Liberty and the Internet
The internet is threatened with government controls and taxes. We need to be vigilant and oppose any efforts to stifle this great medium. I believe the internet is as great a development for humanity as was the invention of the movable-type printing press by Gutenberg in the 1400s. The great potential for creating a global community must not be stifled.
One problem that has troubled e-mail is mass junk advertising. The low cost of sending missives has been abused by some firms, some of whom have sent fraudulent offers. These operations have software that seeks out e-mail addresses, especially group lists. Internet experts suggest that one not respond to such mailings, not even to "remove" oneself from the list (that just gives them your e-mail address!). One economics e-mail list I belonged to was discovered by these scam artists. We were getting bombarded with daily offerings full of capital letters and exclamation marks. Members withdrew in disgust from the list, and it folded.
There is software that attempts to filter out such "spam" advertising. But junk e-mail continues to be a plague on the internet. It seems to me there is a simple solution, however. Each e-mail message should have a character in the header that flags whether the missive is an unsolicited advertisement. It can be set to zero as the normal case, and advertisers sending unrequested ads would be legally required to set the flag to a 1 (one). Then e-mail software could easily be checked for the ad flag, and delete it as an option. This would not violate free speech, but respect the property rights of e-mail addresses, avoiding unwanted invasions.
Another problem of the internet is that of preventing undesirable content from being viewed by children. There is software available to try to screen out sexual contents, but this is not foolproof. The U.S. government tried to apply mass censorship of "indecent" material, which fortunately was overturned. Again, the simple solution is to require a flag for pornographic materials, with a stiff penalty for the failure to include it. A third flag should then be set up for non-sexual nudity, so that content with nude pictures (such as from a nude beach) can be filtered out but not lumped in with sexual images.
Other flags could be added, such as for foul language, violent or cruel depictions, and hate literature. These could be combined into one general flag by using numbers that increase in powers of 2. For example, with three categories, ads could be assigned the number 1, sex number 2, and violence number 4. These would be added for messages that combine these. So a sexual ad would get the number 3. Each combination would have a unique number. Then government would not need to regulate content, but only truthful disclosure.
With ever more commerce taking place over the internet, governments are also scrambling to tax the transactions. Sales taxes apply to purchases over the internet as they do to mail orders, but internet services themselves are threatened with taxation. If one pays sales tax on software that is shipped, should one also pay sales tax on software that one pays for and downloads? The problem gets complicated with thousands of different state and local sales taxes, let alone foreign sources of goods. One proposal is for a national tax standard, but the problem of evasion and enforcement could lead to stifling controls and record keeping, aside from the burden of the taxes.
Now is a good time to make our voices heard throughout the internet system: we don't want taxes on the internet, and we don't need them. With the globalization of commerce and the etherialization of communications, the time is now ripe to eliminate sales taxes altogether. The flat-out elimination of taxes on sales and exchanges, shifting revenues to land rent instead, is the only way that we can preserve the liberty that we have enjoyed in the global electronic community that has been created by the internet.