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Government Technology

Schneier: We Need a Better Way of Regulating New Technologies (schneier.com) 123

An anonymous reader writes: Last week, when a Brazilian judge shut down WhatsApp, it affected roughly half of the country's ~200 million residents. It's not the first time — or the second, or the third — that WhatsApp has faced legal pressure, and Bruce Schneier says it's clear evidence of a "massive power struggle" between internet companies and traditional companies. Central to this struggle is the inability of our lawmakers to quickly and effectively regulate new technologies. He says, "Traditionally, new technologies were adopted slowly over decades. There was time for people to figure them out, and for their social repercussions to percolate through society. Legislatures and courts had time to figure out rules for these technologies and how they should integrate into the existing legal structures. ... This isn't a simple matter of needing government to get out of the way and let companies battle in the marketplace. ... We need a better way of regulating new technologies. That's going to require bridging the gap between technologists and policymakers. Each needs to understand the other — not enough to be experts in each other's fields but enough to engage in meaningful conversations and debates. That's also going to require laws that are agile and written to be as technologically invariant as possible."
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Schneier: We Need a Better Way of Regulating New Technologies

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  • Respect (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sphealey ( 2855 )

    That's a bit disingenuous. The motto of the "disruption" crowd is explicitly 'better to have your lawyers fight for dismissal than ask for permission', particularly when it comes to the structure of laws and regulations that have been put in place to protect the general population from damage and exploitation. How about a commitment by the technology-pushers to obey the law to start with?

    sPh

    • Re:Respect (Score:5, Insightful)

      by U2xhc2hkb3QgU3Vja3M ( 4212163 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @01:04PM (#51172987)

      The reach of technology is, in most cases, world-wide. Do you expect people to be able to abide with all the rules and laws of all the countries on the planet? What's legal and morally accepted in one country is totally immoral and unlawful in another.

      • What's legal and morally accepted in one country is totally immoral and unlawful in another.

        Tough shit; those countries will have to come around to the idea that they cannot continue to oppress their citizens.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          What's legal and morally accepted in one country is totally immoral and unlawful in another.

          Tough shit; those countries will have to come around to the idea that they cannot continue to oppress their citizens.

          Like in most jurisdictions of the US, where public nudity is forbidden and punished?

          It's not like that in parts of the world.

      • by meadow ( 1495769 )
        I don't understand why policy makers are *not* technologists in the first place. Shouldn't they be? Why the heck would any sane society deliberately choose people for positions responsible for setting policy who are - blowhards and idiots - as we currently have? Things are far past the stage where someone making policy could get by with advisers. The level of complexity and types of decision making that need to occur today necessitate people with high levels of technical skill.
        • by StenD ( 34260 )

          Possibly because few people with "high levels of technical skill" have the social skills or desire to persuade those without technical skill to allow them to make policy?

          • by meadow ( 1495769 )
            I just had a good conversation the other day with an art director who explained to me that very few if any really talented artists are the type of people who care about convincing others that they are talented. They have better things to concentrate on which, if they did not, they would not be who they are.

            Maybe its like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. People who bother to convince others they are intelligent or talented are actually not.
    • by fonos ( 847221 )

      That's a bit disingenuous. The motto of the "disruption" crowd is explicitly 'better to have your lawyers fight for dismissal than ask for permission', particularly when it comes to the structure of laws and regulations that have been put in place to protect incumbent business models from damage and exploitation.

      Fixed that for you.

      • by epyT-R ( 613989 )

        Actually, it's both. Law has been used to shield culture as well as business from disruption.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mikael ( 484 )

        Uber is a good example. The existing options for transport were:

        public bus service - fixed route, infrequent times (1 hour or 2 hours + delay due to traffic), may require walking some distance
        company shuttle service - fixed route, frequent times, may require walking some distance
        taxi service - point-to-point route, requires 60/30 minutes notice, expensive - The waiting time depends on city licensing and demand. Somewhere like London, you can simply hail a taxi, and it will stop. In the Bay Area, you would h

        • Re:Respect (Score:5, Insightful)

          by sphealey ( 2855 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @05:14PM (#51174869)

          = = = Uber offers point-to-point route service without having to wait 30 minutes. = = =

          Uber also routinely breaks numerous law put in place to protect consumers and citizens, often as a result of hard-won experience. Not sure what the legal or moral justification for that is, other than "I wanna".

          sPh

          • Uber also routinely breaks numerous law put in place to protect consumers and citizens, often as a result of hard-won experience. Not sure what the legal or moral justification for that is, other than "I wanna".

