Things have reached such a state that one can't swing a cat on the Internet without hitting a reference to the "Internet Kill Switch" that the Senate is supposedly (but not actually) scheming to hand over to the president of the United States. The meme is a creation of CNET News' Declan McCullagh, and it's a pernicious sort of self-reaffirming idea. There are now 7,340,000 Google hits for the phrase, one more after this post goes live. And the idea is likely with us for good. Frames chosen by tech journalists have proved to have an enormous influence over how the public orients its thinking on tech topics. Thanks to an idea floated by McCullagh 10 years ago when he was at Wired, even Al Gore now seems to think that Al Gore claimed that Al Gore invented the Internet.
As I've said before, the actual policy debate underlying the "Internet Kill Switch" myth is important -- and hugely so. Contained within the four corners of the Lieberman-Collins cybersecurity bill up for consideration -- and not in the warped, libertarian-fantasy-world version of the bill -- is a plan that would force the private providers of critical digital networks to come up with ways of managing their traffic in the event that something bad happens. Good approach? Good question. The Internet's public-private balance is a difficult one. Maintaining it while the country grows more dependent on digital networks is one of the more important challenges of our times.
But here we are talking as if President Obama is going to have one of those giant red Staples buttons on his desk, only this time it's marked "KILL THE INTERNET." It's absurd. It's juvenile. And frankly, it's incredibly frustrating. Maybe that's because it's the one area where I pay the most attention to the details. But I truly don't know of another area of public policy where relevant facts and salient debates are more divorced from the public discussion -- where ignorance and fear have more currency -- than is the case with tech policy. The unreality of the debate tends to work out fine for the defense contractors, industry consultants, and major corporations involved in tech policy. But that state of affairs leaves the public in the dark.
Which is why it seems like a good tech reporter's charge is to actually shed light on the debate, not to pour gasoline on peoples' torches.
-- Nancy Scola
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