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US Republicans back Internet 'freedom'

Personal data should be protected from government overreach, but regulations to protect online privacy are unneeded, the platform says

The U.S. Republican Party has approved a policy statement that focuses on removing regulations and protects personal data on the Internet.

Delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, approved on Tuesday a platform that embraces private-sector autonomy on the Internet and opposes efforts to move Internet governance from the current model to the United Nations or other international organizations.

"The Internet has unleashed innovation, enabled growth, and inspired freedom more rapidly and extensively than any other technological advance in human history," the platform reads. "Its independence is its power. The Internet offers a communications system uniquely free from government intervention."

Republicans will also "ensure that personal data receives full constitutional protection from government overreach and that individuals retain the right to control the use of their data by third parties," the platform says. But new laws or regulations cannot accomplish those goals; instead "the only way to safeguard or improve these systems is through the private sector."

Several groups have been calling on both the Republicans and Democrats to support Internet freedom principles in their party platforms. The Democratic convention is next week.

Demand Progress, one of those groups, applauded the Republican platform. Lawmakers sticking to language in the document would have opposed the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a bill that would have allowed U.S. agencies to force payment processors, search engines and other online businesses from doing business with websites suspected of copyright infringement, said David Segal, the group's executive director.

Lawmakers abiding by the platform would have also opposed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), a bill that would allow private companies to share a broad range of information about their customers with U.S. agencies in an effort to fight cyberthreats, he said.

"It's important for politicians to know that if they act contrary to these Internet freedom principles, they'll risk the wrath of their party's most committed activists," Segal said in a statement. "It is clear today that censoring the internet or monitoring internet users is wildly unpopular, and we urge Democrats to join the fight to protect the Internet today by forming their own party platform plank."

The Republican Platform also rips President Barack Obama's administration for being "frozen in the past" on Internet and communications policy. The Obama administration has conducted no wireless spectrum auctions, has not given carriers any incentives for investment and has embraced the U.S. Federal Communication Commission's net neutrality rule, which tries to "micromanage telecom as if it were a railroad network," the platform says.

The Obama administration has made "no progress" toward its goal of universal broadband coverage, the platform adds.

The platform also calls for the prohibition of gambling over the Internet and calls on the government to "vigorously" enforce all current laws against pornography and obscenity online.

On Wednesday, Obama promised that the Democratic platform would support Internet freedom. "Internet freedom is something I know you all care passionately about; I do too," he wrote in a question-and-answer session on Reddit.com. "We will fight hard to make sure that the internet remains the open forum for everybody -- from those who are expressing an idea to those [who] want to start a business."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is [email protected]


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