            The rationale is that many of those laws have nothing to do with consumer protection, and of the ones that are, most of them can be done better by Uber itself.

            For instance, the problem of asshole drivers who scam riders by taking long routes could be fixed by a regulator having a bigass PDF on their

        • ber offers point-to-point route service without having to wait 30 minutes. The city could fix this problem by licensing more taxi cab drivers, but that was block by the incumbents.

          Actually, the number of medallions in NYC grew by like, 25% from 2008-2013. And those restrictions were put in place because the traffic jams caused by unlimited taxis made it so that while you could hail a cab very quickly, max speed was like 2MPH.

    • Re: Respect (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ArmoredDragon ( 3450605 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @01:11PM (#51173041)

      Probably because you can never have nice things if you always had to ask before you made them. Imagine if Sony had to ask permission to create betamax, I guarantee you that the government would have said "Oh, copyright infringement tool. Nope."

      Most of the time, perceived risks (or rather, doom and gloom dystopias) never materialize.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Most of the time, perceived risks (or rather, doom and gloom dystopias) never materialize.

        Imagine if somebody had said "Elixir sulfanilamide?" and then questioned the ingredients.

        Copyright infringement only results in fiduciary harm in most cases, in other situations, well, we have different standards.

      • Actually that happened recently. Guy wanted to use drones at low altitude to deliver insulin to local hospitals in Syria. US said nope. Drone be too dangerous.
    • Re:Respect (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @01:37PM (#51173275)

      Even as a pretty adamant liberal I recognize that a lot of lawmaking is the result of regulatory capture. Whenever a large commercial entity sits in an entrenched potion and siphons up money because regulations raise barriers to entry, we have a problem. Progress stagnates. Money gets wasted.

      Disruptive businesses have a place. Sure they may skirt the law in new and interesting ways but they force industries to churn and change. The courts eventually settle matters. Luckily, law-making is an old institution that runs at a slow pace so disruption happens before regulatory capture can take hold.

      Ride-share is a perfect example. Yes, Uber is obviously exploiting worker law loopholes and are likely exploiting their employees. Yes, they're skirting taxi law that's necessary to protect riders.

      But on the flip side taxi institutions are some of the most abusive and exploitative examples of corrupt regulatory capture one could imagine. As a customer you pay way too fucking much for shitty service. Taxi drivers get shitty compensation for their work, face stifling fees, and work for companies that have obvious corrupt ties to local authorities that locked out competition.

      The taxi institution NEEDED to be shakes down and broken. Mobile internet opened up a new type of service better than traditional taxi. On the upside the genie is out of the bottle. The public loves it. Uber likely won't go away now.

      When the dust settles we'll likely see employment protection for Uber/lyft/whatever drivers, better service for customers, re-born taxi institutions forced to update in order to compete. Everyone will win, except the people who wanted to maintain the (awful) status quo.

      See also: The hotel industry and the new internet-enabled room sharing services turning it upside down.

    • Re:Respect (Score:5, Insightful)

      by wyHunter ( 4241347 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @02:21PM (#51173629)
      An awful lot of 'regulation of technology' is really the State 'regulating its citizens' - that is, by an attempt to restrict good encryption, or encryption without backdoors. Ask yourself if you trust the same people who are spying on your every communication.
    • Re:Respect (Score:4, Insightful)

      by NostalgiaForInfinity ( 4001831 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @02:48PM (#51173827)

      How about a commitment by the technology-pushers to obey the law to start with?

      As a technology pusher, I'm perfectly committed to obeying the law. However, that still means I can push technology that subverts the intent of a law and demonstrates how stupid it is.

      particularly when it comes to the structure of laws and regulations that have been put in place to protect the general population from damage and exploitation

      Those are usually the kinds of laws that one has to observe to the letter, but that ought to be subverted for the good of the people.

    • Re:Respect (Score:4, Informative)

      by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @02:56PM (#51173887) Journal

      How about a commitment by the technology-pushers to obey the law to start with?

