Stupid politicians vs. lovely legislators

By Вen Li

Lawmakers should not legislate things they don’t understand.

It is important that those who represent us in government make laws that protect us from ourselves, but only if they are well-informed on the issues. Whether it’s a well-meaning cabinet member trying to protect grain farmers through the

wheat board monopoly, or the minister of random arguing about the use of

stem cells and biotechnology, most politicians are probably quite clueless when it comes to what we have entrusted them

to legislate.

The assemblies responsible for our governance are hopefully not just groups of career politicians that pander to their financial supporters, with the facade of being run by the citizens. Public input is a good thing, especially in a pseudo-democracy such as ours. This is true of both direct lobbying and much-maligned special interests groups, which although biased, are more often than not willing to educate rather than profess. As we cannot compel every legislator to understand everything on which they may potentially legislate, special interests need to inform lawmakers where necessary and apropos.

Experiences by national governments with early attempts at legislating activities on the Internet and even follies with more traditional finance legislation should have taught us that pandering to special interests instead of listening to them is often a bad idea. Anti-spam laws are rarely enforceable even across state borders, while deregulation in the U.S. banking and finance industry has resulted in interesting financial figures from a number of failed or failing companies.

Even today, as politicians, university IT departments, computer manufacturers, ISPs, Hollywood and the music industry debate the future of intellectual property rights, ordinary citizens have been left out of the discussion. The U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act–intended to reduce copyright infringement and ensure that studios and their artists are fairly compensated for their work–is seen by some as protecting only the rights of content producers while simultaneously removing rights from consumers. Building technological measures into consumer products to prevent people from transferring recordings from disc to tape may be good for the entertainment industry, but it certainly does nothing to help consumers enjoy their entertainment.

Attempts at enforcing ill-considered legislation in an non-uniform global economy simply moves problems to countries with less draconian legislation. Within the Western powers, liberal attitudes in Europe toward pharmaceuticals, compared to comparatively protectionist stance in North America have compelled many to simply avoid the bureaucratic headaches.

Unfortunately, it seems many Western governments are more willing to legislate blindly rather than understand the issues or admit to not knowing. Politicians legislate under the pretense of doing something, not knowing what regulations are truly needed or the results of their laws. Meanwhile legislators bemoan their colleagues’ actions.

In response to rumours that terrorists use the Internet for things, some in the Canadian government have called for six month retention of Internet access logs and mandatory government registration for all Internet users. This idea may be great in theory, but is one which will generate lots of data which will have to be stored by ISPs for extended periods on the off chance that someone in law-enforcement might some day request some small part of it.

Instead of inventing a new law for every new technology, those we entrust with governance should first attempt to adapt existing, well-understood legislation with appropriate expert guidance. Not only would judges and enforcement officials who already have a solid grounding in meatspace laws be able to interpret and apply those laws more adequately, but they would also be removed from the position of having to apply frontier legislation without the relevant experience.

Leave a comment