Another bill which would have violated the civil liberties of many -- Hawaii's H.B. 2288 Internet Dossier bill -- has been pulled off the table following public outrage. And for good reason; the law would have tracked every website Hawaiians visited and linked that browsing history to a name and address. It opened the door to profound first and fourth US amendment violations. But worst of all, it was born out of ignorance.
We've spent the last several months watching US politicians endorse then quickly renounce internet-related bills like SOPA, PIPA and now this. And in that time it's become increasingly evident that many of those supporting the legislation didn't do so out of some Orwellian drive to control the masses. They just didn't get what it was they were trying to protect.
Simply put, politicians need to stop endorsing legislation that they don't understand. Or even worse, don't even try to.
While it's unrealistic to expect every lawmaker to possess masterful knowledge of every bill that passes through the floor of their legislative chamber, it's not unreasonable to expect that a senator or congressman should spend more than five minutes listening to broad talking points from an aide.
The same goes for the authors of bills with sweeping consequences, who need to consider the full ramifications of laws they're trying to pass. Kym Pine, Hawaiian state representative and H.B. 2288's main proponent, more or less claimed ignorance as his defence for introducing such a misbegotten bill. As quoted by CNET:
"We do not want to know where everyone goes on the Internet," Pine said. "That's not our interest. We just want the ability for law enforcement to be able to capture the activities of crime."
The bill, H.B. 2288, will likely now be revised, Pine said. The idea of compiling dossiers "was a little broad," said Pine, who became interested in the topic after becoming the subject of a political attack Web site last year. "And we deserved what we heard at the committee hearing."
Reading stories about politicians who have pulled their support for SOPA and PIPA (such as this, and this... and this) in the wake of this month's massive internet protest, a few assumptions can be made. First, I don't think anyone in support of the bill has any desire to censor the masses. I do think piracy is the main concern amongst politicians, and a legitimate one. Some obviously pulled their support because they're following the pack and want to save face. Others did so after listening to constituents opposed to the bill.
But the ones who removed their support and used the excuse that the bill is unacceptable as currently written either didn't take the time to read the entire thing, or really just didn't understand how the internet works. Remember, this is the same group of politicians who proudly proclaimed that they weren't "nerds" during the crucial SOPA mark-up period in December.
When you draw up a parallel to internet privacy laws that people actually understand, such as telephone monitoring, the severity of these laws that are being flippantly pushed through become starkly apparent, and appalling. In responding to the H.B. 2288 bill, Hawaiian software developer Daniel Leuck had the following to say at the bill's hearing:
"Even forcing telephone companies to record everyone's conversations, which is unthinkable, would be less of an intrusion."
Regardless of what side you stand on in this debate, most of us can agree that it's scary thought that people in control of a pieces of legislature -- ones that will have as much of an effect on the future of society as most other bills that pass through US Congress -- are the ones who understand the subject matter the least. [CNET]
Image: Via AP.