• Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).

Title

The Internet Party

What this country most needs.

 

June 13, 2017
 
 

With Republicans disgracing themselves and the Democrats in disarray, we need a new political party in the United States. How about an Internet Party?  Its purpose would be to see issues from the perspective of information, technology and the internet.  In other words, to think in terms of this century, not the last.

Too specialized?  Think not just about a hyper-focused on specific matters such as communications law, but a lens through which we view economics, society and politics.  Some matters are obvious.  For example, take the headline in Monday’s New York Times, “U.S. Cyber weapons, Used Against Iran and North Korea, Are a Disappointment Against ISIS.” National security must not be seen merely with an interest in cybersecurity, but with a prioritized direction on the internet. Cybersecurity is truly the only means to secure our physical borders, to appropriate a phrase that is in contemporary parlance. Whole books should be written about this subject. Let’s hope at the sixteen or so agencies that we have in Washington devoted to the internet, someone with a military background and a comprehensive perspective is taking a hard look. It is an angle not just for specialists, however, but how citizens can help shape the contours of national security. 

Reform of criminal law relies on this perspective. Crime perpetrated through the internet is the fastest growing criminal activity in the world. Moreover, it is not just nefarious activity among high level electronic bank heists, Nigerian scams, or identity theft, but the principal facilitator of the most corrosive aspect of society today: drugs. Consider this observation. Speaking of efforts New York City law enforcement made in their investigation of the skyrocketing overdoses – largely from people who got addicted to prescription drugs and then turned to illegal street drugs to feed the habit – “[They] created new teams of homicide and narcotics detectives to focus on how sales — usually of $10 bags or $100 bundles — occur via digital links, and “not on the street,” and added 84 investigators to the effort.”  By the way, those bags would be largely  fentanyl – that killed Prince -- and carfentanyl – a large animal veterinary medicine – that dealers have obtained on the dark web markets from producers outside the United States, mainly China. 

Defense law requires a similar reset, particularly as it becomes enmeshed in the over-lobbied and hyper-protected world of intellectual property. Tech firms that sell software to the judicial system, from law enforcement to corrections, designed to examine defendants’ computers, scan for fingerprint matches, and score parole will not divulge their algorithms to courts even in the face of obvious mistakes that their programs have made in unconstitutional surveillance, false identifications, and wrong parole scores of individual defendants and incarcerated persons. This conflict between criminal procedure and intellectual property reflects perhaps one of the most pernicious tensions of our democratic republic: how the state deploys technologies supported by the law of corporate heavyweights against the individual in obvious violation of constitutional rights.  It is the epitome of a Kafkaesque travesty of justice and a harbinger of what we need to know about information, technology and justice if we plan on the same kind of society invested in balancing government and the individual in the 21st century that we carved out in the middle of the 20th.  Ironically, in this area we need the past to inform the future, lest we lose what we strove so hard to create.
 
Let’s move to economics. While there will always be a place for manufacturing, just as there will always be a place for agriculture, these economic operations do not drive the global economy as they once did in previous centuries.  Information, integral with technology, drives it. Culturally, we segment Silicon Valley as if it were an island in the midst of our economy rather than its core.  We also ignore this fact at the peril of our workforce. Improving not only unemployment but the position of workers would be to accept information and technologies and the internet as central to their interests. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats seem to get this vital point. It may take a new political party to address what workers need most: robust broadband connectivity, affordable access, adult learning and socialization into the global information market.

Education falls readily to mind next. Digital and information literacy should not be add-ons to curricula development in K-12; it should be the center point. This opinion is from an English and History major who still believes deeply in traditional liberal arts education, but who also sees how we can and should reshape liberal arts to map how people learn, read, know and interpret the world around them. This kind of education is required to maintain basic values of critical thinking and free expression embedded in citizenship as well as employment.  Still struggling to find a connection? Think fake news. And think of what the world would be like if we lived perpetually in the delusions of tyrants. Today it is the media world of Putin’s Russia.  If we don’t take very seriously how information and technology are, or are not, thoughtfully woven in education for our young, it could be [the] U.S.

Take another example: healthcare. Information technology, whether prompted by research and development in everything from surgery to diagnostic tools, or by compliance, for example, HIPAA and electronic records, are key components of its expense. So long as we think of information and technology as separate from its costs, we, as a society, will not be able to properly manage a reasonable approach to managing it. (Education, too, by the way, especially higher ed.)  Question: should health maintenance organizations and technology firms be making money in health care hand over fist while the worker bees of our health care system, such as medical researchers, doctors, nurses, technicians and other health care providers do not, furthermore, at both employers and the consumer’s expense? No, but that is exactly how the money is shifting in this industry (education, too, by the way, especially higher ed) and will continue to flow unless we open our eyes to how information and technology intersect with it (think of the roots of the rising cost of tuition).

I could go on, and perhaps over the course of future posts I will. In many recent posts, I have outlined how this administration has diminished privacy, security, access, and free speech on the internet with regulatory changes at the F.C.C.  What was left unsaid in those posts is that much of this change has been made possible not only by President Trump’s universal “No Billionaires Left Behind” program working hand in hand with the fair-weather friend that the Big Five internet companies are to the consumer, but because the American consumer does not have its head screwed on correctly to register the significance of what these regulatory shifts mean in terms of their everyday life and essential citizenship. We may need a new political party to help correct that vision.  Without it, no grass roots movement is likely to exist.

Information and technology and the internet are all intimately connected to political discourse. In still more distant posts, I have looked with efficiency envy at the People’s Republic of China for having an internet agency (setting aside the difference in political values). They get it. The most important economic, social and political matters flow through the prism of the internet.  Dedicated to that perspective, they can manage issues far more effectively than can United States. We remain hobbled by a government structure that is so 20th century it creeks at every step.  Knowing that neither this administration nor the last has the resolve to fix the problem at its root (instead, we harp on an old, archaic, and undifferentiated tunes of “too much government”), I propose a forward-looking step: Let’s create an Internet Party.  Sometimes seeing an intractable issue from a different angle assists greatly in finding a productive path.  Maybe with this new perspective, we might also get past some of our existing party-driven political paralysis.  That would be the real beauty of what the Internet Party offers [the] U.S. 
 

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