      No one really obeys the law, it is too vague and imprecise.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    We'd just have pre-breakup AT&T combine with MPAA and RIAA in lobbying the government to "regulate" the internet or cell technology.

    Do you really want that?

  • That is the architecture of the Internet:

    Dumb 'pipes' (routers) with any application you can think of and build at the edges (hosts).

    • by njnnja ( 2833511 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @01:49PM (#51173363)

      Dumb 'pipes' (routers) with any application you can think of and build at the edges (hosts).

      And yet the typical user uses it mainly for Netflix and Facebook on their iPhone. So while "permissionless innovation" is one model that the internet supports, it also supports the "government enforced copyright monopoly" model and the "ask permission from big corporations" model. There is an old saying that democracies like capitalism, but capitalism doesn't necessarily like democracy. The relationship between the internet and corporations is somewhat similar.

  • ...it's a feature.

    Let the market decide, and let regulation catch up later (if ever).

    We don't need "better" ways to regulate new technologies, we need smaller government that doesn't feel the need to stick its tentacles into every orifice of the body politic.

    • It is kind of interesting from a political angle.

      Progressivism as a movement came up on both the left and the right under the basic premise.

      We are in a more complex age so we need a more powerful government to manage it.

      It sounds great, but in reality, the very process of institution building creates complexities that make the complex environment too difficult to manage.

      They push big unions and big tie in with industry. These relationships become entrenched with special interests that become difficult to ch

  • We don't need new ways to regulate what consenting adults do with each other, or the agreements they make between each other. We need better ways to regulate the busy-bodies that seek to control everything for their own best interests.

  • by DumbSwede ( 521261 ) <slashdotbin@hotmail.com> on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @01:16PM (#51173089) Homepage Journal

    We Need a Better Way of Regulating New Technologies

    Do I hear

    We Need a Better Way to Protect Established Players and Corrupt Governments

    ?

    • Exactly. Schneier's article wasn't exactly claiming we need a better way to regulate. It wasn't even clear about what the problem was, except that established players want to use regulation to stifle competition. News at eleven, right? As far as the rest of the people are concerned, they aren't complaining since "lack" of regulation means they get what they want.
  • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @01:19PM (#51173125)
    This is a fallacy.

    No matter what approach is taken, there will always be groups dissatisfied with the results.

    Laws are generally reactionary. Just laws are created because entities see injustice and push for statutes to curb those injustices. For injustices to be acknowledged they have to happen, in order to happen, the population or a subset must gain experience with the particular concept or technology or action. To gain experience, if it's a technology, it has to be allowed to exist and to see how it's used, and potentially abused, and often, actual abuse might already run afoul of existing law anyway. When the laws are finally created as a reaction, some people get angry because their abusive actions are curtained. Others get angry because in order to curtail the abusive actions of others, their nonabusive actions must also be affected.

    Some regulations are proactionary, being drafted and put into effect before abuses are documented. Persons wishing to use a technology affected by such regulations get upset because they're being prohibited from doing something that they feel that they should be allowed to do. It could be that what they feel should be legal is actually victimizing others, or they might have a poor understanding of the law, or they could even be right in that what they're being prohibited-from is going too far. Either way, they're angry.

    Then you have the condition where something newish is starting to show signs of abuse, and regulations and/or law is put into effect in a minor way that serves to remind participants that they could be subject to regulation or rules, and they get upset. Some don't understand that they might be violating the rights of others or violating the rules that exist to protect all parties involved. Things like Uber versus taxis and how taxi regulations came to be. Things like how RC aircraft are coming under increasing regulation. Things like software that shares files in less-direct means. These are all technology changes that can be abused, and also can have legitimate benefits without abuse, but people get very, very passionate when their designs are questioned, even if they're ignorant of the law or the effects of their actions or choices.

    There is no magic bullet. Someone will always be upset.
  • Translation? Censorship.

    I hope out hope that "new technology" will make it impossible.

    • Trying for a technology solution to a legal problem means that new technology can take away your solution, possibly without warning. You really want a legal solution to a legal problem.
  • I think it's somewhat telling that the example was WhatsApp. Even if we stretch the idea of "new technology" to include a chat service, it's just that: a chat service. It's a product that literally cannot affect anyone unless they consent by instructing their device to accept these messages. What regulation could possibly be necessary?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The ability to wiretap the communication.

