Precrime Regulation of Internet Innovation

by on September 21, 2010 · 0 comments

Up on the NetChoice blog, Steve DelBianco writes about how online child safety was a hot topic at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) last week in Lithuania. There was one workshop on location-based services that allow users to publish their mobile phone location info to their parents or social network pages (e.g. Foursquare, Loopt, and Facebook Places).

The entire workshop reminded Steve of the movie Minority Report, where a ‘precrime’ police unit relies on the visions of psychics to predict future crimes, then arrests the potential perpetrators before they do anything wrong:

In the world of Internet governance, the future is now, as regulators want online services to predict and prevent safety threats before they actually occur. According to some privacy advocates and lawmakers, the precrime problem here is that location data might be seen by someone with bad intentions.  In the name of protecting children, panelists here favor a policy framework that would require innovators to clear new location-based services with regulators before making them available to users.

Think of the irony with this regulatory approach. Lawmakers are not likely to predict all the ways that bad people can abuse a good service, and regulatory approvals are notoriously slow and inflexible.  On the other hand, Internet innovation is marked by rapid development of new services and quick reactions to fine-tune new features or fix unexpected problems.

Thankfully, there was a young person in the audience that actually knows how kids use the Internet and what will help them the most:

More sage advice came from young people – the anticipated victims of precrimes that might use location-based info. Joonas Makinen of the Youth Coalition on Internet Governance told the IGF, “It is better to focus on fighting ignorance and building digital literacy than applying safety strategies based on restriction.”


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