06/05/2008 04:06 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Internet in Transition

If you silence the rhetoric, and strip this presidential election cycle of all the partisan trappings, you are left with one undeniable fact: voters are interested and engaged in politics more than at any other time in recent memory.

At the center of this wave of enthusiasm stands the Internet. Each of the last few election cycles have witnessed an ever rising tide of political activity online, with pundits rushing to crown each as the "Internet election." But even with much of the heavy lifting of the fall campaign ahead of us, there is no doubt that we are in the middle of the first real Internet election. While the 2004 and 2006 elections revved up its engine, the Internet got its mojo working in 2008 and took its rightful place as America's most powerful and participatory place for politics.

From the Youtube debates to the successful use of the medium for fund raising, to the creative use of Web 2.0 social networking tools to amplify the political power of ordinary Americans. The Internet is where democracy is happening, one social networking page, one contribution, one blog post at a time. The political process finally tapped the alchemy of the Net changed the way we "do" politics forever.

We tend to take the Internet for granted. We assume that it will always be an open, innovative and neutral platform, ready to take on whatever new challenges our ingenuity and imagination demand of it. But the Internet is only as open and free as the policies that govern it, and we are facing a host of policy challenges. Concerns about children's access to inappropriate content and contacts are driving proposals that threaten free speech online. Our privacy protections are outmoded and far outstripped by technological innovation, increased surveillance and aggressive data collection. Spyware, Spam, Phishing and other Internet harms erode consumer trust. And new broadband business models are challenging the essential openness and neutrality of the medium.

It is critical that our new political leaders understand that the Internet is not just about politics, it's also about policy. And they need to be prepared to provide strong leadership to ensure that the Internet continues to be a growing, open and transformative tool not only for politics, but for commerce and community as well.

There hasn't been much attention to Internet policy in this election and these issues are unlikely to make their way to center stage before November.

But we need to get ready to tell the next Administration and the new Congress what they should and should not do in order to keep the Internet open innovative and free. That is why the Center for Democracy & Technology has drafted a set of comprehensive policy recommendations in six key areas. The 1.0 version of the document has been placed into an interactive format that allows users to comment on virtual any aspect of the document, from a single paragraph to the overall concept. CDT is eager to tap into the uniquely collaborative power of the Internet. If the Internet is good for politics, we think it should also be good for policy discussion. The comments and suggestions of the users will be evaluated and, if appropriate, CDT will incorporate them into the document's final version, which will be then be presented to the next administration and Congress to be used a blueprint for creating an informed policy framework.

Remember, public policy matters to the future of the Internet. It was only three years ago that Washington regulators proposed new campaign finance rules that would have made it all but impossible for ordinary citizens to participate in online politics. Netizens rose up then to force the government to revise those rules, paving the way for the Internet's breakaway success story today.