Regulating the Global Information Society

By Christopher T. Marsden | Go to book overview

3

In search of the self

Charting the course of self-regulation on the Internet in a global environment

Monroe E. Price and Stefaan G. Verhulst1

Each day societal demand grows for some form of control or supervision over something that appears inherently beyond governance: the Internet. The gulf between community aspiration and the perceived limits on government capacity forces each entity, industry and regulators, to conduct a thorough and painstaking search for an appropriate solution. The resolution to this dilemma requires the innovation of regulatory design for the Internet. Without flexibility and responsiveness, traditional law and regulation cannot adequately address the transnational, intangible, and ever-changing Internet space. The Internet challenges 'classic patterns of regulation' in terms of the identity of the rule makers and the instruments used to establish rules (Reidenberg 1996). With some notable and largely unsuccessful exceptions, 2 the initial attempts at Internet regulation have tended to move away from direct legal control and towards more flexible variations of 'self-regulation'.

Internet self-regulation involves many regulatory subjects such as e-commerce, 3 technical protocols and domain names management (ICANN). 4 However, most of the public concern and debate has focused on illegal and harmful content. 5 This concern has prompted substantial and public industrial response. But despite the growth and importance of these self-regulatory approaches and institutions, there are fundamental questions about the nature of these that remain unanswered. These problems are not addressed, in part, because the Internet community takes certain aspects of self-regulation for granted. However, a failure to understand completely the mechanisms of self-regulation may hinder the development and implementation of policy.

This essay examines the tremendous growth of institutions and self-regulatory systems on the Internet. It also looks at how self-regulatory entities and systems handling on-line content relate to other quasi-legal and state institutions, what powers self-regulatory institutions undertake or apprehend, and how the use of self-regulation can contribute to the effective and efficient realisation of both economic and societal goals. In the first part of this chapter, we discuss the conceptual components of self-regulation, review various definitions, examine the relationship between self-regulation and other regulatory models, and look at the role of self-regulation as a regulatory tool. In the second part, we apply this analysis and structure to current efforts at self-regulation and content control on

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