Ron Paul: From Ending the Federal Reserve to Ending Government Interference with the Internet


Buzzfeed reports today on what it says is the planned launch of a fresh campaign for the forces aligned with Ron Paul: Internet freedom.

When Paul's spokesman Jesse Benton was scrambling to end the "Paul drops out" stories triggered by their own announcement in mid-May, he stressed that one of their three primary goals in Republican Party platform influence was "internet freedom" without giving more specifics, as I blogged at the time. Now, those specifics seem worked out, as Buzzfeed reports.

From them, with comments:

Kentucky senator Rand and his father Ron Paul, who has not yet formally conceded the Republican presidential nomination, will throw their weight behind a new online manifesto set to be released today by the Paul-founded Campaign for Liberty. The new push, Paul aides say, will in some ways displace what has been their movement's long-running top priority, shutting down the Federal Reserve Bank. The move is an attempt to stake a libertarian claim to a central public issue of the next decade, and to move from the esoteric terrain of high finance to the everyday world of cable modems and Facebook.

Worth noting that that "esoteric terrain" was an amazing success for the Paul movement, taking one of his pet concerns that no one cared about for decades and getting it into a bill out of the House, a best-selling book, and a national movement. I told the story of that success in this November 2009 Reason feature, "Fed Up."

The manifesto, obtained yesterday by BuzzFeed, is titled "The Technology Revolution" and lays out an argument — in doomsday tones —for keeping the government entirely out of regulating anything online, and for leaving the private sector to shape the new online space.

That entire document can be read here:

"The revolution is occurring around the world," it reads. "It is occurring in the private sector, not the public sector. It is occurring despite wrongheaded attempts by governments to micromanage markets through disastrous industrial policy. And it is driven by the Internet, the single greatest catalyst in history for individual liberty and free markets."

The manifesto quotes Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises and attacks not just the federal government, but also progressive groups that have called for similar measures to keep the Internet largely unregulated: "Today, the road to tyranny is being paved by a collectivist-Industrial complex — a dangerous brew of wealthy, international NGO's, progressive do-gooders, corporate cronies and sympathetic political elites."

The manifesto lays out five specific battles with government regulation and with liberals who state their goal of online liberty in similar terms, but who view corporate encroachment as a more immediate risk. The Paul manifesto seeks to rein in anti-trust actions against companies in new industries; to stop attempts to impose "Net Neutrality" rules on broadband providers; to prevent government control of online infrastructure; to broaden private control of the wireless spectrum, and shore up "private property rights on the Internet."

The Pauls also take a stand for the growing industry known (and widely criticized) as "big data."

They deride the notion that "private sector data collection practices must be scrutinized and tightly regulated inthe name of 'protecting consumers,' at the same time as government's warrantless surveillance and collection of private citizens' Internet data has dramatically increased."

This campaign is supposed to help guarantee an intense and dedicated grassroots effort will have something specific to focus on after Tampa in August:

"We are going to bring to this project the same kind of intensity, resources and energy we brought to the Fed Audit," said one Paul adviser.

The document will serve as a conservative counterpoint to a Declaration of Internet Freedomreleased this week by the left-leaning group Free Press, though the two share some goals. The earlier document was signed by groups including the American Civil Liberties Union as well as Internet companies such as Mozilla, and it backs a government role in maintaining what it sees as a level playing field for consumers.

This is also a new stage for what supporters refer to as the Ron Paul Revolution, and a way to make sure that Ron Paul's followers stay on board with the movement after the congressman's retirement from the House of Representatives. Paul supporters are already Internet-savvy, frequently launching digital campaigns of their own, and skew young. And the new cause gives his son Rand an easier way to connect with them, given that his relationship with his father's supporters has often been fraught.

Internet freedom, Paul insiders say, is going to be Rand's end-the-Fed.

While both Pauls have always been for all sorts of freedom, a specific emphasis on the Internet has never heretofore dominated either of their public statements. With Peter Thiel, founder of the controversial "big data" company Panantir, having made a $2.6 million investment in the (somewhat feckless in the end) superPAC "Endorse Liberty" during campaign season, perhaps the Paul machine sees this as a cause that can energize both grassroots and big money.

Erik Kain at Forbes also writes about this high-tech move by the Pauls, and isn't thrilled about how they are trying to stake distinct ground from the "Declaration of Internet Freedom" crew:

I've always had a soft spot for Ron Paul, even though he's far more conservative and far more libertarian than I am. I have a soft spot for internet freedom as well, and have written about the various threats to that freedom at one time or another.

But I'm a little irked by some of the language of this document, truth be told, even though I'm always happy to see more people up in arms about things like internet censorship.

I've argued before that what this country really needs is a Civil Liberties Caucus in congress – not a right-leaning or left-leaning one, either. We need people like Ron Wyden on the left and Ron Paul on the right, even though they may not agree on everything, who are willing to go up against civil-liberty-quashing laws and attempts at censorship…

In other words, the last thing we need is one group of civil liberties advocates calling the other group "internet collectivists." The stakes are too high. The number of elected officials who even care about blocking a bill like SOPA is frighteningly small to begin with….

So here's a question for both members of the right and the left (and libertarians!) who care about internet freedom: is it worth setting aside your differences just a little bit and working against a common enemy? Is ideological purity more important than results? Where does principle leave off and pragmatism begin?

Because, quite frankly, I don't care if you're a collectivist or if you're John Galt.

If you want to stop censorship and rein in an increasingly intrusive anti-piracy regime, that's all I care about. That and the results.'

UPDATE: Timothy Lee at Ars Technica wonders what this campaign will mean for copyright enforcement as a means to crack down on the Internet, and isn't encouraged by what he's seen so far:

we were surprised to see the document denounce the "Internet collectivist" view that "what is considered to be in the public domain should be greatly expanded."….

In a Thursday interview, Campaign for Liberty spokesman Matt Hawes assured Ars that the organization did not intend to endorse today's long copyright terms. "We think the public domain is a terrific part of the Internet," he told us. Rather, he said, the group was worried that "Internet collectivists" would use the phrase "public domain" as "code for getting the government more involved" in copyright issues.

Still, it would be nice for the organization to take a clearer stance against Hollywood-backed copyright legislation that threatens Internet freedom. Ron Paul was an early SOPA opponent, but SOPA is hardly the only example of bad copyright legislation….

More importantly, Congress has already enacted copyright legislation that threatens Internet freedom. Perhaps the most alarming example is the 2008 PRO-IP Act, which gives the federal government the power to seize domain names, servers, and other assets of Internet companies without proving their owners have committed any crime…

My new book on the Paul movement, Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.