Dear Politicians, Stop Supporting Laws You Don't Even Understand

Illustration for article titled Dear Politicians, Stop Supporting Laws You Don't Even Understand

Another bill which would have violated the civil liberties of many—Hawaii's H.B. 2288 Internet Dossier bill—has been pulled off the table following public outrage. And for good reason; the law would have tracked every website Hawaiians visited, and likened that browsing history to a name and address. It opened the door to profound first and fourth amendment violations. But worst of all, it was born out of ignorance. That's not okay.


We've spent the last several months watching politicians endorse then quickly renounce internet-related bills like SOPA, PIPA, and now this. And in that time it's become increasingly evident that many of those supporting the legislation didn't do so out of some Orwellian drive to control the masses. They just didn't get what it was they were trying to protect.

Simply put, politicians need to stop endorsing legislation that they don't understand. Or even worse, don't even try to.

While it's unrealistic to expect every lawmaker to possess masterful knowledge of every bill that passes through the floor of their legislative chamber, it's not unreasonable to expect that a senator or congressman should spend more than five minutes listening to broad talking points from an aide.

The same goes for the authors of bills with sweeping consequences, who need to consider the full ramifications of laws they're trying to pass. Kym Pine, Hawaiian state representative and H.B. 2288's main proponent, more or less claimed ignorance as his defense for introducing such a misbegotten bill. As quoted by CNET:

"We do not want to know where everyone goes on the Internet," Pine said. "That's not our interest. We just want the ability for law enforcement to be able to capture the activities of crime."


The bill, H.B. 2288, will likely now be revised, Pine said. The idea of compiling dossiers "was a little broad," said Pine, who became interested in the topic after becoming the subject of a political attack Web site last year. "And we deserved what we heard at the committee hearing."


Reading stories about politicians who have pulled their support for SOPA and PIPA (such as this, and this...and this) in the wake of this month's massive internet protest, a few assumptions can be made. First, I don't think anyone in support of the bill has any desire to censor the masses. I do think piracy is the main concern amongst politicians, and a legitimate one. Some obviously pulled their support because they're following the pack and want to save face. Others did so after listening to constituents opposed to the bill.


But the ones who removed their support and used the excuse that the bill is unacceptable as currently written either didn't take the time to read the entire thing, or really just didn't understand how the internet works. Remember, this is the same group of politicians who proudly proclaimed that they weren't "nerds" during the crucial SOPA mark-up period in December (about four minutes into the clip below):


When you draw up a parallel to internet privacy laws that people actually understand, such as telephone monitoring, the severity of these laws that are being flippantly pushed through become starkly apparent, and appalling. In responding to the H.B. 2288 bill, Hawaiian software developer Daniel Leuck had the following to say at the bill's hearing:

"Even forcing telephone companies to record everyone's conversations, which is unthinkable, would be less of an intrusion."


Regardless of what side you stand on in this debate, most of us can agree that it's scary thought that people in control of a pieces of legislature—ones that will have as much of an effect on the future of society as most other bills that pass through Congress—are the ones who understand the subject matter the least. [Cnet]

Image via AP




I'd like to politely disagree with a premise of this article. This is an argument used over and over to discredit legislature of all different kinds.

Just because Senator so-and-so isn't an expert on a subject matter (and in fact, s/he's very likely not a subject matter on MOST of the things s/he legislates), it doesn't mean that s/he can't write it, or support it, etc.

A Senator is not a policy writer. S/he's an overall guide for the principals in which s/he ascribes to govern. The people who write the policies are the hordes of lawyers, businesspersons, aides, lobbyists, etc. who take his general stance and write it into a law that makes sense for the subject matter.

For example, people bashed John McCain endlessly for supporting/opposing somesuch internet policy bill (I think it was a net neutrality issue) a few years ago. John McCain doesn't use computers. He has no idea how the internet works. But when he's asked to weigh in a computer debate, he sticks to the politics - conservatives typically shy away from government intervention in business, so he says "Regulation of the internet by the government should be opposed" and his policy writers - people who know a lot more about the subject - decide how best to go about that. I disagreed with McCain at the time, but not because "he doesn't use computers," but more because I disagreed with the politics of the decision.

The argument in this article in my opinion is an opportunistic stab at a nonexistent problem - and one that is double sided. Say, for example, a Senator comes up with a bill which does something that we as tech people generally like (net neutrality enforcement, privacy protection, take your pick). We think that's great! But... turns out, that Senator doesn't have a clue how the internet works either. Pretty much none of them do. This gives opponents of the "good legislation" the same avenue of attack as this article takes. "That Senator doesn't even use computers! How can s/he know!?"

When we attack legislation that we don't like, I think we should not take the lazy approach and attack a superficial problem that isn't really true. We should attack it based on the political approach it takes (regulation/deregulation, etc) and the effectiveness/lack of effectiveness the proposed techniques will have.