[Editor's note: For the first time in five (?) years, I am not in lovely Aspen for the Progress and Freedom Foundation tech policy fest. As much I will miss the dichotomy of blue blazers and hiking boots, the Sky hotel jacuzzi, hot dogs at 2 am, and mile-(plus)-high hangovers, I am happy that 463er Dave McGuire is in effect this year. He even wrote a little ditty for this space today.... And we can expect more....]
If I told you I spent my morning in a basement conference room, packed with policy wonks, listening to a quartet of lawyers bickering about a subsection of a decade-old law, you might pity me.
Thankfully, the basement is in beautiful Aspen Colorado, the lawyers are nationally recognized experts, and that boring legal subsection? It may just have paved the way for Web 2.0.
I'm here in Aspen for the Progress and Freedom Foundation's annual Aspen Summit, a fine excuse for a gaggle of bright people to descend on an off-season ski town to mull over the future of Internet policy.
The first panel this morning dealt with mounting attempts to force Internet companies, such as ISPs, social networks and Web site operators, to crack down on the content created by their customers.
As it stands, Internet companies are largely protected from liability for the content their customers create under Communications Decency Act (CDA) -- specifically Section 230. Although the Supreme Court rightfully struck down much of the CDA on First Amendment grounds, Section 230 survived, and arguably paved the way for the Internet we see today.
Without 230, it's difficult to imagine how applications like Facebook or YouTube would have ever been created. If the Facebook could be held legally responsible every time one of its millions of users said something potentially defamatory, or Google could be sued within an inch of its life every time a YouTube user violated copyright law, it'd be hard to justify maintaining either of those services...or developing them in the first place.
Unfortunately, some lawmakers, content owners, and others are increasingly pushing to "deputize" Internet companies, forcing them to play an active roll in policing the content they host. It's a troubling trend, and one that threatens to undermine the user-generated revolution that Web 2.0 has wrought.
Most of the lawyers on the panel seemed to agree (though being lawyers, the managed to argue about it for an hour) that Section 230 would survive efforts to undermine its core protections, but probably not without their, and our efforts in its defense.