Issa’s Plan to Hold Back the Flood of Internet Regulation

by on November 29, 2012 · 1 comment

With each passing year, Washington’s appetite for Internet regulation grows. While “Hands Off the Net!” was a popular rallying cry just a decade ago—and was even a shared sentiment among many policymakers—today’s zeitgeist seems to instead be “Hands All Over the Net.” Countless interests and regulatory advocates have pet Internet policy issues they want Washington to address, including copyright, privacy, cybersecurity, online taxation, broadband regulation, among many others.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) wants to do something to slow down this legislative locomotive. He has proposed the “Internet American Moratorium Act (IAMA), which would impose a two-year moratorium on “any new laws, rules or regulations governing the Internet.” The prohibition would apply to both Congress and the Executive Branch but makes an exception to any rules dealing with national security.

Will Rep. Issa’s proposal make any difference if implemented? Any congressionally imposed legislative moratorium is a symbolic gesture and not a binding constraint since Congress is always free to pass another law later to get around an earlier prohibition. So, in that sense, a moratorium might not change much. Nonetheless, such symbolic gestures are often important and Issa is to be commended for at least trying to raise awareness about the dangers of creeping regulation of online life and the digital economy.

If policymakers really want to take a more substantive step to slow the flow of red tape, they should consider a different approach. Instead of (or, perhaps, in addition to) a two-year legislative moratorium, they should impose a variant of “Moore’s Law” for information technology laws and regulations. “Moore’s Law,” as most of you know, is the principle named after Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore who first observed that, generally speaking, the processing power of computers doubles roughly every 18 months while prices remain fairly constant.

As I argued in a Forbes column earlier this year, we should apply this same principle to high-tech policy. With information markets evolving at the speed of Moore’s Law, we should demand that public policy do so as well. We can accomplish that by applying Moore’s Law to all current and future laws and regulations through two simple principles:

  • Principle #1 – Every new technology proposal should include a provision sunsetting the law or regulation 18 months to two years after enactment. Policymakers can always reenact the rule if they believe it is still sensible.
  • Principle #2 – Reopen all existing technology laws and regulations and reassess their worth. If no compelling reason for their continued existence can be identified and substantiated, those laws or rules should be repealed within 18 months to two years. If a rationale for continuing existing laws and regs can be identified, the rule can be re-implemented and Principle #1 applied to it.

This would be a more effective way to get Internet over-regulation under control than any temporary moratorium. Again, if critics protest that some laws and regulation are “essential” and can make the case for new or continued action, nothing is stopping Congress from legislating to continue those efforts. But when they do, they should always include a 2-year sunset provision to ensure that those rules and regulations are given a frequent fresh look.

We often hear the legitimate complaint that ‘law can’t keep up with the Internet.’ It’s time we do something to act on that sound instinct. As I noted in concluding that earlier Forbes essay, only by demanding that regulations be sunset on a regular timetable can we keep government power in check and ensure unnecessary and outdated regulations don’t derail America’s high-tech economy.

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