More outrage, please

In January last year I wrote that 2006 was “The Year of Not Enough Outrage” and I’m disappointed to say that, looking back, I don’t think 2007 was any better on that score.

I’m thinking of several issues that arose last year. How about the conviction of Julie Amero in January 2007? Amero, a substitute seventh-grade teacher, was “found guilty on four counts of risk of injury to a minor, or impairing the morals of a child” when a classroom computer began displaying pornographic images. The PC didn’t have antimalware software installed and the technical evidence in her defense was simply disregarded. This was a great example of the public bureaucracy’s willful ignorance of computer technology.

Were we all outraged enough to flood the prosecutor and our congressperson’s offices with letters expressing our disgust at the whole mess? Nope, not before or after the conviction. Sure, there was lots of blogging and opinion pieces about the insanity of the case, but that’s not the same as making sure those who live and die by public opinion actually know the opinion of the public (Amero’s conviction was subsequently thrown out and sent for possible retrial, so she may have to go through the whole ordeal all over again in 2008).

How about the utter nonsense of prosecuting people for using unsecured wireless connections? This has been going on since 2003, but last year the case of Sam Peterson II, who was nabbed under a Michigan law for using an open access point even though the access point’s owner didn’t care.

Given the current shrill and overwrought policies (banning cosmetics in carry-on airplane luggage) on homeland security, you’d think the law would be against open Wi-Fi access points as a matter of national infrastructure security. But no, the lowest common denominator — profound, unremitting ignorance — is still the winner.

Want more? How about the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)? Despite the huge amount of negative press this organization has attracted in 2007, there’s still no effective public outcry against what is, in reality, a cynical, systematic program of disinformation and legal bullying.

Just consider the RIAA’s endless and highly suspect lawsuits against supposed abusers of copyright. The organization’s methodology of using dubious forensics to threaten and extort money from the parents of random teenagers, college students, single mothers and so on is, to put it mildly, disgraceful. But are we so outraged that we’ve boycotted the products of the RIAA’s members? Nope. Have we deluged Congress with our complaints about what would have once been considered blatantly un-American behaviour? Nope again.

So, what should we do about it? We’ve just been through the time of the year when everyone is supposed to make their resolutions for the coming year. I’m sure you’ve probably done this exercise already and, as a result, are going to slim down and clean up … at least until next week.

As Mrs. Gibbs and I were discussing our personal and joint resolutions for a happier and healthier 2008, I got to wondering about what resolutions the IT world should be making. I think one of the biggest things we should resolve to do is speak up.

There’s a huge gulf between IT — the guys who understand computers and networking — and everyone else (most of whom are baffled when asked to press the “any key”). The need for IT experience to be publicly considered is crucial when decisions that affect public policy are involved, whether it is in the making of laws or their enforcement.

So, will 2008 be the year that, when technology is involved in public policy, the IT world will speak out and attempt to keep everyone honest, rational and relevant? I hope so. Now it’s up to you.

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