Note: This post originally appeared on i2coalition.com. We are excited to be on board in supporting i2Coalition in its mission to foster the growth and success of the Internet and the infrastructure industry.
At LegitScript, we spend a lot of time fighting the underbelly of the Internet: rogue Internet pharmacies selling Vicodin or other drugs without requiring a prescription, websites selling fake AIDS or cancer cures and ripping people off, and shady operators peddling "legal highs" to teens. At times, and with only 1%-3% of Internet pharmacies operating legitimately, it’s easy to get a little cynical.
It’s easy to think: “Why doesn’t someone do something about this?" And, it's tempting — especially, if you're a victim — to let that plea turn into: "Why doesn’t the government do more to stop this?"
There is, of course, an important role for government institutions in our everyday lives, and this includes law enforcement agencies targeting illegal Internet activity. Regulatory and enforcement activity is not inherently incompatible with Internet freedom: as one political theorist recently noted, "the nation-state is the necessary framework for durable political liberty." However attractive a system without any rules may sound in theory, anarchy tends not to be very fun (or sustainable) in practice. On the other hand, throughout history, governments that do a good job of tempering their regulatory powers with a respect for individual liberties are the exception, not the rule, proving again and again the maxim that "absolute power corrupts absolutely."
How can the Internet community achieve and sustain the right balance between freedom on the one hand, and implementing systems that reduce or prevent harmful, even destabilizing, activity on the other? This is the central challenge of Internet policy and governance. Finding that balance is critical to the freedom of humans to speak, associate and create, to do so safely, and to the spectacular economic growth for which the Internet serves as an engine. Good Internet governance, one might say, is the necessary framework for durable Internet freedom.
LegitScript is pleased to join i2C because we believe anti-abuse organizations need to be a voice not only for fighting abuse, but also for promoting anti-abuse policies that do not inadvertently reduce Internet freedom. Companies fighting abusive activity on the Internet often find ourselves in the position of working with search engines, registrars, hosting companies, social media platforms and financial services companies to remove or disable harmful content. It can therefore be tempting for anti-abuse organizations to reflexively call for more regulation, more law enforcement, and more government powers to stop harmful activity on the Internet. But that approach, we think, is neither thoughtful, strategic nor ultimately — due in part to the inherently jurisdiction-less nature of the Internet — effective.
In other words, while we believe law enforcement plays an important role, the cornerstone of effective anti-abuse policies cannot ever be simply more law enforcement or more government action. We can’t legislate or enforce our way to a clean Internet.
Rather, effective anti-abuse strategies should rely in significant part on the adoption of voluntary best practices by registrars, hosting providers, search engines, and the other companies that make up the Internet infrastructure — along with respect for the critical, but limited, role that enforcement agencies should play. The danger in an approach to illegal activity that relies exclusively on government directives is, we think, a creeping structure that slowly but inexorably puts the Internet under the inevitably heavy hand of one or more government authorities. Unlike laws and government mandates, voluntary best practices can be flexible and responsive, allowing the Internet community itself to take appropriate and meaningful action against threats as they arise, not years down the road. Therefore, voluntary best practices — as long as they are actually adopted and implemented, of course — not only help protect the Internet as a fundamentally self-governed institution, but also help make it a more safe, stable and valuable place for the benefit of all users.
This is exactly the kind of future i2C is trying to help shape. LegitScript is proud to work with many i2C members to help craft and implement policies that ensure that Internet users seeking to buy medicine can do so safely. We’re also proud to work with members of i2Coalition to promote the development of policies that strike the right balance between keeping Internet users safe, and keeping the Internet in the hands of Internet users for generations to come.