Like it or not, the growth of the world wide web has been one of the largest contributing factors to the downfall of the US economy. Over the past two decades, traditional brick and mortar businesses have taken a hard hit, unprepared for the sudden rise of a new form of competition, namely huge internet retailers like Amazon.com. These huge internet businesses have long been allowed to operate by undercutting the prices of local mom and pop businesses, avoiding state and local taxes and selling goods imported from around the world, made in sweat shops; factories that exist in areas of the world where there are no worker protections or labor rights laws. In the meantime, local communities have been devastated by the diminishing amount of taxes paid and the loss of business and cash flow, as consumers look for the best on-line bargain, and ignore the impact that their shopping habits have on their own cities or towns.
Everyone has a right to be concerned about privacy. While the government can’t be allowed to monitor personal conversations on Skype or instant messenger, nor to invade your privacy by obtaining access to personal e-mails without a warrant, tweets and posts on sites like facebook and myspace are public domain. In modern times, it’s hard to imagine that there are people who have not already learned that lesson. If you post it on-line, the world has access to it. That’s what the like, share and retweet buttons are all about, sharing what you have to say with the rest of the world. If you want it kept private, don’t post it on facebook.
The internet is just a digital version of the real world. With that said, it is a not a fantasy world that has no impact on the world we live in. It is an extension of the world we live in, and has to be governed by the same rules as the physical world, if we hope to protect ourselves and our children. We use real money to pay for real products obtained via the internet. Needless to say, we expect e-commerce sites to abide by some rules when we send them our money. If you’ve ever been the victim of an internet scam, for instance, you are probably all for holding internet businesses accountable for taking your money.
Which regulations and laws of the country, state or local government should internet businesses be required to follow? All of them. Not regulating such businesses in the same way we regulate traditional brick and mortar businesses gives them an unfair advantage over traditional business and ultimately harms local economies. As internet shopping increases, local spending decreases. Sales tax and other revenue declines, unemployment rates rise, poverty rates increase and living conditions for everyone begin to degrade. When local businesses close, everyone loses. Not only do sales tax revenue decline, business taxes, property taxes and other important sources of revenue are lost. Roads go unrepaired, schools falter, city and local services are cut and unemployment and poverty rates go up.
Which laws regarding free speech should apply to the internet? All of them, again. If you have a conversation with someone off line and tell them things that can be used against you in court, those comments can be used against you later. If you write something in a journal, your journal can be used as evidence in a court of law. If you make comments in a public place and in front of a great number of people, you ought to be smart enough to expect those comments to be brought out later. When you post things on line, you also ought to be smart enough to figure out that it’s not a confidential setting. On the other hand, the police must be required to either obtain permission or obtain a warrant for non public material, such as e-mails, instant messenger conversations, search history etc.