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Where the Tea Party is right, and wrong, about tech policy

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It must be difficult to be a member of the Tea Party, having to balance the desire for more rights for everyone — including corporations — with less government to enforce those rights. A recent Heritage Foundation event featuring Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), highlights the movement’s dichotomy. (Watch it in its entirety in the video below). Here’s where the Tea Party — or Paul, at least — gets it right and wrong on technology policy.

On copyright

Paul seems to understand the problems surrounding copyright enforcement online, right down to his reasons for opposing SOPA. It wasn’t so much what SOPA was trying to do in terms of shutting down pirate sites or forcing companies such as Google (s goog) to act in some cases, as much as it was about the lack of due process in making these things happen. “There almost needs to be a trial …” he said. “It shouldn’t be just one person complaining to another website and all of a sudden the web site is shut down.”

Paul even suggested the idea of a federal court process through which copyright-holders could go to ask for fast adjudication on their claims of infringement, presumably to balance out concerns over high legal costs with the need for due process. I’ll assume, then, his defense of the YouTube model for content removal (and, by proxy, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act) is just a matter of not really understanding that law. Under the DMCA, complaints lead directly to takedowns or, in some cases, expensive trials that destroy companies and business models that end up being on the right side of the law.

In response to an audience question, Paul noted there’s room for debate over the length of copyrights and patents to balance out innovation and consumer protection with creators’ needs to monetize their inventions. The real question, however, which Paul didn’t address, is how we amend copyright and patent law to address new technologies and modes of delivering content.

On privacy

If the recently defeated Cybersecurity Act of 2012 really was problematic privacy-wise, as even Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) thinks it was, Paul was right to vote against it. He’s also right to stand up for consumer rights, claiming that any bill offering immunity against lawsuits to companies that share user data with the government will essentially protect those companies should they decide to breach contractual terms about data sharing. Consumers make considered choices when selecting service providers, he said, but “you don’t have a choice to make a contractual arrangement with our government.”

However, because signing up for services from companies such as Google (s goog), Facebook (s fb) or any other web company requires voluntarily agreeing to its terms of service and privacy policies, Paul said they have access to whatever you grant them. I’m not for obtrusive privacy regulations that will unduly limit innovation and perhaps drive up the costs of services, but some rules and regulations laying out what companies can do with user data — and how they explain those uses in their privacy policies — probably aren’t the worst things in the world.

On the legislative process

Paul doesn’t think expansive legislation is the best way to address certain technological issues, such as cybersecurity, and I tend to agree. The process is slow, often reactionary to the known threats of the day, and potentially stifling to new approaches and technologies. “By the 24 months it may take to write the rules on cybersecurity, it’s already changed. It changes every day,” Paul said. “[O]ne of the things government is not is agile.”

Rather, on cybersecurity, at least, he suggests facilitating open exchanges between the government and companies around information exchange, and granting companies certain narrow rights to fight cybercrime (although I’m not sure his idea of offering freedom from certain antitrust laws is wise). Maybe they can create a working group dedicated to identifying and stopping the types of attacks everyone is seeing. This, Paul said, would attack problems in lightweight, narrow ways rather than always having  to “open Pandora’s box.”

Another of Paul’s ideas is just to let the courts resolve certain technology problems relatively quickly as they arise rather than trying to draft future-proof legislation and regulations. It’s not an ideal solution — courts deal in the specific facts of each case, their precedent is geographically limited and legal contracts could theoretically allow for some rather unethical practices — but it’s not entirely without merit.

On net neutrality

OK, Paul didn’t address net neutrality at the event, but Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Heritage Foundation Senior Research Fellow in Regulatory Policy James Gattuso, who emceed the event, did. And Paul has discussed net neutrality before, as detailed here by TechDirt’s Mike Masnick. I’d argue they’re all flat wrong in the idea that government-mandated net neutrality will somehow stifle innovation and consumer choice more than will letting large carriers decide what data gets a free ride on their networks.

