GLEN COVE, NY – The United States government is planning to abandon its role in regulating the Internet in 2015. It promises that no government or international organization will have a role in regulating the Internet after that. This lack of regulation would be welcome if the promise could be believed, but nature abhors a vacuum. We need to understand the dangers that would be involved if international regulation replaces us.
The American legal system is fairly permissive on the issue of freedom of speech. We cannot obtain money through false advertising; in some cases, we have excessive regulation to prevent such fraud. We cannot damage each other by intentional false defamation. We cannot disclose the military secrets entrusted to us. We cannot send 1,000 people an email blast that their houses are on fire. We cannot threaten to kill each other.
The record on pornography is more mixed; we have gone from one extreme of customs agents seizing copies of Lady Chatterley’s Lover to the opposite and worse extreme of allowing everything except the most vile child pornography.
On the whole, however, we have relatively broad freedom to say, email, write, or post whatever we want.
We are a leader in championing the protection of intellectual property and copyrights, unlike many other countries, which try to dilute international law on these issues.
Most countries do not enjoy a comparable freedom of speech. In Italy, for example, neither truth nor notoriety is a defense to a charge of criminal defamation. A person can be imprisoned for saying something about another person that everyone knows is true.
An Italian archbishop was even convicted of defamation for referring in a sermon to a civilly married couple as “concubines.” Italy also has speech crimes, like “apology for Fascism” and “defamation of the Resistance.” One who is acquitted of a crime in Italy can be convicted for accusing the police of third-degree tactics.
Austria imposes harsh prison terms for “denying” the holocaust, even if the denial was retracted years before the arrest. Curiously, the denial does not have to take place in Austria.
Canada also punishes the denial of the holocaust. It, however, also punishes a lot of other speech, anything that inspires hatred. Presumably singing a popular song against short people can land one in jail in Canada. Certainly, saying that Indians scalp white people is enough for a jail term in that country.
It has long been easy for a plaintiff to get a judgment for libel in England and Wales. Britain has recently added its own restrictions on “hate speech.”
The foregoing are the civilized countries. In Moslem, Communist, and other tyrannical countries, merely teaching Christianity can get a person imprisoned, tortured, or put to death.
Some will object that the only thing America is giving up is control over the designation of website domains and names. Technically, this may be true; but it is highly likely that this will be followed by some kind of international convention, which, once ratified by us, has the force of law. Surely, such a convention will not respect the cherished American concern for freedom of speech.
Charles Mills, Esq. has a B.A. from Yale in Latin and Greek; a law degree from Boston College; and an LI.M degree from Touro College in which he focused on veterans’ benefits and Constitutional law.