October 2011

Adam Thierer on Internet sales tax

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Adam Thierer, a Senior Research Fellow with the Technology Policy Program at the Mercatus Center, discusses his new paper, co-authored with Veronique de Rugy, The Internet, Sales Tax, and Tax Competition. With several states in the midst of budget crunches, states and localities struggle to find a way to generate revenue, which, according to Thierer, leads to an aggressive attempt to collect online sales tax. He discusses some of these attempts, like the multi-state compact, that seeks taxation of remote online vendors. Thierer believes this creates incentives for large online companies like Amazon to cut deals with certain states, where jobs will be created in exchange for tax relief. This, according to Thierer, creates unfairness for smaller online companies as well as for brick and mortar shops who have to pay taxes to the state where they have a physical presence. He proposes an origin-based tax, which imposes the tax where the purchase is made instead of tracing the transaction to its consumption destination. This proposal, he submits, will level the playing field between brick and mortar companies and online companies, and promote tax competition.

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Simon Chesterman on electronic intelligence surveillance

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Simon Chesterman, Vice Dean and Professor of Law at the National University of Singapore, and Global Professor and Director of the NYU School of Law Singapore Programme, discusses his new book, One Nation Under Surveillance: A New Social Contract to Defend Freedom Without Sacrificing Liberty. The discussion begins with a brief overview of the NSA and how it garnered the attention of Americans after 9/11. Chesterman discusses the agency’s powers and the problems the NSA encounters, including how to sort through large amounts of data. The discussion then turns to how these powers can become exceptions to constitutional protections, and how such exceptional circumstances can be accommodated. Finally, Chesterman suggests that there has been a cultural shift in western society, where expectations of privacy have dimished with technological and cultural trends, so that information collection by the government is generally accepted. However, he says, society is concerned with how that information is used. According to Chesterman, there should be limits and accountability mechanisms in place for government agencies like the NSA.

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David Robinson on rogue websites and domain seizures

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David Robinson, a fellow at the Information and Society Project at Yale Law School, discusses his new paper, Following the Money: A Better Way Forward on the PROTECT IP Act. The bill, now being considered by Congress, targets “rouge” websites. Robinson discusses the different ways these websites host infringing content and sell counterfeit goods, as well as the remedies proposed in the bill. The measures involve two main consequences: cutting off information through the seizure of domain names by law enforcement, and cutting off financial gain by prohibiting payment processors like Visa and Mastercard from delivering profits to infringing website owners. Robinson discusses why he thinks the Act will better serve IP law if the flow of money is restricted, and not the flow of information. He goes on to discuss what he considers to be troubling about information control, including several constitutional implications.

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Derek Bambauer on censorship

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Derek Bambauer, associate professor of law at Brooklyn Law School, discusses his forthcoming University of Chicago Law Review article entitled Orwell’s Armchair. In the paper, Bambuer writes that America has begun to censor the Internet, and he distinguishes two forms of censorship: hard and soft. He defines hard censorship as open and transparent, and where the government directly controls what information can and cannot be transmitted. Soft censorship, says Bambauer, is indirect, where government tells third parties to prevent users from accessing information, and it’s not clear what is being censored. He submits that if America is going to censor the Internet, it should do so through hard censorship. Indirect censorship strategies, he writes, are less legitimate than direct regulation.

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