Politics: Many words,
It's almost easier to list what politicians in Washington did not do in 2003 than what they did.
Start with the obvious: a federal ban on Internet access taxes expired in November, but Congress failed to renew it before adjourning for the year. Neither the Bush administration nor Congress imposed mandatory Internet security-related regulations on U.S. firms, a set of requirements that technology lobbyists have opposed. Discussion of a proposal demanding that publicly traded U.S. corporations obtain an annual computer security audit has been postponed to 2004.
Hollywood's lobbyists had pressed for new antipiracy laws but failed to win their passage in Congress. One proposal would imprison file-swappers who made pre-release movies available in their shared folders, while another would require peer-to-peer companies to obtain parental permission before permitting minors to connect. (Efforts in the opposite direction by groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and open-source activists to repeal parts of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act also failed.)
File-trading rhetoric waxed red-hot. The Recording Industry Association of America warned Congress that P2P networks are infested with child pornography, and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, applauded the idea of remotely destroying computers used to swap files unlawfully. Meanwhile, six peer-to-peer firms formed the P2P United lobbying group to argue that its members will follow the law.
One bill that Congress did manage to approve in December before leaving town for the year was the first federal spam law. It criminalizes some common spamming practices like forging headers and automatically guessing e-mail addresses. It's been criticized for not banning the practice of spamming -- and voiding a California state law that does.
While the legislative branch has been preoccupied with the Iraq war, Medicare and other high-profile topics, federal regulators and the courts have been unusually active. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit is weighing both the RIAA's use of a turborcharged DMCA subpoena against Verizon Communications and the last vestiges of the Microsoft antitrust case. For its part, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a law requiring libraries accepting federal funds to use Internet filters, and will return to the online pornography topic again by July 2004 in a case involving restrictions on commercial Web sites that may be "harmful to minors."
The Federal Communications Commission has been anything but idle. The commission is investigating what to do about Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and media ownership rules. It's also busy with regulations covering piracy and digital TV, and what privacy Americans should expect when they use cell phones for text messaging or Web browsing.