The integration of technology into our everyday lives
continues apace. More and more we are coming to depend on technology
that would have seemed fantastical only a decade ago: Cell phones,
wireless networking, “always-on” devices, GPS and more.
As this integration continues, governments and large corporations
are being forced to take action. Technology issues that might previously
have gone unnoticed are now front page news. This means that all
high-tech workers must direct more of their attention to the political
ins and outs of technology or risk unforeseen consequences to their
careers and lives.
Who talks loudest?
The basic truth is, most governmental decisions about technology are being
made by people only moderately knowledgeable in the state of technology today.
Sure, senators and representatives have some tech-savvy staff, but they themselves
may have only a limited understanding of what their votes might mean to millions
of people in the country. When they start hearing mention of BitTorrent,
Metropolitan WiFi, and blogs, many will rightly think that people have started
speaking in tongues.
Large corporations, such as cable providers, telecomm companies and the recording
industry are well aware of this dearth of technological knowledge among legislators.
They clearly understand the effects of legislation on their businesses and
take great pains to communicate their desires and agenda to elected representatives.
In some cases, they are even crafting the legislation that will later apply
to their businesses.
Regardless of your views on the propriety of such persuasion, it helps illustrate
the need for technology workers to be aware and active in protecting their
interests. Lately we have seen proposed legislation that could conceivably
outlaw entire classes of technology in an effort to protect copyright holders
and other owners of intellectual property. Imagine your business being declared
The next step
So, what does a concerned high-tech careerist do? First, get informed. Instead
of just glossing over articles about telecomm regulations, mergers and often
confusing court cases, learn more about them. Actively try to gain a deeper
understanding of the issues and how they might directly effect you. The Internet
provides excellent resources for research including the full text of proposed
legislation and analysis on all sides of the issues. Even though you might
not understand all the intricacies of a new law, you should at least be aware
of it. With luck there’ll be a lawyer among your friends, family or
client list that can help clarify some of the issues.
Currently, I am delving into the confusing world of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act
and how it applies to IT operations at public corporations. I never thought
I would be drawn into the world of SEC filings, but the world has become
an increasingly complicated place and technology is an integral part. Without
a deeper understanding of this law, you or your managers could find yourself
facing a subpoena, if your company has to restate earnings or has other accounting
The next step is to get involved. There are organizations that seek to influence
public policy in regards to technology issues. Probably the best known entity
today is the Electronic Frontier Foundation or EFF. Their stated goal is “to
protect your digital rights” and they go about that goal in a host
of different ways. According to their web site, “EFF opposes misguided
legislation, initiates and defends court cases preserving individuals' rights,
launches global public campaigns, introduces leading edge proposals and papers,
hosts frequent educational events, engages the press regularly, and publishes
a comprehensive archive of digital civil liberties information.”
Getting involved can also mean assisting your local governments with technology
decisions through advisory boards. Maybe your city wants to establish security
cameras in public areas, renegotiate agreements with cable or telephone providers
or provide free WiFi networking throughout the city. As an independent contractor
or even as an employee of a corporation, your detailed expertise can help.
You can provide an informational balance to the large corporations who seek
to create more favorable terms for themselves, sometimes at the expense of
the general public.
One thing is sure, a person in your position can no longer ignore technology
issues. Everyday legislation is being written, court cases are being filed
and lobbyists are pressing their views. If you want to have a voice in the
future of technology, you need to step away from the computer and deal with
the real-world issues of governmental policy, politics and an increasingly
complicated technological world.