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A group of computer industry executives and federal government
busybodies have been meeting and plotting ways they can destroy the
free-for-all, laissez faire, revolutionary and wondrous spirit of the
Internet.

The latest idea — as far-fetched as it may sound, at first blush –
is to use the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure handicapped
access to websites.

“Oh, don’t worry, all you private sector website managers out there,”
they say. “These regulations will not affect you. The first phase of the
plan only calls for government websites to comply with rules providing
easier access to information for the blind, the hearing impaired, etc.
The second phase will require those websites doing business with the
government to comply. There is no intent to require strictly private
websites to meet the new rules.”

Have we ever heard this story before? How many horror stories have we
seen with ordinary off-line businesses attempting to comply with the
draconian provisions of regulations associated with ADA and other Big
Brother, command-and-control, authoritarian, bureaucratic, legislative
nightmares? Is it really such a stretch to think Washington would try
anything to get its mitts on the Internet — the communications medium
that has broken the hammerlock of government-corporate control?

“That would take an act of Congress,” says David Bolnick of
Microsoft, one of Big Government’s Big Business partners in this plan.

Gee, I can’t imagine Congress doing something that stupid, could you?
After all, which branch of government was it that came up with ADA in
the first place? Which one came up with the plan for a national ID card?
Which one is spending Social Security Trust Fund money and calling it a
“surplus”? I could go on and on. But you get the point. Congress loves
to act. It enjoys passing laws that restrict Americans’ freedom. It
violates our constitutional rights every day through its actions. Should
we really sit by complacently expecting Congress to protect us from
intrusive government?

Authoritarians rarely show all their cards at once. They seldom
reveal their whole agenda. They take control incrementally — inch by
inch. Let their camel’s nose under your tent, though, and all is lost.
And that’s the way I look at the federal government’s latest attempts to
play Net nanny. It’s a foot in the door.

Sure it sounds like a far-out idea. How could the government ever
require millions of websites to comply with its edicts about access? But
think about it. How does the government do it to millions of businesses
every day operating offline? It uses all of the power of the state to
force compliance.

Though Bolnick sits on the government’s technology committee, his
viewpoint is not shared by all of his colleagues — and certainly not by
many “disabled rights activists” who see government as their savior.

Jenifer Simpson is one committee member who sees handicapped access
on the Internet as a “civil rights issue” and the Internet as a proper
domain for government regulation and control.

“The Internet is subject to market forces, but it didn’t start
through market forces,” she says. “It was started by the federal
government. The government has a real interest in seeing that the
disabled are not discriminated against.”

Isn’t it amazing? The Internet has been a blessing for so many people
in so many ways — including, I’m sure, the disabled. But is access to
the Internet now a right of every American? What if I can’t afford a
computer or a modem or an ISP? Is the government required to pay for
those things now because access to the Internet is every American’s
right?

Too many people are simply laughing off what sound like ludicrous
ideas to control the Net. Unfortunately, crazier ideas than this one
have actually become the law of the land in America lately.

The only way to handle bad public policy initiatives such as this
Internet access notion is to put a stake through its heart — as quickly
as possible. And the only way that will happen is if the Internet
community rises up in righteous indignation and makes its powerful voice
heard.

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