So this past Friday I was watching an episode of, a fictional FBI drama about an FBI team lead by Agent Don Epps which uses the services of Don’s brother, Charlie (who is a university Mathematics professor) to solve crimes.
Although the episode titled “Animal Rites”, which centered around the death of Charlie’s college colleague, professor Nelson Horowitz, was nothing to write home about (pun unintended), one particular piece of dialog between the two main characters caught my attention.
This excerpt comes from a discussion Charlie is having with Don about the idea of getting the FBI to implant keyword-searching programs on web servers where Animal Rights activists frequently chat:
Charlie: I can only see data that meets my criteria, everything else remains private. So, the person who killed Nelson will never know we observed him.
Don: Is that legal?
Charlie: Uh, it’s not illegal. Technology’s ahead of the law.
Don: Alright. Well, I’ll get going on the warrant.
With few exceptions, technology has always been ahead of the law. For example: the automobile, the television and the personal computer – all of them were introduced to the American landscape without anything even remotely close to a legal infrastructure in place. And that “cart before the horse” mentality is probably not going to change any time soon.
Why is that, you may ask?
At the federal level, laws are deliberated in Congress before being submitted to the President for approval. The background of the current’s Congress as far as occupational knowledge is the following (as taken from Membership of the 110th Congress: A Profile by the Congressional Research Service):
“…According to CQ Today, in the 110th Congress, law is the dominant declared profession of Senators, followed by public service/politics; for Representatives, public service/politics is first, followed by business and law.
A closer look at the prior occupations of Members of the 110th Congress also shows:
- 13 medical doctors (including a psychiatrist), two dentists, three nurses,
- two veterinarians, one psychologist, an optometrist, and one pharmacist;
- six ministers;
- 37 mayors, nine state governors, nine lieutenant governors (including two Delegates), two state first ladies (one of whom was also the first lady of the United States), and one territorial first lady;
- three former Cabinet secretaries, two former Secretaries of the Navy, a vice admiral in the navy, a former Deputy Administrator in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, a former Defense Department counter terrorism consultant, a former ambassador, three state supreme court justices, and a federal judge;
- 272… former state legislators;9 at least 109 former congressional staffers (including 10 congressional pages), 16 White House former staffers or fellows, several former executive branch employees, and a former parliamentary aide in the British House of Commons;
- four sheriffs, a deputy sheriff, four police officers (including a Capitol policeman), two state troopers, two probation officers, a volunteer fireman, an FBI agent, and a former border patrol chief;
- three chemists, three physicists, a biomedical engineer, and a microbiologist;
- six Peace Corps volunteers;
- two radio talk show hosts, a radio broadcaster, a radio newscaster, a television talk show host, and a television commentator;
- five accountants;
- a corporate pilot, and an astronaut;
- three professional musicians, a semi-professional musician, a screenwriter, a documentary film maker, a major league baseball player, a major league football player; and three carpenters, two vintners, two bank tellers, a furniture salesman, an organic farmer, a ski instructor, an iron worker, an auto worker, a clothing factory worker, a mortician, a waitress, a teamster member/dairy worker, a paper mill worker, a cement plant worker, a meat cutter, a cannery worker, a shellfish specialist, a river boat captain, a taxicab driver, an auctioneer, a toll booth collector, a hotel clerk, a hotel bellhop, and a fruit orchard worker.
Notice the lack of Science and Engineering experience? Especially in the fields of computers and electronics. That certainly doesn’t help Congress when they have to face topics like ‘Net Neutrality or President Obama’s designs for a national broadband infrastructure.
Not having a knowledgeable legislative body means that they have to rely on other bodies (and sometimes lobbyists) for informative, unbiased advice – which is almost unheard of in Washington, DC. It is this sort of deficiency that can also lead to statements on the floor of the Senate like ‘The Internet is not a big truck, but a series of tubes…’
So the question I have for you is: How comfortable are you with our lawmakers deliberating over technology policy when they most likely do not have the background to make informed decisions?