  • by sydbarrett74 ( 74307 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [47tterrabdys]> on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @01:45PM (#51173329)
    Clipping the wings of WhatsApp very neatly solves two problems for the Powers That Be(tm): it protects a de facto, if not de jure, monopoly on the one hand, and enforces censorship on the other. Only a chump would think that the judge issued this order merely because WhatsApp didn't play bureaucratic ball. The PTB feel a threat to their entrenched power, and have employed the judiciary to strike out at the rebels.
    • by delt0r ( 999393 )
      Only thing is, everyone is just going to switch to a different app. They are playing whack a mole with a thousand holes.
      • They are playing whack a mole with a thousand holes.

        And to the government, this is a non-problem. They can get more budget money to buy more mallets and hire more mallet wielders, and it's job security for life. It's a war that under the existing paradigm will never be won.

  • We need to regulate moron judges instead.

    I don't remember the phone system ever shut down, even when thousands of kidnappers anonymously called their victim's loved ones for money.

    Nor the postal system when people sent anonymous hatemail or ransom notes.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    That's also going to require laws that are agile and written to be as technologically invariant as possible."

    "Agile" laws are invariably going to product badly written laws. It's beyond stupid to expect lawmakers to adopt a software development method to writing laws.

  • This isn't a simple matter of needing government to get out of the way and let companies battle in the marketplace.

    Yes it some ways it could perhaps ought to be exactly that. You can't regulate that which you can't control and perhaps some things where there is very very broad public agreement about them.

    Either the Internet gets less global (I think this might be the best answers) or it will do what its always done and route around the damage. As Joe Public does not see what is so wrong about an app, well they will go elsewhere to get it and you will only produce more scoff laws.

    • by pepty ( 1976012 )
      So no privacy regulations about your data (health, purchase history, financial, browsing, etc) either? No regulations to prevent Apple and Alphabet from deciding to collude with the developers of the top messaging apps to block all other messaging apps from Android and iOS?
  • How about, in the US at least, Congress brings back the Office for Technology Assessment [wikipedia.org] so maybe, just maybe, our elected officials wouldn't have to "figure it out" but be able to ask a whole group of people who's job is to explain these kinds of things? I still can't believe that in 1995, the arguable year of the WWW explosion, the OTA was nixed.

  • by sinij ( 911942 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @03:36PM (#51174177)
    While I am a lot more digital libertarian than Schneier, I tend to agree with him on this. Social Media corporations are not going to reign-in their data collection abuses on their own, instead they will weasel into official status so it is no longer possible to avoid their clutches. Not unless, we the people, write some laws disallowing this and that and threaten to send the worst abusers to the federal PMITAP.
  • The ability for an unlicensed hobbyist to program arbitrary software on their home computer == "unregulated technology".

  • The real problem with the WhatsApp affair is that it was even possible for the judge to shut it down. The Internet was invented as a decentralized system, and it would be extremely disruptive to shut it down for the whole country. But all these new technologies are designed for asymmetric computing, where the thing you have is only a terminal into someone else's computer.

    Yeah, I know, there are technical reasons of battery life and network connectivity, why mobiles are not full peers on the Internet. Still,

  • Yes, in a perfect world, you would have technologists (whose motivation is a close variation of "design stuff that will benefit all people, make society safer and allow us all to reap the benefits of technology") and politicians (whose motivation is a close variation of "partake in an informed debate which leads to the drafting of laws and statutes that provide protection for all individuals and allow the evolution of society into a more enlightened state") getting to better know how to communicate effectiv

  • Any technology that even slightly threatened the new would be shut down and tied up in red tape for whatever amount of time it took for the upstart companies to die. Skype, gone. Drudge, gone. Youtube, gone. Netflix, gone. Ebay, gone. Paypal, gone. Cellphones, gone. mp3 players, gone. Amazon, gone. Online grocery ordering, gone.

    Look at Uber. Local taxi companies are proving which cities have corrupt city councils and which don't.
  • "Central to this struggle is the inability of our lawmakers to quickly and effectively regulate new technologies."

    That inability is what keeps new technology useful, cheap, and powerful. As soon as the lawmakers catch up, they manage to screw it up.

People who go to conferences are the ones who shouldn't.

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