Rand Paul makes the conservative case for Internet freedom

A month ago as Americans were celebrating Independence Day, two dueling factions released competing visions of Internet freedom. Both dubbed the “Declaration of Internet Freedom,” they represented a post-SOPA attempt to articulate principles for tech policy.

One of those declarations attracted the support of hundreds of individuals and organizations across the political spectrum. Its broad language won over a diverse mix of supporters that ranged from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Patrick Ruffini on the right to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Eli Pariser on the left.

The other declaration proclaimed to be the free-market vision for Internet freedom. Spearheaded by TechFreedom and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, it sought to clarify why government shouldn’t interfere with the Internet. It served as a contrast to the more ambiguous declaration that liberals will predictably use to push net neutrality.

Conservatives need clarity on the issue — and a champion of the cause. Four years ago, Sen. John McCain’s campaign couldn’t even find a surrogate to represent the presidential candidate at Wired’s debate on tech policy.

That can’t happen again in 2012. And that’s why Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) plays such an important role. As a freshman lawmaker and tea-party conservative, Paul is stepping up to the plate to lead on the issue. His supporters at the Campaign for Liberty have endorsed the free-market declaration and are rallying libertarian-leaning activists to embrace the issue.

Today at 9:30 a.m. ET, Paul delivers what could be the most significant talk on Internet freedom this year. He’ll be joined by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), another leading conservative who this year will serve as co-chairman of the platform committee at the Republican National Convention.

Watch the event:

Paul has indicated that he will make Internet freedom a signature issue in the years to come. That gives conservatives a leader they’ve been lacking in recent years. It should also help them clarify the stark differences between the right and the left on tech policy.

As the free-market Internet freedom declaration so eloquently states in its first principle:

First, do no harm. No one can anticipate what the future holds and what tradeoffs will accompany it. Don’t meddle in what you don’t understand — and what you can all too easily break, without even seeing what’s been lost. Often, government’s best response is to do nothing. Competition, disruptive technological change, and criticism from civil society tend to resolve problems better, and faster, than government can.

That’s an approach lawmakers in Congress should adopt for most issues. Under the watch of both Democrats and Republicans, Washington’s meddling has introduced red tape throughout the U.S. economy. The last thing Internet innovators need is more of it.

Rob Bluey directs the Center for Media and Public Policy, an investigative journalism operation at The Heritage Foundation. Follow him on Twitter: @RobertBluey