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  • Law, Policy -- and IT?

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

What Higher Ed IT Policy Could Be Doing in DC
October 27, 2013 - 8:47pm

Let’s build something! Let’s turn the ship around and go forward with courage and integrity! Let’s talk about what higher education IT Policy could be doing in Washington, and by extension for our country. 

To followers of this blog, my suggestion that we first focus on the reform of the Copyright Act of 1976, Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 should come as no surprise.

Why? Because these laws are at the pinnacle of the oft-sung refrain about how “the law is out of synch with technology.” (About that phrase, it is really how social norms, the market and technology are out of sync with the law … but never mind the academics for now.)   Without reform, the issues that they represent: how to balance incentive and innovation in intellectual property regime in the 21st Century; how to distinguish between criminals and scientists and/or activists in the consequences of electronic security incidents; and how to reset the Fourth Amendment in electronic communications of a democratic republic all remain in legal abeyance. The gap between the law and technology, user behavior and market drivers continues to cause havoc in our society, to our youth, and, again by extension, to our higher education community.  

If you think I am whistling Dixie, read the MIT report in the aftermath of the Aaron Swartz suicide.  Refresh your recollection of Sony BMG v. Tenebaum file-sharing case out of Boston University.  Observe the discourse surrounding the Snowden disclosures. The absence of reform of the three laws is root cause of these cases. Moreover, these cases are object lessons in this country’s inability to move forward in the global information economy. Oh, and about the spying, sure, all countries do it, but the contretemps about it signals an increasing frustration with the United States from the international community that may go straight to the heart of global Internet governance … and places the United States, once leader in this area, in an unpropitious, compromised position.

Why should higher education care? Historically, we are, to use a metaphor, major shareholders. Contemporarily, Internet governance generally, and the issues that stem from these laws, matters. Can anyone imagine engaging our missions without the Internet and information technology? Does anyone think that law and policy issues are irrelevant in that arena? Finally, even if the Internet were not intimately woven into our missions, these issues are front and center of virtually all aspects of the culture, law and politics of U.S. and global society. In our not-for-profit status, we have an obligation to serve society.  I can think of no better institution to help educate the public, facilitate the debate and lead our government in a responsible direction. Whatever is holding us back from meeting this obligation it is time to get it out of the way and move forward!


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