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Regulating the Internet
Posted by: Dale Franks on Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Via Eugene Volokh, I see that Democracy Project has obtained a copy of the draft rules for the FEC's regulation of the internet.  DPis quite giddy about the passage on internet communications, claiming that, as a result of the recent blogswarm, the FEC has carved out a blog-related exemption:

 No expenditure results where an individual, acting independently or as a volunteer, without receiving compensation, performs Internet activities using computer equipment and services that he or she personally owns for the purpose of influencing any Federal election, whether or not the individual’s activities are known to or coordinated with any candidate, authorized committee or party committee.

Professor Volokh, on the other hand, isn't so sure we should be rejoicing quite yet:

Now it's hard to tell for sure without reading the full proposal, but doesn't this seem quite narrow? I'm typing this on a UCLA computer right now; I don't personally own it. (I think UCLA doesn't object to academics using their office computers for drafting election-related materials, but let's set that aside for now; I'm sure that many universities permit such activity.) The material is being posted on a PowerBlogs host, which I also don't personally own. If the [Volokh] Conspiracy were organized as a corporation—as are most newspapers and magazines—that owned the computers and let the bloggers use them, then I wouldn't be using a computer that I personally own, either. Likewise if I were to blog from an Internet cafe, or from a friend's house, or from an office at a school at which I'm visiting.

I hope the FEC doesn't really mean to limit the rule to people who do their own hosting, and who compose everything solely on computers that they themselves own. And perhaps in context the final proposed rule will make that clear. But as written, this particular paragraph offers little cause for rejoicing.

Looked at in that way, it does raise questions.  Maybe the problem is simply that the people writing the reg don't actually understand that most of us don't host our own blogs on our dual-Xeon web servers with T-1 comm lines to the outside world, and blog from our own workstations.  So maybe it's just a lack of technical savvy about how web hosting or Typepad or Blogger actually work.

But it's possible to read that paragraph very narrowly, in which case blogging isn't as free and clear of Federal regulation as DP thinks.

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Previous Comments to this Post 

Eugene is right.  The FEC is setting up a rule here that prohibits the use of anything not personally owned by an individual for any kind of political activity.  Trust me, I know how these regulatrory agencies work and write their rules.

Bloggers who are interested only in getting their own little carve-out for blogging are playing a sucker’s game.  This isn’t about making sure that your little niche is temporarily safe.  This is about making sure anyone, anywhere, can say anything they damn well please about a politician, any way they care to say it.

Congress shall make no law . . . . Remember?
Written By: R C Dean

This is a particularly disturbing approach to regulation when you consider the value of privacy.  Requiring someone to blog from equipment they own is pretty much equivalent to requiring someone to blog in such a way the authorities can find them.  This is not a good thing for free speech, especially not for primarily political speech.

While there hasn’t been much need for a blogger in this country to keep his real identity secret, we see that need today in many other countries.  The infrastructure to allow someone to blog anonymously, or at least pseudonymously, exists today and is important.  It would be a serious mistake to lose that.

Written By: Skorj
URL: http://

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