Once again I come out of the gate with another quasi-political post.  But I just can't seem to shake all of the potential ills I see coming our way if we don't start to wake up.  Even as I sit here writing this post, I can't help but wonder how much longer this particular avenue of expression will be available to me.  The most recent event that has had me stewing, is the continuing saga of net neutrality.  And while the point of this post is not that issue specifically, I am going to use it as an example to make a larger point.


Net neutrality is a fairly broad and complex subject with consequences that are equally complex.  But I am going to simplify it by saying, that if net neutrality laws are stricken down then this website will likely disappear.  Your blog (if you have one) will likely disappear.  Large internet service providers and telecom companies will be able to effectively control what content is available to you and whether or not any content you have on the web is viewable by others.  There have already been two, what I consider to be successful, assaults on net neutrality.  The rulings of previous attempts to strike down the laws were made by judges, as will the most current attempt.  I don't happen to know anything about these judges, but I would be willing to bet that they know next to nothing about technology, and probably need their clerks' help to check their email.

      This begs the question: Are the people adjudicating these cases really qualified to be doing so?  The cases are being argued by attorneys, that we assume have experts advising them.  In some cases, as with intellectual property attorneys, they may even have specfic expertise (though in most cases they do not).  But how does that help the judge?  He might have experts that advise him as well, but those experts might well have agendas of their own.  Either way, if the judge has no specific knowledge or training in technology, then it is impossible for him to make an informed ruling.  But let's walk this back a few steps.

       The Congress of the United States has one basic function, to make and pass laws.  And yet not one of them, at the time they assume office, has any idea how to "legislate".  There are plenty of attorneys in Congress, but is practicing law and making law really that similar that it counts as any sort of qualification.  Drilling down on this point a little further, what qualifies the Congressman to pass any law that has any degree of technical sophistication to it?  Again, we bump up against the issue of hiring industry experts with their own agendas.  Often times, those experts actually represent a party who has an interest in seeing a specific law passed in favor of corporate concerns.  And again, I argue that congressman simply lack the requisite expertise to adequately comprehend the contents of the laws they pass, whether guided by an expert or not.

         This is where technocrats come in handy.  Recently we have seen a rash of technocrats being elected or appointed to positions of bureaucratic and political power in Europe.  Member countries, realizing that they were in dire economic times, decided to begin putting economists in positions that could effect change.  The reasoning is sound.  You wouldn't hire a brain surgeon to do heart surgery would you?  A more accurate analogy in the case of Congress, you wouldn't enlist an optometrist to solve the countries economic woes.  But let's be clear on what a technocrat is.  Despite the fact that I have a specific understanding of the term, I can't help think that the word implies someone with technical skills.  Sometimes I even imagine, in a blaze of dorkiness, that it is someone from the techno-union in "Star Wars".  A technocrat is someone who believes in technocracy, which by definition is an elite cadre with specific training in a given field.  In simpler terms, a technocrat would be an official whose skills meet a specific need of the day.  In the case of Italy, they chose an economist to weather difficult economic times.

       In the case of laws that govern technology and its potential impact on the electorate or even the world at large, the least you would need is a cadre of computer scientists.  Another relevant exampe is the recent ruling on the legality of NSA spying.  A court ruled that the NSA's activities were actually legal.  However no thought was given to how such activity would negatively impact the web, or people's desire to use it.  When you add to that the disappearance of net neutrality, you have a perfect storm of an oppressive web that would drive jobs, talent, and money away from the country and into safe havens of electronic de-regulation.  In these two cases, the judges should have had specific understanding, if not training, in the fields that could be affected.  A judge who was an economist with specific knowledge of digital economies would have been optimal.  Lawyers who argue cases should have similar secondary skill sets.

        All things considered, how are judges and congress going to be effective if they don't understand the concepts they are legislating and adjudicating?

About the author
J. Austin Yoshino
Author: J. Austin Yoshino
That's what I do; I read and I know things.
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