Science Addiction

A dormant blog by Devanshu Mehta

Tag: dmca

Change Watch: A National CTO is not a Fairy Godmother

Everybody seems to have a wishlist for the incoming president. Some organizations have even put together humongous documents with recommendations for the new administration. I’ve been covering some of them here— when they seem interesting and within my areas of interest– but the sheer volume of “what I really want from the new president” is astonishing. Many on the left are already disappointed with Obama, 60 days before his inauguration.

One position that everyone on the Internet seems to have an opinion about is the mythical Chief Technology Officer that Obama had promised the nation. ObamaCTO.org has been formed– not by the campaign- to solicit ideas for a CTO agenda.

Jim Harper makes an excellent point. A CTO can’t undo legislation or executive orders or court orders. Says Harper:

I’ve got some news or you: These are policy proposals that would be beyond the purview of any CTO. Policy proposals go through Congress and the President, advised by his policy staff. They do not go through a CTO.

If the Baltimore Ravens asked the team physician to kick field goals, the results would be about what you’d get from asking a federal CTO to carry out these policies.

Excellent point. The CTO cannot repeal the DMCA or the USA Patriot Act or mandate Net Neutrality. What the CTO can do is shine sunlight (thanks Jim Harper). A CTO can open up federal government data with portable and open data formats. RSS, XML, APIs– ways for people and machines to process, visualize and analyze the governments (our) data.
Obama’s official agenda says the following:

  • Open Up Government to its Citizens: Use cutting-edge technologies to create a new level of transparency, accountability, and participation for America’s citizens.
  • Bring Government into the 21st Century: Use technology to reform government and improve the exchange of information between the federal government and citizens while ensuring the security of our networks. Appoint the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to ensure the safety of our networks and lead an interagency effort, working with chief technology and chief information officers of each of the federal agencies, to ensure that they use best-in-class technologies and share best practices.

UPDATE: I’ve added this as a suggestion on the ObamaCTO.org web site- “bring expectations for CTO in check. CTO is not Santa.”

A CTO will not have power over courts, legislation and executive orders. A CTO will have power over how government uses technology- so bring your expectations down to earth, and ask for things like more transparency in Federal government and use of open standards in federal communications, documents, etc.

Vote for it! Use the system to change the system.

Change Watch: Privacy, Innovation and a side of Transparency

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Tim Jones at the EFF has just finished his threepart series outlining how the new leadership in Congress and the Executive branch can restore what has been lost over the past eight years.

There are two aspects to how privacy has deteriorated over the past eight years. On the one hand, claiming war time needs, the government has increased warrant-less surveillance of Americans by alarming proportions. Jones highlights the flawed FISA Amendments act which granted immunity from litigation to telcos, the States Secrets Privilege, which allows the executive branch to shield itself from judicial review. The abuse of National Security Letters to acquire data from Internet service providers has also been increased. On the other hand, corporations have much more control of user data than ever before and the balance is decidedly against the consumer. In Jones’ words, “the privacy of personal data should not depend on how long an ISP has stored that data or whether the data is stored locally or remotely. “

Innovation is an area that most directly affects consumers and technologists. Jones suggests– and I agree- that balance should be restored to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) and that serious patent reform is required. Both issues, as they currently stand, favor the incumbents over consumers and inhibit innovation.

On transparency, the government should resemble the Sunlight Foundation— if you haven’t already and take a look at how they are working on making data about the government available in formats that are easy to parse, process, analyze and visualize. Obama has promised much in this direction- and Change.gov is certainly a refreshing web site- but the post-January reality will be determined by his administrations response to Freedom of Information Act requests and opening up the data of all branches of government.

Until inauguration day on the 20th of January, I will be covering some of the aspects of the transition to the Obama administration that affect technology and open government in a series called Change Watch .

Ten Years of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act

On the 28th of October, 1998, Bill Clinton signed the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) in to law. And the technology industry was never the same. This week, it turns 10.

The Anti-Circumvention Provision
The purpose of the anti-circumvention provisions in the DMCA was to prevent copyright pirates from defeating copy protection (DRM) mechanisms. In reality, neither the DMCA nor DRM have done nothing to stop piracy on the Internet. The DMCA has had an effect though- a chilling one. An effect on innovation, fair use, competition, expression. Read the rest of this entry »