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[Ben]:EU trying to regulate Internet video - we continue to approach the end of the frontier. Discuss This [1 comment so far] View Comments
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New regulations are being proposed by the European Commission to regulate video on the internet like video on TV, thus being subject to similar restrictions on content, advertising and so forth.

The EC is a bunch of meddling Mrs. Grundys. Trying to regulate internet video is simply a dumb idea. They will simply be creating more unenforceable laws, inflate bureaucracy even further, decrease respect for the rule of law yet further (if that is possible) and continue to destroy freedom.

European video-bloggers ... Ihre papiere, bitte.

I've tried for a very long time to be realistic in my expectations for the future. More and more I'm thinking that some flavor of reverse utopia such as those featured so often in speculative fiction are the most likely outcome. Some would likely disagree. Some might say, "But Ben, tyranny has risen in the past. Through time freedom has, on average, expanded greatly!"

This is partially true. It's a cycle, I admit, but it seems to me that in human history, freedom has expanded almost always on frontiers away from the grasping claws of government authority. This was true with the first European settling of America, the expansion into the American West, the commercial Internet and so forth. Through time, traditions of freedom - left over from people who lived without governmental influence - wither, shrivel and die as generations forget the value of it. As those traditions die, Government works its way into greater and greater control.

When there is a way to move to a new frontier, those inclined to do so are able to accept the various risks presented by that frontier, leave the sphere of governmental influence and move into greater freedom. Meanwhile those they leave behind tend to continue headlong in their descent into tyranny. When the dark areas on maps disappeared and there were no longer physical frontiers to move to, governments were able to expand their collective control worldwide and the option to willingly move into lawlessness disappeared. Now those who love freedom can only choose the best of the bad.

Let's make something very clear. Freedom is ugly. Freedom is harsh. Freedom is dangerous. People who lived on the bleeding edge of any frontier were usually some pretty hard, brutish folk. The first to a physical frontier were many times criminals where they came from, fleeing the government that wanted them. No frontier is clean, safe, easy and peaceful. That's the way of things. This is not to say that life under powerful governments is clean, safe, easy and peaceful for everyone either. Freedom means you are allowed to hurt yourself, but it beats the alternative.

In truth, there have been expansions of freedom in some areas. Racial and gender restrictions on civil rights in the twentieth century United States, for instance, were greatly weakened (though, as the proliferation of gun laws proves, racist regulations weren't entirely eliminated). There is, however, a limit to this kind of internal change. At some point things get so bad that people have to leave and find somewhere else to go.

With the explosion of the commercial Internet, there was - for a time - a digital frontier with few laws. People who sought freedom could find it in the relative lack of regulation of the emerging Internet. That freedom meant that there were a lot of nasty things available, but it beat the pants off of the alternative. Through time, governments have woken up to the fact that there existed a frontier they did not have control over. Along with good, freedom-loving people, criminals flocked to the Internet as a means of communicating, conspiring, seeking victims, selling illicit goods and services and generally plying their trade in the new market. This inspired crusades against porn, drugs, gambling, child abuse, terrorism and boogie monsters during which the Government has demanded and usually received greater and greater control.

And that's where we stand today. Governments (ours, Europe's, China's and everyone else's) continues their collective efforts to insinuate itself into the last frontier currently open to our society. Definitions of cyber-crime will continue to expand. Already, thanks to the McCain Feingold Act, political speech is limited on the Internet. The EU is working to regulate video delivered via the Internet. The noose is slowly tightening. I have no idea how much longer we have in this prosperous, semi-free time, but I'm guessing with the the various Wars on XXXXXX, not long.

Some of my readers will doubtless say: "I hear you Ben, when things get so bad there will be another revolution! We'll be out of Ms. Wolfe's awkward stage, take freedom back, feed some hogs and ..."

No, no, no. Revolution isn't going to happen. Not in our lifetimes, anyway. Not while things are soft and comfortable. Modern western society - that means you and that means me - doesn't have the stomach for the kind of bloodshed necessary for a revolution to take place, much less succeed. Not that a revolution would be likely to succeed, mind you.

If this were a sci-fi story, we'd all hop into our spaceships and head for the stars, or we'd rebel and throw rocks from Luna. But that story is not to be, and I have serious doubts that any private effort to escape terrestrial government through space travel would be allowed to succeed, even if we had the capability.

I don't have a solution, but I'd love to hear one.
  2006-10-17
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EU trying to regulate Internet video - we continue to approach the end of the frontier.
 
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