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|Title: ||Regulating the Internet: policy and practice with reference to the control of Internet access and content|
|Authors: ||Cooke, Louise|
|Issue Date: ||2004|
|Abstract: ||Organisations, national governments and supranational bodies have all been active
in formulating policy measures to regulate access to, and use of, Internet content.
The research investigated policy responses formulated and implemented within the
European Union, the Council of Europe, the UK government and three UK
academic institutions during a five-year period from 1998 to 2003. This
investigation took place from a perspective of concern for the potential impact on
freedom of expression and freedom of enquiry of such policy initiatives. On a
theoretical level, the study aimed to illuminate the process of information policy
formulation in this area.
Habermas’ ideas about the erosion of the public sphere, and the promotion of
conditions favourable to an ‘ideal speech’ situation, were used as an analogy to the
issues posed by the regulation of speech on the Internet. The growth in use of the
Internet worldwide as an informational, recreational and communications tool has
been accompanied by a moral panic about ‘unacceptable’ Internet content. The
effectiveness of a range of responses that have been made to control this
‘problematic’ medium, including the use of technical, ethical and legal constraints,
were examined. Freedom of expression and freedom of access to information
were considered, both as a fundamental human right and in the context of a
professional ethic for information professionals and academic staff and students.
Policy-making by the European Union and the UK government was explored via
longitudinal analysis of primary and secondary documentary sources; by the
Council of Europe via a combination of documentary analysis of primary and
secondary sources and participant observation at a policy-making forum; and at the
organisational level via case study research at three UK Higher Education
Institutions. This case study research used a combination of documentary analysis
and semi-structured interviews with relevant personnel. Findings from the three
case studies were triangulated via a questionnaire study carried out with student
respondents at each of the Institutions, to explore students’ actual use, and misuse,
of University computer networks and their attitudes towards attempts to regulate
this use. The SPSS computer software package was used to analyse the data
collected via the questionnaire study.
The re-interpreted policy process model proposed by Rowlands and Turner (1997)
and the models of direct and indirect regulation proposed by Lessig (1999) were
used as heuristic tools with which to compare the findings of the research. A new
model, the reflexive spiral, was designed to illustrate the dynamic, evolving and
bi-directional character of the policy formulation processes that were identified.
The enquiry was exploratory in nature, allowing theories and explanations to
emerge from the data rather than testing a pre-determined set of conclusions.
The conclusion is that the democratising potential of the Internet has indeed been
constrained by policy measures imposed at a range of levels in an attempt to
control the perceived dangers posed by the medium. Regulation of the Internet
was found to be a problematic area for organisations, national governments, and
international organisations due to its inherently ‘resistant’ architectural structure
and its transborder reach. Despite this, it was found that, at all levels, the Internet
is subject to a multi-tiered governance structure that imposes an increasingly wide
range of regulatory measures upon it.
The research revealed that of the three re-interpreted policy process models, those
of the Garbage Can and the Bureaucratic Imperative were found to be particularly
illustrative of the policy formulation process at all levels. The use of Lessig’s
models of regulation (Ibid) was also found to be applicable to this area, and to be