Old vs New, Ignorance and Technology

Does anyone remember this?

During oral arguments today in the case City of Ontario v. Quon, which considers whether police officers had an expectation of privacy in personal (and sexually explicit) text messages sent on pagers issued to them by the city, the justices of the Supreme Court at times seemed to struggle with the technology involved.

The first sign was about midway through the argument, when Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. – who is known to write out his opinions in long hand with pen and paper instead of a computer – asked what the difference was “between email and a pager?”

diegoogledie1Welcome back to Washington, ladies and gentlemen, a place where technology should reign supreme as the home to some of the greatest powers in the world but is instead misunderstood because the median age is somewhere between World War II and the Guinness World Records holder for Methuselah-level age.

This is going to be a very serious problem, and it could have severe consequences for business. Not only is Washington, and much of the world’s collective political power, completely void of understanding in the space of Intellectual Property and Copyright, these people are completely ignorant of technology in general and how society functions around it.

Take a gander at this Techdirt article.

Basically, a lot of Senators who don’t really understand technology are upset… because Google is big. Senator Franken even admitted that his concern was over the “bigness.” Senator Blumenthal, bizarrely, talked about how Google was a wonderful story of American corporate success… before asking how best to dismantle that. For example, he even suggested that Google remove Google Maps results from searches on addresses. That’s ridiculous. For folks like myself who like getting the Google Maps result at the top, that would make my life worse. But the most ridiculous comment may have been from Senator Lee, who complained about Google’s own results messing up “natural search results.” But as Rob Pegoraro points out, this seems to assume that there is such a thing as “natural” search.

I think I’m most disappointed in Senator Al Franken who has generally seemed a bit up to speed on technology compared to the rest of his peers. I guess I’ll have ti readjust my old fogey glasses and rethink my impression of him.

Here’s some more from Techdirt, concerning the second part of the hearings:

For example, one Senator continually quizzed WSGR lawyer Susan Creighton over whether or not Google “scraped” content. Creighton seemed to stumble over the question, but the proper answer is of course it does, because that’s how search engines work. Yelp’s CEO Jeremy Stoppelman complained about Google taking the same content it indexed for search, and then using it elsewhere. But no one mentioned the basic concept of fair use. If it’s a problem for Google to scrape and use content — as was implied repeatedly in the hearing — doesn’t that make any search engine illegal?

But, the most ridiculous testimony came from Thomas Barnett, a lawyer for Covington & Burling, who was representing a bunch of Google competitors who put together an operation called FairSearch. When asked about whether or not Google was a monopoly player, Barnett flat out lied, claiming that Google is dominant and can’t be unseated “because it got there first.”

Woah!… Google wasn’t first. It was seriously late to the party.

Not only are these elected officials too ignorant of technology and the way it works but they’re also completely ignorant of basic history.

If this is how these hearings are going to go and they make some foul decisions that affect Google’s ability to continue providing excellent, elite service, the tech world needs to speak up loudly, ferociously, and start castigating these people even if we have to go ageist on them. Quite frankly, it’s the least we can do.

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