Technology and Government
As a follow up to the Ted Stevens post, I here are two more examples of what happens when ignorant government officials make technological decisions for our entire nation:
Example #1: File Sharing Technology
Peer-to-peer file sharing technology allows computer users all over the world to easily exchange files in a manner that is difficult to monitor, track or prevent. As a result, this technology is heavily used to illegally distribute and download music recordings, movies and other copyrighted material. This illegal activity, however, does not mean that file sharing technology is “bad” and that it has no legitimate uses. Peer-to-Peer technology is a fantastic way to distribute information over the internet without overloading a single server or network. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) doesn't care that this technology can be also be used for legally distributing files, and thus they launched a campaign to crush file sharing technology. Eventually this issue ended up before the U.S. Supreme Court, and all nine justices unanimously decided that peer-to-peer companies like Grokster can be held liable for copyright piracy on their networks.
According to Justice Sourter:
"There is no evidence that either company (Grokster or StreamCast) made an effort to filter copyrighted material from users' downloads or otherwise impede the sharing of copyrighted files."
According to Donald Verrilli Jr., an entertainment industry lawyer:
"Copyright infringement is the only commercially significant use of file sharing"
In short, a group of very elderly Justices who have most likely never even used peer-to-peer technology and who don't understand its potential have declared open season on people who facilitate it's usage. Now, people who facilitate peer-to-peer networks are faced with the impossible and immoral task of censoring all traffic on their servers (which they would probably get sued for) or risk being sued out of business by the RIAA.
The ironic thing is that since this decision, the entertainment industry is now partnering with peer-to-peer companies such as BitTorrent and Guba.com to distribute their movies and content. Likewise, Apple has all but formally announced that their next operating system will include bit torrent technology to allow for easier distribution of patches and possibly even some files from iTunes. Thus, the very technology that has been under attack as being only useful to pirates is suddenly being embraced by the industries that have been trying to destroy it.
Example #2: RFIDs in Passports
The U.S. State Department plans to start issuing e-passports to Americans starting in August. This will entail embedding an RFID chip in passports that contains your identification information. This would allow devices to scan the passport from a short distance to retrieve this identity information, and will supposedly make for faster and more accurate processing at customs checkpoints. The problem is, this technology is NOT secure.
Hackers have already figured out how to create long range RFID scanners that can read this sort of information over long distances (i.e., from many yards away). They have also figured out how to change the information embedded into RFIDs, and even transmit a virus via RFIDs. And all of this before the first e-passport was even issued! Imagine what hackers will be able to do in 10 years by the time this first generation of e-passports expire? Will anti-American terrorists use this to identify targets for kidnapping? Will terrorists capture your identity from a distance, and then embed that identity into a chip on their own fake passport so that they can travel without the hassle of being arrested? All of these things will probably be possible in the near future. Google for RFID Hacking if you'd like to see some of the ways RFIDs have already been compromised by hackers.