Cato Institute

Free minds, free markets ... free networks?

December 16, 2010: 3:00 AM ET

What does it means to be a libertarian in the digital age?  Tim Lee is just the man to ask.

Tim Lee

Tim Lee

Many computer geeks are also libertarians, so it's not too surprising to hear Tim Lee proudly describe himself as a member of both groups. No, what makes Lee unusual is his passion for figuring out exactly what it means to be both a libertarian and a technophile. What's the best way to increase both the power of technology and the preserve of liberty?

As Washington feuds over rules that will govern the digital future, that question seems particularly important, timely and (for Lee and others with a libertarian bent) confusing.

Take the raging fight over "network neutrality."  Protecting the open nature of the Internet, where anyone can communicate with anyone else on essentially equal terms, surely advances the cause of individual liberty. Yet the government now seeks to advance that goal with a new layer of new regulations, exactly the sort of thing libertarians naturally distrust.

The 31 year-old Lee, who is among other things an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, a PhD candidate in Princeton's technology and public policy program and an increasingly well-known blogger, first became fascinated with solving such seeming paradoxes thanks to a gut feeling he had about some of his natural political allies. "It was obvious to me that some of the things that some libertarians were saying about tech policy were wrong," he says.

Just as libertarians disapprove of both Republicans (for their tendency to regulate private conduct) and Democrats (for their tendency to regulate the market), Lee argues that libertarians should forge a third way in tech policy. More

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