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Know Before You Legislate!
Posted by Jim Craner on December 12, 2018
Remember the famous viral clip of a Senator on the floor of the Senate holding aloft a snowball as proof that climate change was surely a hoax, or the meme-inspiring "the Internet is not a big truck; it's a series of tubes" quote from a different Senator? Well, those zany congresspeople were at it again during last month's Congressional hearings with Google:
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 11, 2018
This clip might be late night comedy fodder, and many people are correctly pointing out that the specific question isn't really answered by whether the device was an Android or an iPhone -- but it proves a greater point that our legislators are often woefully misinformed about the technology that they are quick to regulate. That wasn't always the case, and it doesn't have to be the case now.
In the early 1970s, Congress created the Office of Technology Assessment ("OTA"), a bipartisan congressional office that investigated and analyzed topics of critical scientific and technological importance, similar in some ways to the Congressional Research Service. The OTA produced objective reports that were presented to Congress to help inform legislators about important issues, like acid rain or advanced aircraft technology -- and this 1993 report on the promise of "digital libraries" in the coming Internet era.
Unfortunately, the OTA was closed down in 1995 as part of the federal government downsizing initiatives of that time. After all, it's not like Congress would need to know anything about technology in the late 1990s or early 2000s! And here we find ourselves a couple of decades later, with routine technology gaffes on Twitter from our government's top cybersecurity advisors. There's still hope: there have been many calls over the past decade for the reconstitution of the OTA, but this past summer's effort to do so failed.