Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Geek out the vote!

All of our technological evolution and, arguably, all that industrially made America a superpower was based on the ability of engineers and scientists to build upon what came before. Reverse engineering is a practice taught in engineering schools as a legitimate way to build upon other work. The DMCA makes reverse engineering illegal -- ostensibly to protect film and music producers -- but in the process also turns many of our critical innovators, our engineers and scientists, into criminals.

The CAN-SPAM Act attempts to stem the tide of junk and sexually explicit email into all our in-boxes. I'm intimately familiar with the problem; I get more than 4,000 messages a day. Fortunately, I have software that cleans most of that out. However, the CAN-SPAM act isn't working. It prevents small American companies from reaching consumers through a cost-effective marketing channel while allowing huge corporations and, far worse, dishonest merchants from around the world completely unfettered access to our in-boxes. Americans owning small businesses are being denied the legal right to communicate with other Americans digitally, but unscrupulous spammers from everywhere else can scam soccer moms, kids, and our parents with unabated glee.

I could write a book on the Patriot Act, but I'm sure you know that this law has the potential to shred our fundamental assumption of privacy. This Act is like using a nuclear bomb when a sniper rifle will do. There are clear and present dangers where privacy must take a back seat to national security. But, most likely because the technological issues are messy, the good intentions embodied in this Act have the potential to annul our Bill of Rights.

Then there's the Induce Act, where, for fair and reasonable reasons, the American Congress is trying to protect copyright holders. But their approach, to make it illegal for any company to produce products that might "induce" consumers to copyright violation will likely have the chilling effect of making blank CDs, DVDs, and even products like VCRs, TiVos, and hard drives illegal to make or purchase.

When the founding fathers formed this nation, the technologies of the time informed their structuring of our rights and responsibilities. In the 21st century, the digital world infinitely increases our capabilities, our life spans, our quality of life, and our economic power -- but it also opens new doors to new dangers and challenges from a global, instantly connected community.

If you want to learn more about these issues and how your vote can make a difference, it's all being discussed at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (at http://www.eff.org) and at Chilling Effects (http://www.chillingeffects.org). If you use technology and you care at all about your rights, you should become familiar with these two resources.

Here's how to register to vote and get your gift

You can register using either MTV's Rock The Vote Web site or Headcount.org's Web site. As far as we know, neither site has a party affiliation, although it's clear MTV has a strong partying affiliation. But that's another issue.