Friday, 24 May 2013

Technological Turmoil

An excellent piece in Foreign Policy which asks the important question, is our technology outstripping our laws?
We speak easily of "basic rights" like freedom of the press. But they took hundreds of years to evolve. "The press" is a Renaissance-era technology, with Gutenberg's famous moveable type technology making its debut in 1450. The idea that restrictions on the press should be significantly limited didn't really win adoption in the English-speaking world until almost 250 years later. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted in 1791. And the issues associated with the rights and values questions posed by this new universally interconnected, data-dependent, data-interdependent world are many quantum levels of complexity past those tied to a free press. Further, while developments are moving at lightning pace, we are only just now starting to ask: What are the basic rights and responsibilities of citizens, consumers, businesses, and governments in this new era?
The problem that this article only briefly brushes past is that in order to make good legislation it's not only necessary to make legislation, it's critical to comprehend the issues which are being legislated upon. That's clearly something deeply lacking, which is why discussions such as these are so futile
Simultaneously, countries are starting to ask whether they can or should tolerate a big, free Internet that is a home to free speech and instant networks, a breeder of mass movements and a place for transactions that escape taxation. They also are questioning whether they wish to abide by international norms. The new trend is toward what might be called cyber-sovereignty or cyber-nationalism, breaking the world into separate, differently governed Internets.
The idea of "national" Internets belongs entirely in the fevered imagination of legislators who do not understand how the internet works. With companies like Google and Amazon finally waking up to how to lobby properly, and national budgets severely constrained, there is little chance that any country is likely to take the plunge and actually do it, since they would be cutting themselves off from a vast and valuable financial resource. Iran has been talking about it for a long time with no sign they're actually doing it. It's also not clear what the heck it would mean in practice, aside from some mysterious plan to get rid of the bits the Government doesn't like.

Fundamentally the world our legislators live in grows ever more distant from the reality and thus a dangerous disconnect forms in which the opportunity for flawed action is ever more likely. The risk is that this error, when it occurs, will be costly, foolish and deeply damaging to liberty.
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