Thursday, February 21, 2008

Government needs help governing technology

The government clearly has issues handling technology. There are questions regarding jurisdiction and application of laws written before certain technologies existed. The problems, as I see it, are two-fold. First, lawmakers misunderstand technology and its ramifications. Second, the process for creating laws and policies is too cumbersome to rapidly respond to situations created by new technology.

For proof regarding the ignorance of policy makers, one needs only recall Senator Ted Stevens’ explanation of the Internet. His speech is indeed concerning when we consider that he was arguing against net neutrality, an issue central to the technology sector. The same misunderstanding displayed by Ted Steven’s is rife throughout the upper echelons of our government, and we see examples of it in recent laws such as the one tying federal funding for universities to a prevention plan for illegal downloading. My personal belief is that age, more than anything, contributes to the inability of our lawmakers to understand technology. Examine today’s successful technology companies; most were started by younger individuals who had grown up with new technologies and had a more intuitive understanding of its true applications. While age isn’t necessarily an indicator of technical understanding, there is a correlation. Therefore, it is concerning that most politicians are in their late 50’s to early 70’s. We need lawmakers to understand technology so they understand its ramifications and change laws accordingly. As long as our lawmakers don’t understand technology, laws governing things like identity theft and intellectual property will remain out of sync with the general public.

Another concern hindering our government is that the method for creating laws and policies is flawed and unusable when it comes to technology. Let’s take, for example, the recent outbreak of data leaks in government organizations. The most frequent kind of leak is a laptop or external hard drive that goes missing. Because of this, some organizations have begun to require hard drives to be encrypted in order to mitigate the damage when a hard drive does get lost or stolen. Unfortunately, that won’t help the situations, as just a few weeks ago hard drive encryption was cracked by a team of researchers. From the rise of data leaks to the breaking of the encryption only took about a year, rendering all the budding policy around encrypting hard drives essentially useless. The organizations created to implement policies are so cumbersome that they simply can not keep up with the rapid changes in the technology world.

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