The idea of net neutrality actually ties into the recent hoopla over who invented the internet, something Paul did chime in on at the Heritage Foundation event, touting the individuals who took part in it over the government’s involvement. This argument falls short because it ignores the government funding involved in creating the internet, including to those individuals’ employers. As Masnick notes in his post on Paul’s net neutrality stance, the senator also conveniently ignores the government subsidies and rights of way necessary to build the internet’s infrastructure when characterizing it as privately owned infrastructure.

Boiled down to their core, Paul’s views on technology are kind of like an iron fist in a velvet glove (although whether that’s intentional or not is up for debate). They appear to have innovation and consumer rights in mind — and in some cases they do — but giving free rein to large companies with lots of control over the world’s internet experience probably means both causes will suffer in the end.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock user Nomad_Soul.

16 Responses to “Where the Tea Party is right, and wrong, about tech policy”

  1. Dave Francis

    Change America with the TEA PARTY “THE PEOPLE’S revolutionary Constitutional party. One by one THE TEA PARTY will replace the political hacks—the liars, cheats and frauds in Washington that have been destroying America—and we will continue to do so with your help of the voters in this Republic. Learn more at teaparty dot org and judge for yourself. Millions of average Americans are joining to stop the rampant corruption in both parties. Join the TEA PARTY and battle with the people on all issues, including illegal immigration. President Obama may have passed the DREAM ACT by executive order, but that doesn’t mean parents are exempt from deportation? Bring commonsense to our nation on restrictions by Obama on drilling for oil, taxes, the Legal Workforce Act and the Birthright Citizenship Bill. Remember non-citizens will be voting in states with no picture ID restrictions.

    A report that is even far incredulous that the IRS has turned a blind eye, to millions of illegal aliens collecting over $5.2 billion dollars in child tax credits and is ineligible. Even more brain numbing and total incompetence is sending tax checks out of the country, to illegal alien children not only resident in the U.S—but adding as many as 12 children per family, nephews and nieces to this illicit reimbursement. The IRS has allowed illegal aliens to use ITIN numbers to supposedly pay taxes of which million don’t pay one penny. Instead they are literary stealing—STEALING—billions of dollars every year from the taxpayers. A taxpayer can stand in awe that erroneous refunds from 23000 checks went to one address and the Internal Revenue Service did nothing? In fact the supervisors have been given a directive not to investigate these almost unbelievable situations. THIS IS YOUR MONEY THESE CROOKS ARE PILFERING AND THE US. GOVERNMENTS SITS BACK AND IGNORES IT. This occurred in Texas and all this under the running noses of the Obama administration. The refundable child tax credit (also called the additional child tax credit) provides cash payments to low-income parents who pay no federal income tax. The refundable child credit is a means-tested public assistance program that is comparable to the more widely known earned-income tax credit (EITC). A reformed child tax credit in the House reconciliation bill responds to mounting evidence that illegal aliens are claiming refundable payments through this credit.

    Republican Congressman Sam Johnson said in a letter to IRS commissioner Doug Shulman on Wednesday. “The appalling management of the ITIN program is a clear example of failed leadership and the buck must stop with you,” the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, or (TIGTA), comes at a time when there is an extreme national debate about illegal immigrants, being hired instead of low income Americans. “This report is shocking,” said Louisiana Republican Rep. Charles Boustany, , who is chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the IRS. “It’s one thing if the IRS tries to catch fraud and fails, but it’s quite another when management apparently takes steps to weaken program integrity.”

    Under current law foreign nationals can claim these payments, which do not require tax filers to include their Social Security numbers on their tax returns to prove that they are legal U.S. citizens or are authorized to work in the U.S. to qualify. The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill in May that would have restricted tax refunds to taxpayers with Social Security numbers. It did not become law because the Senate under the eye of majority Democrat-Liberal Senator Harry Reid halted its progress. This is a widespread and rapidly growing issue is that illegal aliens who reside in the U.S. are able to acquire ITINs. The IRS uses those identifiers to file tax returns on which these individuals claim the child tax credit and its refundable payment. A The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration reports that the number of ITIN filers claiming refundable payments nearly doubled between 2005 and 2008 from 796,000 to 1,526,276. The U.S. government must not reward illegal immigration by providing illegal aliens with uncompensated benefits through the refundable child credit, when they will spend time auditing citizens and then freeze their bank accounts or hound them like a fascist government. The purpose of the refundable child tax credit is to help low-income working families that are legal citizens or authorized to work in the United States. For decades everything different administrations have enacted, has further attracted millions of illegal aliens adding to the hundreds of billions of dollars, put aside for our own poor.

