Techies: Take a congressman and a cop to work with you

From distracted driving to virtual money, the law and lawmakers can't keep up with technological change. Let's clue them in

When my daughters were little, I'd sometimes participate in a ritual called Take Your Child to Work Day, so they could see what Dad does and perhaps be inspired to follow in my footsteps. (Happily, they didn't.) Now I'm thinking that techies -- particularly product managers and developers who really understand how tech is used -- should launch Take a Congressman and a Cop to Work Day.

As we all know, technology moves at a lightning pace. But the law moves much, much slower. A glance at some of the events that have made news recently shows why we need to periodically get policy makers and enforcers into the tech trenches.

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Consider the recent ruling by a California court that says although you can't talk on your cellphone and drive, it's perfectly OK to stare at a smartphone navigation app while tooling down I-5 at 70 mph. (And how's a cop to know which youre doing?) Or consider the dilemma of regulators who stood by helplessly while the world's largest bitcoin exchange collapsed: It is wholly unclear whether a private currency is even subject to their regulatory purview. Plus, how do you regulate something that hasn't existed before?

Then there's the raging issue of privacy. The authors of the Constitution never envisioned big data and the ability to scoop up personal information with the flip of a virtual switch. We're living in the age of the big disconnect. Somehow, we have to convince the people who write and enforce our laws to get with the program. So let's take 'em to work with us.

The real digital divide is between technology and policy

I returned a rental car last week in a city that I don't know very well. Before I started the engine, I checked the map on my iPhone to see where I needed to go and how to get there. I then fired up the turn-by-turn, voice-enabled directions. How hard was that?

But some bozos (I'd use a stronger word if my editors would let me) are still driving along trying to read a map on a small smartphone screen. If they were a danger only to themselves, I wouldn't care too much. But because they could get me and other innocents killed, it pushes my outrage button. There's no shortage of studies -- not to mention common sense -- showing that distracted driving is extremely dangerous.

Yeah, you've heard this before. But a recent ruling by a panel of judges in California held that although my state's law forbids driving and texting or talking on a cellphone without a hands-free setup, using a navigation app while your car is moving is not covered. Therefore, it's not illegal. It appears that the court, whose job it is to apply the law as written, is probably correct, as the Los Angeles Times points out. But that raises a number of interesting points.

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