In a May 2003 column, I advocated for the formation of an organized group that would speak for the needs of information workers and companies, as well as lobby against bad laws, policies and general technology ignorance. I received many positive responses to the column, which also generated some discussion on bulletin boards and in newsgroups. However, more than one year later, not much has happened.
Bad laws are introduced every day. The latest attack on technology, Sen. Orrin Hatchs Induce Act (Inducing Infringements of Copyright Act), is quite possibly the worst proposed technology law Ive ever seen, with the potential to make the already-devastating DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) look like a minor nuisance.
The Induce Act states, in part, that anyone who intentionally induces violation of copyright law would be legally liable for those violations.
If the Induce law were to go into effect, it would have the potential to make almost every technological product the subject of crippling lawsuits. To show how broad Induces reach would be, the lawyers at the Electronic Frontier Foundation have put together a hypothetical but chillingly realistic legal attack against the iPod, based on that devices potential inducement of illegal music downloads.
It takes little imagination to carry this to broadband Internet connections, wireless networks, DVD burners and even PCs. And, as is the case with the DMCA, claims based on Induce wouldnt need to be successful to stifle innovation.
When I wrote the column last year, I envisioned an organization with the same clout in Washington that groups like the American Association of Retired Persons or the National Rifle Association have. There are lots of small groups that speak for different segments of IT and IT causes, but none that has gained any great measure of influence.
Not that Ive done anything to further the cause. As a columnist, its very easy for me to toss out an idea and hope that someone out there will pick it up and run with it. But thats as far as I went.
I also have to say my other column was too broad in terms of the issues it addressed. Instead of sticking with problems everyone involved in IT can agree on, I threw in issues that tend to divide us—like outsourcing and software contracts. This was a mistake because an effective IT advocacy group is a united group.
I cant see anyone in IT having a problem with some of the policies I proposed in my May column (with the possible exception of those in the movie and recording industry): No IT tool, hardware or software should be considered illegal if it has any conceivable noncriminal use; no developer should face legal action for creating software or hardware that has any conceivable noncriminal use; and no technology researcher should be prevented from researching any security or hacking technology or process, or from presenting findings on any such research.
Imagine the influence a group united behind these principles would have.
Industry titans could subtly remind legislators of the economic might of the technology sector, which dwarfs what the movie and music industry add to the U.S. economy. Major employers could let lawmakers know about the potential negative fallout some of these laws could have on their ability to be productive contributors and employers in their respective districts. (No Congress member would want to go home to face charges that a law he or she supported cost jobs.)
The sheer size of such an IT advocacy group, which would easily dwarf groups like the NRA, could be persuasive in Washington. It could have the resources to tap powerful lobbyists and representatives. (How about Al Gore and Newt Gingrich, both of whom know technology and seem to have some time on their hands?)
This time around, Ill offer more help. IT workers and managers, send me your suggestions about how such a group could be formed and organized. Industry organizations, please send lessons learned and ideas for how your groups could work with such an organization.
In a future column, Ill report the results. And maybe we can finally get the ball rolling and be in a position to defend our interests ourselves, rather than hoping that other groups and industries will somehow step up to protect us. ´
Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.