Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Silicon Valley vs. K Street

Another item from the archives – this one from late November in Slate. Paul Boutin, a technology writer for Wired, Salon, Slate, etc., suggests that the last thing that should happen is for the geeks to play politics – they should continue to play the game on their own terms. Titled Silicon Valley vs. K Street, for me the key graf is:

It’s a losing ploy to try to beat government on its own turf. The geeks have already proved they’re great not at mastering bureaucracy but at end-running it. Disruptive technologies such as the Web, Linux, and Napster were rolled out by hackers who turned a deaf ear to the sputtering protests of authority figures. Take a Unix system administrator drinking, and he’ll tell you how he put the whole company on the Web back in 1995 before the suits could schedule a meeting to stop him.

I’m not so sure, but I like his thinking. Back in ’94, I was clerking at EFF and working on the Bernstein case. The EFF eventually split – the rock-star types (think John Gilmore, John Perry Barlow) stayed with EFF, trumpeting causes celebre and getting the lion’s share of the publicity. The then-director of EFF, Jerry Berman (former chief legislative counsel for the ACLU) took a few others with him (Daniel Weitzner and Jonah Seiger, both of whom have gone on to other efforts) to do the quieter, but arguably harder, job of working within the government to effect real and lasting change. They founded the Center for Democracy and Techology (CDT), an organization that has close ties both to government and corporate America. (See their list of supporters for more.)

In the end, both approaches are needed. But suggesting that an end-run around the government is a sure way to end up with laws that will ignore real progress and instead impose the will of those who’ve got the cash and the vested interests.

On a side note, I found Paul Boutin’s excellent weblog (RSS feed is here) – which I’m eager to start reading with regularity.

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