from the and-a-wish-list-it-shall-likely-remain dept
We wanted to do an episode all about examining the tech policy platforms of the 2016 presidential candidates, but that proved impossible since one candidate's is vague and noncommittal while the other's doesn't exist at all. Since a nuanced discussion about robust tech policy platforms was probably a bit much to hope for from this election anyway, for this week's episode we're discussing what a great presidential tech platform should look like under less absurd circumstances.
Politico has an article with a misleading title -- the return of the Luddite president -- which discusses how neither of the two major party Presidential candidates are even remotely tech savvy. The headline is an unfortunate oversell. Luddites aren't just people who don't know anything about technology. They're people who actively dislike certain technologies, in the belief that such advances will harm their own livelihoods. In a broader sense, the term is used to discuss people who generally dislike the march of technological progress. Again, that does not appear to be the case with either of the two candidates, who (at best) might just be described as agnostic to/indifferent to new technologies and somewhat ignorant on what that might mean from a policy perspective.
Clinton's tech travails are all over the headlines, including the lax security of her home-brewed email server and her documented struggles with fax machines — and the recently disclosed hacking of the Democratic National Committee's emails won't do much to burnish her party's image of cyber competence.
But Trump's hardly a candidate for the Geek Squad either, despite the prolific round-the-clock tweeting strategy he uses to dominate the headlines. He has boasted that he hardly ever sends emails — and, like Clinton, he often relies on staff to print news articles off the internet.
“I’m just not a believer in email,” Trump said during a news conference Wednesday where he criticized Clinton's use of a private server when she was secretary of State.
Of course, this is still problematic! Technological innovation is going to have a massive impact on a huge list of issues that any President is going to face over the next four years. And not understanding those issues, let alone how they may impact the policy choices that are being made is worrisome -- just not as worrisome as someone who actively dislikes technological progress.
Still, there are reasonable concerns here:
“These are two candidates who don't have their hands on the technology, and that’s unfortunate, because without that it’s difficult to understand this stuff on a deeper, more visceral level,” said Peter Leyden, a futurist and former managing editor of Wired who was an early Obama backer in Silicon Valley....
“We're on the verge of a fundamentally different economy that’s being absolutely transformed by the next wave of technology,” Leyden said. “It will have huge ramifications on society. And someone running the goddamn country has to know that."
Unfortunately, that doesn't seem likely. And that's probably going to keep us at Techdirt pretty busy for the next four years.
Last year, Larry Lessig got plenty of attention for his MAYDAY PAC, which was an attempt to raise a bunch of money to back candidates who promised to reform campaign finance laws. The 2014 campaign was supposed to be a "test" to raise around $12 million to see what could be done, with an eventual goal of raising a lot more for the 2016 campaign. Even the 2014 campaign was somewhat audacious (and somewhat misunderstood). And after the 2014 election, many argued that MAYDAY was a failure in that it really failed to have much, if any, impact in the campaigns that it took part in. To me, it seemed a bit premature to make that argument, as the whole point of experimenting and testing is to learn, but in politics everything is a horse race, and there is little in the way of long term thinking or strategy.
Either way, just a few weeks ago Lessig announced that he was handing MAYDAY over to Zephyr Teachout, a well-known professor who used to be director of the Sunlight Foundation -- and who caused a political stir last year by doing surprisingly well in running against Andrew Cuomo for governor of NYC. Teachout taking over MAYDAY seemed like a natural fit.
But what of Lessig? His own post mortem on MAYDAY suggested he wasn't ready to give up the fight, and it appears that the results of the first round of the MAYDAY experiment didn't scare him off from taking chances on making incredibly big bets. Crazy bets. Because now he's basically running for President. Sort of. Maybe. You kind of have to watch this video to understand:
In short, he wants someone to run as a "referendum candidate" -- someone who will run entirely on this issue of fixing corruption in politics, with the promise that once in office, they will focus on solving that one issue and then resigning immediately, and handing over the job to the Vice President. In this case, the way he'd pursue fixing corruption is to pass The Citizen Equality Act -- a bundle of election reforms that Lessig has been arguing would make a real difference in getting money out of politics. Lessig claims he's been looking for someone else to stand in as that candidate, and will happily focus on someone else if the right candidate emerges -- but, if no one else is able to do it, he'll be that candidate himself.
For now, Lessig is trying to raise $1 million by Labor Day to see if this is possible. If he doesn't raise that much, the plan will be shut down (and no one's money will be taken).
