Positive Politics: Internet and Technology Policy

Well I’m not ready to jump into one of the big ugly topics yet, so maybe this one will be a little easier. (Maybe.) Let’s talk about the internet and overall technology policies.

Access / Control of Internet

There’s a current debate about a concept called “net neutrality” that, as typical, is highly spun by both sides on the issue. So I’m going to avoid that term in my discussion. I’ll try to make this one fairly simple.

Access to the Internet should be thought of and regulated like a public utility, analogous to water, gas, and electric. Market competition is difficult here because the cost for infrastructure development is relatively high and a physical connection is required to each home and business. (We don’t expect that we’ll have three electric companies run lines to our house so we can choose the one with the best rates!) Pricing should be overseen and controlled just like it is for other utilities. Access to the internet should be unrestricted – no paid “fast lanes”, no filtering, no blocking.

Once that level of utility access is in place for the internet, I’m more open to allowing mobile providers to offer variation and experiment within the market space, because there is more room for genuine competition within the mobile internet (aka cell phone) market.

Encryption

The government should not restrict the use of encryption or push for the inclusion of “back doors” into encryption systems. From a technical standpoint, if a back door exists, the probability is 100% that at some point the bad guys will figure out how to get through it. The FBI may complain that good encryption slows their investigations down, and may dream up scenarios where they suggest having a backdoor would help avert some impending attack; I don’t believe that because we can imagine such a scenario that it justifies crippling our encryption systems. Encryption helps enable the right to digital privacy. We need it.

Consumer Data and Privacy

Big data analytics, whether by the government or by corporate interests, are affecting our lives in ways we struggle to understand (or are hidden from us). While it’s folly to think we can get the genie back in that bottle, I’d be interested to explore the idea of a Consumer Data Protection agency similar to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that was created after the 2008 financial crisis. We need awareness of what’s being done with our personal data, and we need real penalties for companies that mismanage or abuse it.

Social Media Transparency

And then there’s Facebook. And #FakeNews. And election meddling by way of Facebook propaganda. I don’t know what it’ll take for the giants like Facebook to get serious about trying to patrol that type of obviously fake material – maybe they shouldn’t. But what we do need is a populous that is more educated about how to identify fake news stories so they can evaluate things on their own.

Evaluation

So let’s evaluate these against our five-principle framework.

1. Is it good for the poor?

When compared with the possibility of pay-for-access, a Net Neutrality position is good for everyone, and benefits the poor who otherwise might be shut out of the benefits that internet access provides.

2. Is it good for the planet?

I’ll rate this one as neutral.

3. Does it promote peace?

The internet can be used for peaceful ends… or for not so peaceful ends. Better consumer education about how and what to consume would help us learn to ignore propaganda, which would be a positive and usually peaceful improvement.

4. Does it challenge the powerful?

Net Neutrality and awareness / limitation of big data collection would serve to at least give us awareness of what the powerful are doing with all that information… and knowledge is the first step toward taking action.

5. Does it let the marginalized have a seat at the table to speak for themselves?

Free and neutral access to the internet would provide each user, regardless of wealth or status, the same ability to distribute their message as anyone else. While access to already-popular channels isn’t automatic, the internet provides more ability than ever before in history for an unknown person with a notable message to spread virally.

One thought to “Positive Politics: Internet and Technology Policy”

  1. “But what we do need is a populous that is more educated about how to identify fake news stories so they can evaluate things on their own.”
    ^Amen! ^

    In the era of blogs and op-eds everywhere, I think it might be challenging to effectively regulate “fake news” when considering free speech implications. In my profession, we call this fake news identification, “information literacy.” It’s not really a new idea (after all, the burden has always been on individuals to determine if they can get more in depth/accurate/just-in-time information via the radio, TV, newspaper, etc.), but clearly even more of an important skill in the modern era of social media. I can imagine the librarians among us going to bed on most evenings, wondering where our society turned in the wrong direction.

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