Vivek Kundra spoke to a 150+ crowd at a Northern Virginia Technology Counsel event on Saturday morning in Tysons Corner. He has his speech crafted pretty well at this point, but did have interesting responses to one question on open standards from someone who said he was affiliated with the W3C, and another question about cloud computing.

One questioner asked about Kundra’s commitment to open standards as a way to increase government accountability and transparency. Kundra responded by differentiating between open data and open standards. He said that he’s deeply committed to opening up data to make it machine readable and easier for people to use/mix/mash. But, open standards is different — technology changes so fast that by the time one standard comes along, there’s another, and another, which is why government can’t lock-in on one standard.

Responding to another question about government use of cloud computing, Kundra was enthusiastic. He said that government should absolutely use lightweight consumer-based technology “for free” whenever it can. He did not define “free” which left me wondering what he meant exactly by free (call me skeptical, but nothing’s really free). Of course there are security issues, he said, but these can be addressed.

He also differentiated his role as CIO with Chopra’s role as CTO. Chopra will be responsible for crafting policy toward helath IT, education, and energy. Kundra manages the 10,000 federal IT systems and will focus on consolidation, cost-reduction and procurement.

Two phrases that Kundra uses over and over are “democratizing data” and using IT to create a “context-driven government.” Sounds good — and will be even better if the entrenched bureaucracy allows the conceptual sound bites to become reality.

New Jerseyans may get a chance to vote their Fourth Amendment preferences in the upcoming gubernatorial elections. Among the candidates is Chris Christie, who as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey authorized the tracking of suspects’ cell phones without getting a warrant.

Earth Day is fast approaching, yet despite the awareness this day brings, most people are powering their computers with electricity from coal-burning power plants, delivered by “dumb” networks. Change is long overdue, and it’s not a difficult matter.

The electricity grid’s basic structure hasn’t changed much since Thomas Edison came up with the idea back in 1882. That’s a long time with little innovation, especially since electricity demands continue to rise. Some might argue that the grid didn’t need changes and it’s not wise to mess with a system already working. That argument no longer holds, anyone who lives in California’s Silicon Valley knows. Blackouts and shortages are a constant worry every summer and the grid is unable to properly handle newer and cleaner sources of energy such as solar and wind.

Worse, when a blackout does happen, the utility company usually doesn’t know until someone phones in the problem. That’s because the system can’t sense the problem — it is “dumb” and only sends inputs one way. So how come the grid isn’t smarter, and what can we do about it? The answer is not as complicated as one might imagine.


Read more here.

oprah-and-ozPatient Privacy Rights is playing an essential role in the developing information economy with their campaign against Oprah Winfrey’s promotion of RealAge.com.

I’m not an Oprah-watcher, but apparently she’s been having a guest on named “Dr. Oz” – where does she get these people? – who shills for a site called RealAge.com. RealAge entices visitors to take a 105-item questionnaire about their personal health habits. The people who agree to be “members” receive, among other things, promotions from drug companies that are tailored to their potential health issues.

Patient Privacy Rights doesn’t like this, and they make a good case that RealAge, “Dr. Oz,” and Oprah should give people a better idea of what’s going on with personal information in this little transaction.

My own review of the RealAge privacy policy shows it to be a pretty good, typically complex policy that restricts information sharing pretty well. If I was interested in anything other than destroying my health with booze and cigarettes, I might be inclined to take RealAge’s quiz. It has real potential to educate people and get them informed about health conditions and treatments. But Patient Privacy Rights would like that to happen with a little more awareness all around about the personal information terms of this bargain.

The brilliant thing, from my perspective, is that PPR is taking it to the people with a petition rather than running to mommy government, embodied by the Federal Trade Commission. That’s the straightforward way to work on shaping the marketplace, convincing consumers themselves rather than relying on the threat of government coercion.

Tax Day is Upon Us

by on April 14, 2009 · 9 comments

And this video – featuring a brief glimpse of yours truly – discusses some of the costs of administering our tax system. (SPOILER ALERT! They’re high.)

Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the issuance of the first RFC, or “request for comments,” an important milestone in the development of the Internet. This piece by Stephen Crocker is an enjoyable look back.

