In the world of the Batman comics, one of the more interesting villains that the Caped Crusader has to contend with is Two-Face. You see, Two-Face wasn't always a bad guy. He was originally Batman ally and Gotham District Attorney Harvey Dent, but after a criminal disfigures half his face with a vial of acid, Harvey loses his grip on reality and turns into the evil Two-Face.
But the really interesting thing about Two-Face is that he does sometimes do the right thing. That's because he often decides whether he will do good or evil on the flip of a coin. This can make things especially tough for Batman, who must fight to stop the crimes of Two-Face but also occasionally sees his old friend Harvey whenever the coin makes Two-Face do the right thing.
And I'm starting to understand Batman's problem myself. Because there's an enemy out there that I'm often striving against. One who often seems to be dedicated to destroying the freedoms and innovations that technology has brought to us and bring all exciting and disruptive technologies to a stand-still. However, every once and a while this enemy does something helpful and makes me think that maybe it isn't all that bad after all.
The enemy I am talking about is, of course, government.
Sure, government has done some good things to spur innovation (like a little thing called the Internet) but typically if two politicians sit down to craft a bill that touches on technology, it usually means that innovation and the free use of technology is going to be in great danger.
A perfect example of this kind of government intervention (and there are plenty) is a recent law that actually went into effect in Germany. Typically referred to as the Hacker Tool law, this law makes it illegal to own, use, create or distribute a "hacker tool."
What's a hacker tool? Good question. The law doesn't seem to worry too much about that definition.
Security and legal analysts looking at the law seem to agree that it could easily mean common security and network analysis tools such as nmap and nessus and would definitely include exploit-testing programs such as Metasploit. Many have even argued that all Linux distros fall under the term of "hacking tool" as many include lots of security and network analysis tools and include code-hacking programs.
Kinda makes me glad I'm not a network or security management worker in Germany. The law has already prompted several security tool developers to move their projects out of Germany and has prompted leading security analysts such as HD Moore (one of the minds behind Metasploit) to say that he'll be staying out of Germany until this law gets straightened out.
But there are also cases of governments seemingly doing the right thing by technology, such as the recent vote in the U.S. House of Representatives passing the Patent Reform Act of 2007. While this bill isn't perfect, it will go a long way towards limiting the damaging effects of bad patents and making it harder for businesses to get shaky patents in the first place.
Still, just because governments do a good thing every once in a while, doesn't mean they are going to be my new best friend. Despite the fact that the coin flips occasionally keep Two-Face from doing evil, he is still clearly an enemy of Batman and almost always a villain.
And I feel the same way about government. Just because every once in a while they don't put a bullet in technology and innovation, I'm still going to be on my guard against their attacks on technology.
In fact, even a good act like the Patent Reform Act could turn bad. It still needs to pass the Senate and get signed by the White House and many think the law could be significantly watered down by the time this happens.
In the end, will the Patent Reform Act provide real patent relief or will it become one of those bills (like the CAN-SPAM Act) that actually cause more harm than good? Will we have good or evil government when it comes to technology? Right now, it looks like a coin flip.