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

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In the case of the California driver, his car may not actually have been moving, the Associated Press reports, although that wasn't a factor in the ruling. But it does speak to the inflexible judgment of the officer who ticketed the guy. If traffic wasn't moving, the driver wasn't endangering anyone, which is the point of the law. That would also be true if he'd called someone to say he was stuck in traffic. In that case, I'd say "no harm, no foul" and somebody needs to educate the cops on what's the real point of the law.

But the court ruling now says you can use your apps while driving, and that goes against the point -- if not the letter -- of the law. When the law was passed in 2009, the iPhone was just two years old. Smartphones had not become the ubiquitous accessory they are today, and the state legislature didn't foresee the use of apps. Similarly, wiretapping laws go back many decades, but they don't cover many incidents of surveillance and eavesdropping made possible by new technology -- and I'm not referring to the arguably illegal activities of the NSA.

If you don't know what technology does or how it works, how can you possibly regulate it?

Regulating virtual currency

Money isn't just paper, nor the bits and bytes that represent it in electronic transactions. It's the foundation of our economy, and managing it is extremely complex. On a macro level, the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury can print money, but if it wasn't backed by something real or if far too much was printed, we'd be pushing wheelbarrows full of cash to buy groceries, which is exactly happened in the Weimar Republic.

When real money is stolen, whether it's cash or the electronic equivalent, it can be traced and recovered. But when bitcoins are stolen, how can they be recovered? After all, they're not real currency in a legal sense, but arguably a game people are playing, like fantasy baseball.

When Mt. Gox, the largest bitcoin exchange filed for bankruptcy last month, more than 800,000 bitcoins were discovered to be missing, a number that represents roughly 6 percent of all the bitcoins in circulation, the New York Times reported. A key role of government is to protect the currency and to protect the people and businesses that use it. But at the moment, no one has a clue about whether -- much less how -- to go about protecting private, virtual "currencies."

Frankly, the zealots who want bitcoins to be free of all government regulation will make it even harder to find a solution. I believe there probably is a remedy, maybe regulation and recordkeeping similar to those used to monitor gambling and currency and equities trading. I'm not sure anyone could take Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen to work with him or her, but somebody has to help our regulators figure this one out.

Fixing the law about distracted driving is relatively easy, whereas figuring out what to do about virtual currencies and new codes of privacy are really hard. But they are problems that can be solved, and the people who invented the technology that's causing them can help. I often rant about the hubris of Silicon Valley types who think they can solve all the world's problems with an app, but in this case they can make a huge contribution by taking someone to work -- or at least to lunch.

I welcome your comments, tips, and suggestions. Post them here (Add a comment) so that all our readers can share them, or reach me at Follow me on Twitter at BSnyderSF.

This article, "Techies: Take a congressman and a cop to work with you," was originally published by Read more of Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog and follow the latest technology business developments at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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