Tom Tauke, chief lobbyist at Verizon, spoke yesterday in a speech designed to take a fresh start on governance of the Internet. His comments got some coverage as challenging the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) role in regulating broadband communication. The FCC’s broadband powers may be decided in a court ruling expected this spring — following oral arguments in January — on a Comcast challenge to the FCC’s oversight of Internet service providers on constitutional grounds.
But it’s worth pointing out that many of the statutes covering internet communications are woefully out of date. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), the main law against hackers, passed in 1984. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), the main law covering online privacy, was enacted in 1986. These laws were written when faxes were still cutting edge. While the behemoth PATRIOT Act included some fine-tuning of these laws, they still envision a last-millennium Internet. The CFAA treats hacking my desktop computer with the same penalties as hacking a Microsoft data center. ECPA requires Gmail to treat emails I have stored from six months ago — writing about the start of the baseball playoffs last season — differently from this month’s emails on spring training.
Tauke’s suggestion that the FCC should evolve into more of an enforcement body is worth discussing. But regardless of who oversees the Internet, getting new laws to bring it into the 21st century should be a top priority.