This is not a new discussion... there have been people thinking about this for some time. In March of 2006 I wrote an article on my blog about it (reproduced below) which eventually led to me consulting with Public Radio on a show they were doing at the time about online public information (you can listen to an archived copy of that at October 12, 2007: Your Exposed Life on MPR
My Original Article 3/24/2006:
I've often wondered who will be able to run for political office in forty or fifty years. People, especially youg people, seem to be so naive about posting things online. For years online forums and message boards have been a place where people vented. Now sites like Myspace, Facebook and others are creating such a low barrier to entry that almost every middle and high school child in the United States has some kind of web presence. What many fail to understand is that once something is posted or "said" on the internet it never goes away...ever. The internet is also quite easy to search if you know what you're doing. This dangerous combination means that everything you write to a message board can be found at some point in the future and "can and will be used against you". Any kind of off-color comment or joke you ever made online, even if your intention wasn't to hurt anyone, is public knowledge.
Employers already know about this. BusinessWeek recently ran an article called "You are what you post" that talked about some of the implications for job seeking but I think the arena where this will really get the consultants salivating is politics. There are so few people who are able to hold their tongue and never offend anyone. In the past politicians have relied primarily on obscuring and making it difficult to find embarrassing things about their past. When today's teens start running for political office these things will only be an internet search away. Remember that posting to that email discussion list about STDs you made when you were 15? How about that time someone on a message board got you mad and you called them a racial slur? You may have forgotten these incidents but the internet has not and neither will your enemies.
I wonder if the politicians of the future will need to be groomed from birth to have no defects and think very, very carefully before ever speaking. On the other hand our society may end up becoming more accepting of faults which would not be an all bad outcome. This remains to be seen but in the meantime those of us who have always tried to think about how what we say today could come back (for better or worse) in the future are going to be much better off than the indiscriminate masses.
Maybe because the web is a medium and not a place?
I'm all for requiring public physical places to be designed with the needs of the disabled in mind. This only makes sense and I think has made a tremendous difference for both the legally disabled and our generally aging population but I don't think the web is the equivalent of a public place. I think it's a medium more akin to a newspaper or book.
Would it make sense to REQUIRE all book publishers to publish extra copies in braille for example? I can certainly see the value of regulations which said that if the publisher (or website author) doesn't do it themselves a third-party service provider must not be prevented from (legally) making the information accessible but to require all websites to do it themselves would put a huge burden on website authors and may just cause a lot of people to stop putting information on the web unless they need to or their is a compelling commercial reason to do so.
Let's look at a project to scan in material from old books and make it available in image/pdf format for research. If the information were required to be accessible it would add a significant amount of work and cost to the (already expensive) digitization process. In my own case where I am putting up some very specific historic and technical material which I am making no money on I might just stop doing it. This would be a net loss for the spread of knowledge.
These types of regulations work best when they encourage people to do the right thing but do NOT just stop anything from happening. eg. If people stopped building public places because of the expense of ADA compliance the ADA would not make sense on a societal level as public places have value. The same goes for websites.
"Free markets select for winning solutions." -- Eric S. Raymond