Barack Obama, open standards, and the telcos, our latter day robber barons
Finally--we're nothing if not open-minded here at The Mighty Corrente Buiding--a solid reason to vote for Obama--a dogwhistle I can hear.
Obama has shown a real commitment to open government. When putting together tech policy (to take an example close to home for xkcd) others might have gone to industry lobbyists. Obama went to Lawrence Lessig, founder of Creative Commons (under which xkcd is published) and longtime white knight in the struggle with a broken system over internet and copyright policy. Lessig was impressed by Obama’s commitment to open systems — for example, his support of machine-readable government information standards that allow citizens’ groups to monitor what our government is up to. Right now, the only group that can effectively police the government is the government itself, and as a result, it’s corrupt to the core. Through these excellent and long-overdue measures, Obama is working to fight this corruption.
Obama stands against bad governing not only in his support of specific practices like open data standards and basic network neutrality, but in his work against corruption from day one.
The Mighty Corrente Building, and the blogosphere in general, could not run and would not even exist without open standards, so Obama's embrace of them is good news. For example:
The HTTP and TCP/IP protocols that enable our content to flow over the Internet, in the packets AT&T wants to snoop, are IETF standards, as is the URL.
The SQL database in which our content is stored on our server is an (admittedly vendor extended) international standard.
The HTML content -- the angle brackets that y'all type in -- began as an ISO standard, and is now a W3C standard.
The CSS that formats our pages is a W3C standard.
The PHP language in which Drupal is written is an open source project.
The Drupal Content Management System that organizes our site (using PHP, MySQL, and HTML) is an open source project.
The Apache server that takes the pages Drupal builds and send them down the wire to your browser is an open source project.
The linux operating system at our ISP that runs MySQL, Apache, and Drupal, and stores all our files, is an open source project.
And on and on and on. There are many more I could mention. (Readers?)
All of these international standards, and all of these open source projects, were created by dedicated, public-spirited individuals who understand the difference between making a living by giving back to the net, and acting like the robber barons of old who, because they could put a chain across a river, extracted a toll from every passing ship before they would lift the chain. Of course, today's telcos want to do precisely that for the Internet: Right now we have a free-flowing river of data--that's net neutrality--but the telcos want to turn their switches into castles, put chains across our flow, and charge what the traffic will bear.
Now, it's good that Obama is saying the right thing, but right now the telco robber barons are in action inside the Beltway. They haven't--to extend the metaphor--put chains across the river, yet, but what they have done is used their castles (the switches) to spy on passing ships, our ships; to demand to look at the bills of lading; to open the packets that the ships, our ships, carry; and to demand to know where the ships, our ships are coming from and going to. They've been reading all our mail illegally, and now they want to do it openly. And in our kingdom, the law ("FISA") says the robber barons can't do that. And so the people building the ships, sailing the ships, loading cargo onto the ships, and doing commerce on the ships, have banded together to resist the robber barons, and to make them pay for their lawbreaking, and force them to do honest work, instead of thievery with chains and the threat of violence.
Becaause we know how robber barons are; they're like bullies. If you don't fight them now, you just have to fight them later again anyhow.
So, where does Obama stand? Is he with the robber barons, or with the people?
Yesterday, Obama did sponsor a good bill about open government (which is, as above, based on open standards).
Tomorrow, Obama may well deserve Lawrence Lessig's endorsement--by making sure net neutrality wins, and the robber barons lose.
But where is Obama today? Where does Obama stand on retroactive immunity for the
robber barons telcos? If the telcos can get Congress to rewrite the law whenever they break it, then what does the rule of law mean? And if the rule of law means nothing, what price net neutrality? Because if the rule of law doesn't mean anything, the robber barons will put chains across the river, charge what the traffic will bear, and turn net neutrality into a dead letter.
Leaders lead. They don't go all meta and talk about leading. It's all the same battle. If Obama wants to make open goverment and open standards enforceable, there's a way he can be leading today. That's why, again, Obama should help Chris Dodd filibuster FISA on the Senate floor. statements are not enough. We've all seen too many sternly worded statements.
NOTE Of course, there's this alternative: