In addition to publishing original research, Science runs a series of Policy Forums that examine the interface between research and governance. This week's focuses on Internet regulations. In it, Harvard's Jonathan Zittrain and John Palfrey take a look at the current state of research on the Internet, and decide that we don't currently have enough decent data to make intelligent decisions about what sorts of regulations are either needed or effective. And in their opinion, we don't have many of the sorts of tools in place to get that data.
To an extent, they argue, most states took a laissez-faire approach to regulating the Internet up until the 1990s. And, to some extent, that period of what they call "cyber-libertarianism" worked out reasonably well. But that era is coming to an end on its own—authoritarian regimes have kept a tight watch on what flows through their networks, and some went offline entirely during recent disturbances. Even in more liberal countries, efforts have been made to limit access to social media (the authors note that the UK's national government considered similar clamp downs during recent rioting). In any case, Palfrey and Zittrain argue that a regulatory vacuum can be risky.