, which was released to Buzzfeed in July.

And finally, the document says: "With special recognition of the role university technology centers are playing in attracting private investment to the field, we will replace the administration's Luddite approach to technological progress with a regulatory partnership that will keep this country the world leader in technology and telecommunications."

As a plank of the Republican party platform, the language can be understood as the party's overall take on the concept of "Internet freedom," which is a vague concept that was floated by many of the anti-SOPA and PIPA activists earlier this year but which have been criticized by the free market group TechFreedom.

Matthew Lesser, a-29-year-old state representative from Connecticut who is a member of the Democrats' platform committee, told techPresident via e-mail that his party will also make Internet freedom part of its platform.

"While the Democrats have not yet publicly released their platform, the platform will include a strong plank in support of Internet freedom," he said. "The Democratic platform will highlight the Obama Administration's strong record of supporting Internet freedom -- the freedom of expression, assembly, and association online for people everywhere. The platform will also support the Administration in opposing the extension of intergovernmental controls over the Internet."

The moves can also be seen as a play for financial support from Silicon Valley and other hubs of tech business. In 2012 alone, TechNet, the Silicon Valley association of tech company CEOs, angel investors and venture capitalists, has arranged more than 40 fund-raising trips for members of Congress to the area.

In 2008, Silicon Valley overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama's presidential bid. But campaign finance records also show that House Speaker John Boehner's also been conducting successful fundraising campaigns throughout the region in the past year.

David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, who has been organizing the drive to push the parties to adopt the language, said: "The mere adoption of such language is indicative of, and helps further, the mainstreaming of Internet issues. It creates another tool by which activists to hold politicians accountable -- its powerful to be able to tell a lawmaker that he or she is in danger of violating their own party's stated principles, and it makes it clear to pols that they'd be risking the wrath of their party's most active members if they don't support Internet freedom and privacy."

"I think it's a positive sign that this plank focuses on something that we can agree on, such as a communications system free from government intervention, privacy, and protection of innovation," said Kevin Bankston, senior counsel and director of the Center for Democracy and Technology's Free Expression project, referring specifically to the portion of the document that addresses Internet freedom.

This post has been updated

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