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Since it went commercial roughly 20 years ago, the internet has become a part of our daily lives, from entertainment to shopping to social networking. Today’s internet is a vibrant global network connecting more than 3.5 billion users worldwide through 224 million websites. Every day, users send almost 270 million emails worldwide and 2 billion users connect with each other through Facebook, the most popular social media platform. That the United States is the dominant force in all of this is not an accident. America’s tech giants emerged from a policy framework that fostered innovation and entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, these bedrock principles are under attack today as lawmakers ponder expansive new liability laws that would profoundly alter the way the internet works. The latest effort to rewire the internet comes in the noble sounding “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017” (SESTA). While the goals are laudable, it would have a significant adverse impact on how we use the internet, but little impact on sex trafficking.
At the dawn of the internet, the president and Congress were wary of internet regulation. Indeed, President Clinton created a task force that laid out five principles of governance for the internet that basically endorsed a digital free market. Ironically, this effort was chaired by Ira Magaziner, the director of Hillary Clinton’s health care task force who had no qualms about regulating something as complex as the American health care system. But even he was cautious about the government meddling in the emerging online world, with his first two principles being: “The private sector should lead,” and, “Government should avoid undue restrictions on internet commerce.”