Ignorance Isn’t Bliss

How little do politicians know about the Internet? They know so little that they don’t even know when they’re being scammed.

That was the lesson of the second Lazio-Clinton debate on Sunday. Marcia Kramer of WCBS-TV asked the candidates what they thought of “Bill 602P,” supposedly a 5-cent tax on each email. Fortunately, both said they were against it. What no one knew, not even the moderator, was that the “Bill 602P” is an urban legend, a fraud, a phony, a dead letter, a myth.

The irony is that there are a lot of important political issues involving the Internet that our elected officials will have to deal with, starting next year. I detailed some of them in a series for VoxCap.com, but that site has since been bought by SpeakOut.com, and the content has been taken down. So let’s just review the bidding:

  • Do Internet users have the right to be anonymous?

  • How will the Internet be governed, and who will do it?
  • Do we have the rights of free speech and a free press on the Internet?
  • Will government subsidies of Internet services come with strings attached, a big brother telling you which sites you can see and which you can’t?
  • Will we have open access to all sites on new interactive TV and wireless networks, or will those be controlled by huge corporate gatekeepers?
  • If sales taxes are to be imposed on Internet sales, where is the store?
  • Will we have laws against spam, and how will it be defined?
  • Can we enforce any law on the Internet and, if so, how?
  • Do we have the right to privacy on the Internet, against intrusion by government?
  • Do we have the right to privacy on the Internet, against intrusion by businesses?

These are important questions, and with less than a month to go before the election, they’re not being discussed. Both candidates for president have fudged them, avoided them, or dodged them. All we’ve gotten are pats on the head for big Internet businesses and noise about how we create jobs and they don’t want to hurt us. This is what you do with a big dog you know nothing about.

The blame for this doesn’t entirely lie with the candidates. It also lies with us. The fact is, few people in the Internet economy want to discuss these issues. We’re afraid government might just do something, and we figure we’re quite able to take care of ourselves.

Individuals figure bad laws are just technical problems to be gotten around. Big businesses figure they can defend themselves with lawyers.

The result of this “see no evil” attitude is that we’re about to elect decision makers who know nothing and could care less. My guess is that they’ll ignore their power until some crisis comes and then act on their ignorance, to our detriment.

Things could have been different, but instead we kept our heads in the sand with the hope no one would notice us. Ignorance isn’t bliss. Ignorance is ignorance, and bliss is bliss.

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