I'm not sure what to make of all of this, frankly. Lessig has been trying for a bunch of moonshot ideas over the past few years -- including holding a new Constitutional Convention, among other ideas like MAYDAY and campaign finance reform. You can't say he isn't being bold and trying some crazy big strategies in trying to make these things an issue. And I really appreciate and respect Lessig and his way of thinking about all of this. But... something about this latest move feels almost too gimmicky. Yes, to get people to actually take on this issue, perhaps a gimmick is needed. And maybe Lessig is right to keep trying ever more audacious gimmicks until he finds the one that clicks. I'm glad he's trying and I hope he succeeds -- and chances are I'll donate to this campaign. But it still feels like a gimmick, and it bugs me that we need gimmicks to fix our political system. I'm guessing that Lessig might actually agree with that statement, but argue that there's no way around this unfortunate fact, so he's going to play the game. I just wish it didn't need to happen that way.
When people say, "You have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide," ask them if it's fine to install cameras in their homes, not just in the living room but the bedroom and bathroom. Ask them if they'd mind wearing a microphone and video camera every day, so others can check on what they've said and done.
You are guilty of something. I guarantee it. Lawmakers have created countless new crimes and punishments, and allowed law enforcement to extend old laws in dangerous ways. Have you ever told anything short of the absolute truth when filling out an online form to use some service? We can charge you with a felony for that. And, by the way, we don't need to convict you at trial. If you are a target, we can ruin you financially if you try to defend yourself. This is what we expect in banana republics and police states, not here. And as the surveillance state expands, it will create more targets among people like you.
Our political leaders have made a calculation in recent years. They believe you are too frightened, too cowardly, to face the truth – and that you think liberty is much less important than temporary safety.
We are human. Terrorism unleashes our deepest fears, and our most lethal fury, even though the risk for any one of us is vanishingly low. We must challenge the fear mongers, and ourselves.
Part of the problem we have today is that very few elected officials care about liberty. They care about power, and they believe, incorrectly, that their job involves ditching liberty in an attempt to retain power (which they falsely argue is about "protecting Americans" despite little evidence that the power grab protects anyone but their own interests). It would be an amazing step forward if there were a President who remembered why liberty was such an important issue to our founding fathers.
In an interesting appeals court ruling, a court has said that there was no free speech violation in two individuals being removed from a George W. Bush speech (while he was still President), because of the bumper stickers on their cars (which were decidedly anti-Bush). While I'm a big supporter of free speech -- especially when it comes to criticizing the President or other elected officials -- I have to admit that I tend to agree with the court here. The President and his staff had every right to determine who attended the speech for whatever reason. Excluding anyone from hearing a speech isn't a violation of their free speech rights, because there is no guaranteed right to attend such a speech in person. That said, I think it's particularly lame that a President -- or anyone in authority -- would purposely keep out those who disagree with them, rather than being willing to respond to their criticisms. As we saw just last week when President Obama responded directly to Republican questions, responding to those who disagree with you can often be quite a lot more productive than ignoring them.
There were some stories yesterday saying that, despite earlier worries he'd be forced to give it up, President Obama was able to keep his Blackberry -- and now the White House has confirmed it. Apparently, some security software has been added, and a very limited number of people will know the email address. Also, it appears that the administration is noting that the Presidential Records Act does allow an exception for strictly personal emails. So, while the President is being told to consider any emails he sends to be public, strictly personal email to friends or family will likely not be kept and revealed. What isn't entirely clear is who determines what is, and what is not, personal. In the meantime, how long until we hear about the first Obama-email-inspired phishing scam? You know someone's going to try to use a fake Obama email address to try to scam people... Now, let's see what they can do about giving instant messaging back to White House staffers.
Right after the election, there was plenty of talk about how President-elect Obama would need to give up email just as President Bush did when he took office eight years ago. As plenty of people pointed out at the time, this seems like a pretty silly concept. There should be at least some way to allow Obama to continue to use this important and useful form of communication -- if only to allow him some access "outside the bubble" of DC. And, indeed, Obama made it clear that he would fight to figure out some way to keep emailing -- especially via his precious Blackberry. However, the latest news isn't looking good -- as Obama is noting that he still has been unable to convince both the security folks and the lawyers that he should be allowed to keep the Blackberry. Apparently, there are times when it's not so good to be the king.
Eight years ago, we noted that newly elected President George W. Bush had given up email, in order to avoid problems with open records laws on Presidential communications. Not surprisingly, there's now a lot of speculation concerning whether or not President-Elect Barack Obama will now have to give up email as well. In the intervening eight years, email has become much more important, and, of course, Obama is a known Blackberry fanatic.
Eight years ago we thought this was a silly turn of events, and today it seems even more ridiculous. Email is an important and useful form of communication. It seems silly not to allow Obama to use email, and it's difficult to see what the real advantage of cutting him off would be. The article mentions concerns about security, but no one is saying he should be sending nuclear codes or military training plans via email. The second concern is about the open records laws, that would potentially open up private communications to the public. Again, it seems like this can be dealt with in a variety of ways -- either by changing the law to protect certain emails, or by having Obama make it clear to any and all emailers that their emails should be considered public records. It seems like there are better solutions out there than cutting him off entirely.