Open Wide And Say Politics

I think you’ll agree with me that discussing politics is about as much fun as getting a tooth pulled without anesthesia. I find business more fun, too, partly because change is constant, but also because you can always walk away in business.

Political disgust is probably behind our desire for divided government. We figure they’ll end up like the millions of cats in Wanda Gag’s classic children’s story. They fought so hard over which was prettiest that only a single scarred ugly one was left, but after feeding and brushing that one was pretty enough. (I hope that didn’t spoil it for you.)

Unfortunately, politicians are not as interchangeable as cats. They also do some real damage. They’re doing real damage now.

Take the issue of domain names, which are as popular among web entrepreneurs as Pokemon cards (gotta catch ’em all). Washington is about to deliver a law, aimed at cybersquatters, which has more side effects than a prescription allergy medicine. Hollywood likes it, and we can hope the courts sort it out correctly, but the selection of judges is also a political process.

Even if you have a domain name, your right to speak online may be under serious threat. For example, if you put this article (or a link to it) on a web site dedicated to your political views on Internet issues, is it a campaign contribution?

It could be, under a campaign finance reform bill that was before the House last month. It still might be, under a muddy Federal Election Commission rule due to be passed today.

When should Internet speech cross the line and put you in danger of jail time? Authorities in Massachusetts want to put a 19-year old Missouri paraplegic in jail because of what he did in an AOL chat room. A charge of pornography may not stick, so the politicians are looking to draft specific laws against what they call “cyberterrorism” to put the kid away.

Or take the right of privacy, a right not guaranteed explicitly by the Bill of Rights, but implied by the 10th Amendment and accepted through decisions like Roe vs. Wade. In the name of protecting us from spies, the government has created technology that destroys privacy. The only check on the use of such technology is, unfortunately, the political process.

I didn’t have to go far to get any of this. These are stories “ripped from today’s headlines,” to quote the ads for NBC’s “Law and Order“. The Internet is new, its implications barely understood by those of us who make our livings on it, so it’s ripe for political shenanigans and demagoguery.

The campaign for the year 2000 has already started, and while I won’t presume to tell you who to vote for, you can at least research the issues that matter to you, form your own opinions, then demand that candidates address your concerns.

If you don’t defend the Internet, who will, and if not now, then when? Now open wide…

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