YouTube-Viacom lawsuit and IT-ignorant government

If you’ve heard about this week’s court order (ArsTechnica plain-English breakdown here) in the Viacom-YouTube lawsuit, you probably already know it makes a parody of privacy. It clearly states for the world that corporate IP such as search algorithms should be held in the utmost confidence. However, concerns over the revealing of personal information such as location, login names, and video viewing history are really just “speculative.” (This despite personal video usage history being explicitly protected by U.S. law.)

Now I may be a cockeyed optimist, but I don`t think Judge Louis Stanton had any nefarious intentions in making this ruling. I think Stanton is just the latest high-profile example of a government representative exercising government power over information technology without understanding how IT works. (Katie blogged about this same problem back here.)

The EFF`s Kurt Opsahl picks apart the court order in a nice blog post that really calls into question whether Judge Stanton understands IP addresses, user IDs, video technologies of the 21st century, and data protection legislation. The Washington Post`s Michael Arrington points out that Stanton graduated from law school over 50 years ago, so his ignorance in matters tech should not be shocking.

We have a similar problem with legislators. Even our very well-intentioned Bill C-552, aka the Canadian Net Neutrality Bill, has shortcomings that I can only assume are the result of MP Angus not being quite well informed enough. Yes, C-552 is on the right track, but…it could be better with a little more information and consultation with IT-literate stakeholders.

Of course, our largest Canadian example, hanging directly over our heads at the moment is Copyright Bill C-61, aka the Canadian DMCA. Anyone who listens to the CBC’s Search Engine knows that Industry Minister Jim Prentice (who has already been embarrassed by a wikipedia bio editing blooper) doesn’t have a clue (podcast here) about what the copyright bill really means. (Oddly, that show ended up being the last ever for Search Engine.) Talk about an IT-illiterate making telecom policy; sheesh. It would be funny if the stakes weren`t so high.

C-61 is actually a prime example of the dangers of tech-illiterate government, because it is the type of legislation that, if passed, will likely spawn lawsuits similar to the Viacom-YouTube in Canadian courts. Which can then be presided over by judges who, in turn, do not understand the way technology works.

IT-ignorant lawmakers make technology laws, and IT-ignorant judges interpret those laws when large corporations battle against scary new paradigms or information dissemination…it`s almost enough to make one become a luddite, merely in order to protect oneself.

Then, of course, one might be qualified for a technology-related government appointment.



Filed under business, copyright, digitization, government, IP, privacy, technology, Uncategorized

6 responses to “YouTube-Viacom lawsuit and IT-ignorant government

  1. Pingback: YouTube-Viacom lawsuit and IT-ignorant government | You Tube Blog

  2. I’m curious what specific problems you are thinking about with Angus’ C-552. While Angus isn’t himself a techie, he is pretty tech literate and has many people around him that are techies.

    One of the problems with bills and acts of parliament is that you need to translate technical knowledge into a language that will then be understandable and enforceable by people without that technical background. While the ideal would be if we could have more technically literate bureaucrats, politicians, lawyers and judges, we as part of the IT sector haven’t done our part to share our knowledge. Until very recently there were very few technical people involved even in the digital copyright debate.

    I suspect the other thing to remember is that private members bills are generally statements of a policy direction and a conversation starter, and not expected to pass as-is.

  3. greyson

    Hi Russell,

    Overall, I definitely commend Angus on the introduction of C-552! And I am glad that it seems likely to get discussion and debate, and will probably evolve when it comes up in parliament. So much is changing so fast when it comes to Net Neutrality in Canada right now, and I don’t mean to come down on Angus – I intended to hold him up as an example of how even a lawmaker who is doing well by the tech community can be challenged by all the finer points of how a particular technology works. (Heck, I’m an “information specialist” and I am challenged by them as well.)

    My main concern with C-552 is that it doesn’t seem to address throttling based on application type, such as BitTorrent. Leaving this out, failing to specify neutrality to application type as part of net neutrality, opens a huge loophole. And we certainly know of at least one Canadian ISP that is doing just this type of throttling already.

    I would also like to see the net neutrality bill be more proactive in preventing a multi-tier internet with different pricing models for different types of access.

    What are your thoughts?

  4. Tom

    While the judge may very well not understand “the tubes,” I find it hard to give a pass on the “nefarious” count. Maybe my conspiracy nose is a bit over-sensitive.

    Conspiracy theories aside, at what point does passing down orders in conjunction with ignorance become nefariousness-by-negligence? If he didn’t understand the issue, he could have consulted experts. At some point, being enough of an ignoramus has to count has being a jerk when one doesn’t take an effort to rectify that status.

  5. This is a complete invasion of privacy on the part of Viacom and our user information doesn’t have any relevance to their billion dollar lawsuit against Google. Google should be able to anatomize the user information before handing over 12 terabytes of personal information so my privacy and the privacy of millions like me are protected. I have a campaign that will force Viacom to allow Google/YouTube to protect us or 100,000 will boycott Viacom and all its subsidiaries:

  6. Pingback: YouTube videos on CanWest info issues « Social Justice Librarian

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