Digital freedom is often framed as a liberal ideal.
But what if it’s not?
More than 50 years ago, when President Ronald Reagan signed the Digital Freedom Act, he said it would be a “once in a lifetime opportunity for the American people to see that they are not alone in the digital age.”
But the bill didn’t go far enough.
Instead of giving the Federal Communications Commission authority to regulate the Internet, it gave the agency authority to censor and monitor the Internet.
The Digital Freedom Amendment, passed in 1994, set the stage for the FCC’s sweeping Internet regulations in 1996.
It made it illegal for broadband providers to discriminate against consumers by blocking, slowing down or slowing down their access to websites.
The FCC had the power to impose the same kind of rules on content providers, including ISPs, that it had before the bill was passed.
In 2010, a group of Internet advocates and academics called Digital Alliance sued the FCC, arguing that the law violated free speech rights.
But the law has been used to justify the FCC and other regulators’ crackdown on online speech.
The law, which still hasn’t been revised since it was passed, is an open secret.
The Obama administration, for instance, recently told Congress that it will take the next step of the court challenge it had been pursuing in an attempt to stop the FCC from taking a more expansive view of Internet access regulation.
In the meantime, the FCC is looking for ways to expand its authority over the Internet — especially to block certain websites and content that aren’t considered critical to the public interest.
That’s the subject of a draft executive order that is expected to be released Thursday by the FCC.
The order has not been fully released, but The New York Times reported this week that it is intended to expand the FCC to target websites that are “harming the public health or safety.”
The order is an example of the FCC trying to assert its authority in a way that could threaten speech online.
But while some critics of the law worry that the FCC may use its power to punish critics, the Obama administration has expressed a strong commitment to free speech online and said it has no plans to enforce its online censorship rules.
The administration has also argued that it wants to give the FCC more leeway in the future, given the “critical role” the Internet plays in society.
The draft order doesn’t say that the Internet has become more important to the American economy or that the bill’s proposed changes will have no impact on that.
But a draft of the executive order states that the administration will “consider” “any other areas of Internet regulation, including those that may have a more negative impact on Internet users.”