The Politics of Technology

The new Congress brings hope for tech protections.

Ah, what a lovely day! I think it must be the ideal perfect temperature for this time of year."

"Yes, it is. Ever since the Democrats took control of Congress and turned the tide of global warming, the weather has been fantastic."

"And, of course, the Democratic Congress has turned around the economy, erased the deficit and procured fantastic jobs for everyone. And that new standard—four months of vacation time per year—has made it much easier to enjoy this great weather."

"Yes, these are truly wonderful times, but I must ask you: What is this strange thing I am sitting on? And why are your ears so pointy?"

"Duh! Im an elf. And youre sitting on a giant toadstool. Come on! I think it was pretty clear from the content of our conversation that were in a make-believe world of fairies and elves."

OK, while Im not sure what kind of effect the new Congress will have on the major issues of the day, it will definitely have a significant impact on core technology issues and laws that will come up this year.

In some areas, a Democratic Congress will mean good things for those who worry about technology freedoms. In other areas, however, its not so clear.

One of the biggest changes that were already seeing from the Democratic Congress is in the area of net neutrality. Already this year, a net neutrality bill has been introduced by Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine. The bill is designed to prevent major broadband companies from charging higher fees to providers like Google and Yahoo that send content to users on the broadband networks.

Well see if this new bill does any better than the net neutrality bill that was shot down in the last Congress. Many experts think this Democratic Congress will be more inclined to support net neutrality, but that may change when opponents such as Comcast and Verizon start throwing their money and influence around.

Other areas in which we are likely to see action from Democrats are identity theft and data loss, with several prominent Democrats expressing their support for privacy-oriented bills.

However, the Democrats gaining control of Congress could simulta-neously be both the worst and the best thing possible.

For example, some Democrats, such as Rep. Rick Boucher of Virginia, are strong proponents of Internet and content freedoms and have worked hard to roll back the excesses of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the efforts of Hollywood and music companies to enforce content restrictions across computers and electronic devices. On the other hand, the worst technology bill ever designed—one that could have stopped the growth of the Internet and PCs if it had been passed—was the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act. Who introduced it? Sen. Fritz Hollings, a Democrat from South Carolina.

While Hollings, the man once called the senator from Disney, is no longer in Congress, the forces of Hollywood and the music studios still have representatives in Congress. Theyre willing to push through their anti-consumer and anti-technology bills. For example, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein has said that she will reintroduce her Perform Act, a bill that, among many bad things, will make illegal most recording practices that are currently considered fair use.

Its pretty clear where the Democrats stand on many key technology issues, but, the way I look at it, the political party doesnt really matter. There are some Democratic legislators who are friendly toward technology issues and will work to protect our interests. And there are other Democrats who will back bills and initiatives that could cause great harm to the technology sector. The same is true if you take those two sentences and replace "Democrat" with "Republican."

So continue to keep an eye on what Congress is doing, applaud legislators when they make the right moves and contact your representatives when bills are being considered that could harm technology.

Now, if you dont mind, I think I might go back to that toadstool. It was awfully nice in that make-believe world.

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at