    If this isn’t the time for every American to connect with their local TEA PARTY, then they should ask for whatever either party has in store for us? NOTHING WILL EVER CHANGE, UNLESS WE CHANGE BOTH THE PEOPLE IN WASHINGTON. THROW THEM OUT. Today I couldn’t believe it when Goldman Sachs is off the hook for mortgage securities charges. Then we must remember that these people are large campaign contributors to both political parties and crawl as bulbous money lobbyists throughout the chambers and even infiltrated the sanctums of many legislators with their influence. Also learn more about the supposedly gunrunning travesty ‘Fast and Furious—OR WAS IT? I do not think the democrats want the truth revealed, but it’s available at TEAPARTY DOT ORG.

  2. I think the Tea Party’s opposition to net neutrality is valid. Look at the FCC’s original mission and what they have grown into. They went from spectrum management to content management and regulation. The abuse of the commerce clause is another good view into the potential dangers. What seems like sensible regulation today sets a precedent for over reach tomorrow. In general I trend to also agree with the EFF, which has noted the same concerns.

  3. Johannes

    Rand Paul is not tea party. He is a libertarian who happens to be member of a conservative party. Libertarians if they are politicians see conservatives or other non socialist movements as allies, even if they are deep nuts.

    • Derrick Harris

      I think we should keep the name-calling to a minimum. The reality is that the Tea Party is now a meaningful force in Congress and U.S. politics, in general, and its stance on issues matters.

  4. Let’s get something straight once and for all. The TEA PARTY is about 3 things: Limited Government and it’s relation to Government Fiscal Responsibility, and the Free Markets. Derrick Harris is obviously confused here as he is trying to make a automatic connection between Senator Paul’s views on this tech topic with the Tea Party, which is inaccurate. Senator Paul may be a member of the middle-class grass roots organization, but in this video he is clearly speaking in representation of Conservative politics and not on behalf of the Tea Party.

    Mr. Harris, as a responsible journalist you cannot make that assumption and try to state it as fact. You are entitled to your opinion on Senator Paul’s views, to which yours can equally and easily be challenged, but you cannot state this is a Tea Party issue. You are making a false connection and therefore your head title is inaccurate.

    • Derrick Harris

      The author of The Tea Party Goes to Washington isn’t associated with the Tea Party? Also curious to hear how anything he said wasn’t based on limited government and free markets. That’s all I heard, which, as I said, has pros and cons when it comes to tech.

    • The Tea Party came to be because the President mounted record debt in a short 2 year span which has brought nothing but stagnant economic recovery, 15% real unemployment, and illegal immigration. Unlike Occupy Wall Street, no violence has ever come about during a Tea Party event…..NONE.

  5. It must be difficult to be a Tech Blogger, having to balance the thoughts that while in the case of SOPA government is an over-reaching, innovation killing entity but suddenly this very same government can pull off a regulation like Net Neutrality without having the very same characteristics.

    • Derrick Harris

      It will be hard — especially for the gov’t not to give into the carrier lobby — but not all laws are bad. And what’s the alternative, other than deregulating the prioritization of packets?

      • Your argument comes down to “not all laws are bad”? The simple way to not give into the carrier lobby is to not create, at all, a 2,000 page law that they can unduly influence. The alternative is to open things up, allow folks to compete to provide bandwidth to consumers, who are willing to pay for the service. The government is currently sitting on unused wireless spectrum. Open up, allow folks to compete and allow the laws of supply and demand to work their magic. Keep it simple.