White House official calls for broad regulations on Internet use

AP file photo

Obama administration official says industry, not the federal government, should fill in the specifics.

A White House official on Tuesday called for a broad and flexible regulatory framework for Internet use, leaving the specifics of implementation to individual industries.

Daniel Weitzner, deputy chief technology officer in the White House’s Office of Science and Technology, spoke at the conservative Hudson Institute, where he pointed to President Obama’s Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights -- which the administration released in February -- as an example of policy Congress should pass into law to set parameters for use of the Web.

“We think the flexibility of having a broad sense of principles but then tuning them to a particular business context is critical,” Weitzner said, “and provides . . . what we think the Internet needs.”

The Federal Trade Commission would act as a “safe harbor” to ensure industries were complying with the broad framework, Weitzner added. He also pointed to a set of proposals the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development laid out -- including global free flow of information and intellectual property protection -- as guidelines for broad Internet regulation.

The basis of these guidelines should fit three main principles, he said.

The first relates to the large scale of the Internet, which, according to the White House, indicates that regulatory structures cannot mimic those of other industries. The widespread nature of Internet development does not lend itself to “traditional command and control” guidelines, Weitzner argued.

Second, the Obama administration official said Internet public policy must “accommodate and encourage” the speed of the rapidly developing Internet medium.

Finally, Weitzner emphasized the need for international cooperation in regulating the Web, comparing any company that does business on the Internet to a multinational corporation. He called for global standards to fill the void left by a lack of treaties.

On the issue of global cooperation, he said the Obama administration is having “extensive dialogues” with countries like China and Iran to encourage their governments to allow Internet freedom, calling the restrictions they currently are imposing “unacceptable.”

“The expectation in the 21st century is that as a commitment to free trade,” Weitzner said, “countries will have to commit to open Internet environments.”