Technology is intimidating. I’ll admit it. RAM, Ethernet, Terabytes, Bluetooth, GSM, MP4s, 802.11g wifi…buying a computer or cellphone (or even a refrigerator) these days seems to require learning another language. Instead of embracing a chance to become proficient in something new, many people just cling to the closest geek (or 10-year-old) they know and put their electronic fate into his or her hands.
But as I’ve hoped to get across in the past year’s worth of TechTalk articles, technology isn’t just necessary for using your iPod or programming the DVD player. Our constantly increasing reliance on computers and gadgets for transportation, communication, health and security is causing some huge issues many people are unaware of. Legal storms are brewing, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to blow over. Although we can’t really see it now, the consequences of technological decisions being made today in our courtrooms are going to have massive repercussions for our future.
Ignorance is no excuse. Once these problems start to become blatantly evident, it will be too late.
We’re being thrust headlong into a new frontier. Thousands of new technologies, thousands of companies with their hands in the pot, a sleeping public and a bunch of legislators passing judgments on things they know nothing about.
The generation gap is the biggest contributor to the problem. In this case, however, the generation gap does not necessarily encompass a certain age group, merely any person who doesn’t care or refuse to learn about technology. There is so much more at stake here than e-mailing and chatting with friends.
At the beginning of this school year, I reported on Net Neutrality, a battle raging in the courts right now to decide who gets to control your internet usage. Should your Internet Service Provider be able to skew the way the internet works to favor their own websites, or extort more money from popular websites, or should all internet content be free? Should the consumer choose what they want to look at, or should ISPs shoehorn people into using certain sites and services?
There should be no struggle, no question of which answer is right. But the public is unaware that this court battle is even being fought, and the legislators involved don’t fully understand the value of the internet as a unleashed open tool, instead leaning toward a capitalistic attitude which would effectively destroy free media.
In Connecticut, substitute teacher Julie Amero has been convicted of exposing children to pornography when pop-up ads showed up on the computer in the classroom she was teaching in. The computer was infected with malware and Amero had been explicitly told that under no circumstances should she turn off the machine. Now, she faces up to 40 years in prison, and the fury of the townspeople resembles that of a witch-hunt, ignorant and blood thirsty. Some claim Amero navigated to the pornography herself (it was proven this was false) refusing to understand the way pop-up ads works, and their malicious motivations. Others claim that she should have turned the machine off despite the IT supervisor’s warning, and that Amero herself was technologically challenged and unfit to teach because she was incompetent to work a simple computer.
Still, the biggest culprit of ignorance is the justice system itself, that would allow her to stand trial, earn a conviction, and face a ridiculous sentence over a malicious computer exploit that was not her fault.
Net Neutrality and Julie Amero’s story are only two examples of how the technological ignorance of the justice system is failing us. If the public is just as uninformed, we will continue to fall prey to laws and legislation being passed now with no objections. By the time we realize the magnitude of what we’ve slept through, it will be too late.
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