Business & Finance
Commentary
3/17/2006
06:30 PM
John Soat
John Soat
Commentary
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IT Confidential: Choose Your Intrusion: Who's Your Friend?

I'm as big a fan of government intrusion as the next person, but things may have gotten a little out of hand lately.

Take last week's legal contretemps between the Justice Department and Google. Forget for a minute that Google really faces no downside by refusing the government's request to turn over search data. Even if Google loses the case and has to turn over some (truncated) amount of (very general) information about a (random) selection of searches, it still wins in the court of public opinion as a defender of personal privacy. As my colleague Chris Murphy put it, Google should take the court costs out of its marketing budget.

Why should the federal government demand that search providers turn over their hard-earned data? Finders keepers, after all. Besides, search data is meaningless without context. Just because a man was convicted recently of killing his wife based partly on evidence of Internet searches for terms like "neck," "snap," and "break," what does that prove? That he was a do-it-yourself-Thanksgiving guy, as much as anything else, if you ask me.

Who would I rather have in possession of my search data: the feds, who say they want to use it to craft legislation to help control pornography on the Internet? Or Google, which wants to do nothing with it but protect my privacy ... and share it with some marketing people, too? But so what? Never enough spam, I say.

A New Jersey assemblyman was inundated with E-mails and vilified in the blogosphere for introducing a bill that would require people posting comments on local discussion boards to provide their real names and addresses. Critics tried to explain to the Internet-ignorant assemblyman that the law wasn't only unconstitutional but impossible to enforce, and one blog celeb called it the "stupidest legislation in memory." The assemblyman says he was simply trying to tone down the false and defamatory content appearing on those boards. But isn't it more likely he was actually trying to regulate the Internet and keep track of troublemakers? That's my reading, anyway, and I know I'm not alone.

And finally, the Kentucky House of Representatives recently passed legislation outlawing the sport of Internet hunting. This is the practice of aiming and firing a weapon from a remote location through the use of broadband video and remote-control technology over the Internet. I know it sounds absurd and offensive, but let's think it through. Do the animals know the difference between remote hunting and local hunting? Not likely. So who is it offending? IP TV is the hottest thing on the Web, and hunting is losing favor with young people, so the marketing possibilities are obvious. Hunting is deep in the soul of mankind, but given the evolution of his physical manifestation, Internet hunting may be mankind's next best alternative to actually having to tramp around in the woods. So let's not be too hasty.

In a related story: A representative of the National Association of Theater Owners told a Las Vegas conference last week that the organization would ask federal authorities for permission to jam reception to stop annoying cell-phone conversations during movies, in an effort to reverse a downward trend in movie theater attendance. Hey, here's a suggestion--why not make the movies more interesting? Do you have a suggestion, or an industry tip? Send it to jsoat@cmp.com, or phone 516-562-5326.

The News Show hunts down the latest tech-industry news and serves it up hot and streaming, at noon EST every weekday; watch it at TheNewsShow.tv or on InformationWeek.com.


To discuss this column with other readers, please visit John Soat's forum.

To find out more about John Soat, please visit his page.

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