The title of the piece is “How the Internet Got its Rules,” which strikes me as poorly chosen. (Titles are often chosen by the publisher, not the writer.) Given the open, collaborative process used then, and still today, to govern much of the Internet’s functioning, “rules” is an inapt substitute for the word “protocols.”

Like Berin, I tend to think a lot of anti-Google hysteria is over the top. But I think one place where some criticism is warranted is over the impending Google Book Search settlement. Reader Andrew W points us to his recent post on the Google Book Search settlement:

Google does not somehow become the exclusive copyright holder to orphan works. Other groups and companies are welcome to do the same thing and to also make money from it. And this particular monopoly is, contradictorily, limited and temporary. There will be well-funded competitors.

I’m not so sure. Thanks to the magic of the class action mechanism, the settlement will confer on Google a kind of legal immunity that cannot be obtained at any price through a purely private negotiation. It confers on Google immunity not only against suits brought by the actual members of the organizations that sued Google, but also against suits brought by anyone who doesn’t explicitly opt out. That means that Google will be free to mine the vast body of orphan works without fear of liability.

Any competitor that wants to get the same legal immunity Google is getting will have to take the same steps Google did: start scanning books without the publishers’ and authors’ permission, get sued by authors and publishers as a class, and then negotiate a settlement. The problem is that they’ll have no guarantee that the authors and publishers will play along. The authors and publishers may like the cozy cartel they’ve created, and so they may have no particular interest in organizing themselves into a class for the benefit of the new entrant. Moreover, because Google has established the precedent that “search rights” are something that need to be paid for, it’s going to be that much harder for competitors to make the (correct, in my view) argument that indexing books is fair use.

It seems to me that, in effect, Google has secured for itself a perpetual monopoly over the commercial exploitation of orphan works. Google’s a relatively good company, so I’d rather they have this monopoly than the other likely candidates. But I certainly think it’s a reason to be concerned.

The “Jefferson 1” – feted by TLF with a fundraiser some months ago – has sued the Park Police. She was arrested at the Jefferson Memorial in 2008 for dancing to celebrate Jefferson’s birthday.

TLF wishes well her effort to vindicate our First and Fourth Amendment rights.

“I have bought this wonderful machine — a computer … it seems to me to be an Old Testament god, with a lot of rules and no mercy.”

– Joseph Campbell, trailblazing comparative mythologist, b. 1904 (Thanks to The Writer’s Almanac)

TLF reader mwendy points me to this Eben Moglen paragraph, presumably as evidence of his anti-libertarian agenda:

“…Moreover, there are now many organizations around the world which have earned literally billions of dollars by taking advantage of anarchist production. They have brought their own state of economic dependency on anarchist production to such a high level, that they cannot actually continue operating their businesses without the anarchists’ products. They, therefore, now begin to serve as founders, mentors, and benefactors, for anarchism. They employ our programmers and pay them wages. They assist our programmers in gaining additional technical skill and applying that skill more broadly. They allow me to heavily fund a carefully constructed law firm in New York, to train only lawyers to represent only anarchists on only the payrolls of the big companies which produce the money to pay for the legal representation of anarchism. They have to do that. They need anarchism to be legally solid. They do not want it to fail. They want the anarchist legal institutions that we have created to become stronger over time, because now their businesses depend upon the success of anarchist production.

“In other words, we have reached a very important moment, a moment noticed some hundred years ago by my collaborators Marx and Engels. We have reached the moment at which the bourgeois power sources have turned the crank on invention to the point in which they are actually fueling their own downfall. They have created the necessary structures for their replacement and the forces which are speeding up that replacement are their own forces, which they are deliberately applying because the logic of capitalism compels them to use those new forces to make more money, even though in the long run it speeds the social transition which puts them out of business altogether. This is a very beautiful feeling…”

As I said before, Moglen is not the guy I’d pick to sell free software to libertarians. But I don’t think this passage is as outrageous as mwendy thinks. According to Wikipedia, anarchism “is a political philosophy encompassing theories and attitudes which consider the state, as compulsory government, to be unnecessary, harmful, and/or undesirable.” That certainly sounds like a laudable goal to me. I don’t personally think it’s possible to achieve a stateless society, but there are plenty of self-described anarchists who take fundamentally libertarian policy positions.
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