Version2 is using the upcoming Danish election to run a series on the IT policies of the individual parties running for Parliament. The first two articles interview the IT spokespeople for the two largest parties, and frankly the outcome is disheartening. In each interview, fifteen questions are asked and the result is vague and non-committal statements on issues affecting us all — both in how we interact electronically with the government and more broadly how we conceive digital democracy.
We deserve better. We deserve a political system where important digital democracy questions are actually handled by people with a clear vision of where we’re being taken. Not by catch-all answers amounting to barely muddling through. The Internet and the society revolving around it is too important a force to be discussed in such general terms. So what should we think?
Do you support software patents?
Whether you want to answer Yes or No to this question, you should have a clear answer ready. Software patents and their selective application has been the subject of a lot of stories over the past few months: NPR’s Planet Money team has done a number of great overview stories about patent. The indie mobile developers have been hit by Lodsys. And we’ve seen Apple, Google and other giants in a land grab for patents with a $3.14B price stamp.
Whether you find the arguments for patenting software compelling or not (I don’t, but that’s not the issue here) you should and must have made up your mind as a Danish political party acting in 2011. Nuanced views are more than welcome, non-committal ones aren’t.
Do you support the EU “cookie directive”?
Cookies are not the enemy here. Cookies are necessary for the Internet to work. The enemy might be particular uses of cookies to track behavior across domains, but even that evil doesn’t warrant this policy.
So what do the Danish parties say? On the one hand, consumers should be informed. On the other hand, it shouldn’t burden publishers. Please, please, please don’t make me have a real opinion about anything!
(Also, see the somewhat annoying interactive guide to the policy.)
Should internet traffic from open hotspots be logged down to the individual and personal level?
Here, there’s actually some clear answers. Unfortunately those answers are wrong. The Social Democrats want to allow personal logging of traffic, while the Liberals only want to log terrorism while minding our civil rights. It’s unclear how that distinction should be made without actually logging all traffic, but Michael Aastrup Jensen worked in an IT company before being elected to Parliament, so he probably knows.
The built-in contradiction is that web publishers are not allowed to track anonymous usage, while government can access personalized and detailed information about how we all use the web.
There’s a fundamental disrespect for the Internet inherent in such as view: To me, the Internet is a democratizing force with a potential to stand above any individual person or individual government — and realizing this potential, we also need to respect the neutrality of the Internet. Open societies have downsides, but those must be embraced to capitalize on the much bigger upsides.
Should ISPs be forced to block site access through DNS?
Both parties answer with a heavily qualified Yes, and I’m guessing the only qualification is bound to court mandates.
The correct answer though is No. DNS is designed to allow propagation or caching of internet addresses in order to make for a faster and more resilient browsing experience. TDC, Telia or whichever name server provider you’re using is a caching relay for information published by other nodes, and the view that Danish ISPs are responsible for the IP addresses served up by their name servers is ludicrous. We need to protect the web from intrusion of political idiocracy, and whenever this line is breached we become a less democratic society.
Should public IT projects be open source?
None of the spokespeople want to mandate open source in the public sector, and here we agree. Of course, public IT projects shouldn’t utilize open source project just for the sake of it. Open source can stand on its own, and if it isn’t the best available option for the job, the commercial alternatives should be chosen. Of course.
The politicians miss the larger point of the question though. It isn’t a matter of using other people’s open sourced code — it’s a matter of open sourcing code themselves. I couldn’t care less which office suite is being used in the halls of the public sector, but the truly interesting potential is to open source the code being written for tax money. Whenever a new service, a new piece of software, a new integration is developed, we should all be able to evaluate the code — and both other public institutions and private ones should be able to reuse and improve on the code.
To summarize, I’ll reiterate my sense of disillusion: It isn’t that either of the politicians asked in the articles are particularly wrong. Rather, this is a missed opportunity. IT policy is faced with a number of really interesting issues that could potentially propel us forward with a progressive IT agenda. But when our leaders cannot even muster a modicum of interest in those issues, we’re failing ourselves.