US Presidential Campaign Officials Talk ‘IP Tsars’ and Network Neutrality30/05/2008 by Kaitlin Mara, Intellectual Property Watch 1 CommentShare this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)IP-Watch is a non-profit independent news service and depends on subscriptions. To access all of our content, please subscribe now. You may also offer additional support with your subscription, or donate.By Kaitlin Mara The next United States president must make access to knowledge and technology policy a priority, participants at a conference on computers, freedom, and privacy protection last week told representatives of the leading presidential campaigns.Campaign representatives for Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic frontrunner, and Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, discussed their candidates’ stances on key issues for the information and computing technology sector.Among those issues were ensuring access to knowledge and technology for all Americans, including “bridging the digital divide,” and the need to examine alternatives to intellectual property “in fostering innovation and creativity in a peer-to-peer-based democratic culture,” said a letter addressed to the next US president and signed by conference participants. Other ideas discussed included online surveillance and filtering – in some cases for copyright infringement – the possibility of deceptive campaigns and corruption in e-voting, and the challenge of maintaining internet openness, generally known as “network neutrality.”A draft letter to the next president of the United States was collaboratively written by participants during the conference, outlining the issues of greatest concern to attendees, a mixture of software and technology experts concerned with personal privacy and public accountability. The letter will be the launching point for a wiki-based discussion, allowing interested people to post comments and discuss strategies for meeting technology policy priorities.Those attending Yale Law School’s Computers, Freedom, and Privacy Conference, held from 20-23 May in New Haven, hoped not only that the letter will draw attention to important policy issues, but also that the manner of its writing will encourage a newly participatory relationship between government and citizens, using the internet as an interface.Obama, McCain Campaigns on Technology PolicyDaniel Weitzner, a research scientist in computers and artificial intelligence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and member of Obama’s technology and media advisory team, and Chuck Fish, of McCain’s campaign met with conference attendees to discuss the openness of the internet and the recent passage in the House of Representatives of a bill to strengthen IP enforcement.On 8 May, the House passed the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property, or PRO-IP, Act [doc], which among other things would establish an Intellectual Property Enforcement Representative to “combat counterfeiting and piracy of intellectual property.”Both campaigns expressed reservations about the utility of this new position, dubbed by a CFP conference moderator the “IP tsar” position. “Do we need an IP tsar?” asked Weitzner, “I kind of doubt it.” It is important to look at the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which criminalises attempts to circumvent technological controls on copyright, and to learn from 10 years of experience with intellectual property and the internet, he said, but over-regulation of the market does not seem to work well.Fish agreed, saying he felt “too many tsars spoil the broth,” though the McCain campaign had yet to take a specific position on tsars. He added that while “it is undeniable that property rights properly defined are essential to liberty in our American understanding of the term” these rights have never been absolute. Weitzner added that protecting copyright interests at home and abroad is already possible, without the need for new laws; what is needed, he said, is just enforcement. Fish agreed with this statement.The campaign representatives also were asked to comment on internet neutrality. Fish mentioned China’s plan to censor the internet during the upcoming Olympic Games, and said that the United States still has substantial persuasive power, by being true to its democratic principles, to demonstrate to other countries that a deregulatory approach to the internet is best for economic growth. While regulating behaviour within foreign countries is “not a way to engage in business” it is possible to influence by example, Fish said. He added, however, that fraud and deception coming from overseas is one place where regulation was needed and noted that McCain co-authored the Safe Web Act [pdf] to address this issue.Weitzner brought up the importance of open standards, saying that the Obama campaign has made a commitment to keep government open and ensure a free flow of information from the White House, and that to accomplish this one has to “get the technology right.” In an Obama administration it will never be required, for instance, that you use a particular browser to access government services, he said. Shortly after hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, there were complaints that registering for aid with the Federal Emergency Management Agency was impossible online with any browser other than Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Obama is committed, he said, to keeping open standards a key issue, and will not simply rely on the market to make them happen.Net neutrality in general “is vital” said Weitzner. Fish said that “most everyone supports open networks” but that there are “legitimate questions as to how we get there.” McCain, he said, is worried about regulation backfiring, and added that the “road to open markets is paved with good intentions and misguided legislation.” Weitzner said at the guts of net neutrality is the question of who would pay whom for it. Would we be content, he asked, to let market forces influence the evolution of the internet into something different than it is now, to move it from “its current decentralised structure to something that’s maybe more efficient but doesn’t have the decentralised innovation it has now.”Deception in Voting and an Open Source approachParticipants elsewhere in the conference were concerned not only with the technological policies of the future president, but also with the ethics of technology use in the electoral process. Deceptive campaigning pre-dates the internet, noted conference participants.Tova Wang, an expert on election reform and democracy fellow at The Century Foundation, progressive public policy institute, showed fliers that had been distributed in a poorer Milwaukee neighbourhood during the 2004 election claiming, falsely, that if people had been convicted of any crime voting could result in ten years of prison, and reminding Republicans to vote on Tuesday and Democrats to vote on Wednesday. Votes in the United States are always conducted on Tuesdays.Jenigh Garret, assistant council for the civil rights organisation The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defence and Educational Fund said that the digital divide between rich and poor would impact the way that deceptive voting practices impact different groups. A misleading bit of information in an email that comes from a seemingly credible source, that has some basis in fact, can have an impact far greater than its initial recipient, said Garret, since a lot of information is spread by word of mouth.John Aristotle Philips, co-founder of campaign technology supplier Aristotle, predicted that deceptive campaign practices would backfire in any place with a free media.Rebecca Mercuri of Notable Software quoted Irwin Mann of New York University who asked in 1993 whether the use of closed, proprietary software to run elections was wise. Software that is outside the public domain, and therefore outside the possibility of public scrutiny, would lead to “insufficient regulation,” Mann wrote, and proposed an “open voting system.” However, there are problems with implementing an open voting system, Mercuri said, not least of which is that at the local level ensuring that a certified voting system is being used.“I believe,” Mercuri said, “that we need open source voting, but I am not convinced that it is going to necessarily solve everything.” Nothing about open source ensures security, she added; all open source ensures is that it is open.Jeremy Epstein of Software said that open source means many eyes, but “many eyes don’t necessarily find all security flaws.” There has also to be a way to confirm the quality of the people examining the process. “What if someone who doesn’t understand the code calls the media [claiming there is a security problem] but hasn’t understood the code?” he asked. Open source, he said, may be a good idea “but it’s not a panacea.”Kaitlin Mara may be reached at email@example.com.Share this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Related"US Presidential Campaign Officials Talk ‘IP Tsars’ and Network Neutrality" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.