Agenda item No. 8: Mandate a single electronic voting standard
Companies that produce electronic voting systems have proved they can neither manage nor secure their own products. The result is widespread distrust in electronic voting across the country. With something as vital as the election of government officials, we cannot afford such problems, nor do we have to.
The government needs to appoint an independent contractor or bring in the expertise necessary to develop a rigorously tested open source system that can be used by electronic voting machine manufacturers free of charge. The onus of maintaining the code base could be placed on a consortium of key individuals from companies such as IBM, Microsoft, Cisco, and so forth.
By open-sourcing e-voting, rather than depending on proprietary vendors to ensure the integrity of our elections process, the very foundation of our democracy will be better secured. The closed source approach has too often proved to be a road to disenfranchisement.
Agenda item No. 9: Lighten the FCC’s load
The FCC celebrates its 75th birthday this year, and my, how times have changed. Originally created to regulate the airwaves as we understood them in the 1930s, the FCC now stretches well beyond its original footprint, rendering it seemingly powerless to do anything besides levy fines for wardrobe malfunctions. It’s time to split the data from the spectrum and create an ICC, or Internet Communications Commission, that explicitly deals with national internetworking issues.
The internetworking communications system in the United States is far too large and complex for a single five-person commission to handle, in addition to its original charter of policing the airwaves. The stakes are simply too high. Ideally, a new commission would be created and populated with experts in a variety of technical fields essential to the health and security of the Internet, in addition to the usual political appointees.
Agenda item No. 10: Clean its own house
Much ado has been made of President Obama’s staff running into technical roadblocks as they transitioned from campaigners to administrators. Having proved themselves technically savvy on the campaign trail, the team has since inherited a relatively ancient communications infrastructure within the halls of government itself. Modernization of this infrastructure should be among the chief goals of this administration.
And here we are talking about a lot more than just putting a foot down about a BlackBerry. After all, if the various clandestine services can engineer elaborate digital wiretapping and data collection practices across the United States, is it too much to ask that various staffers be able to use their Macs?
Security is certainly an issue for an endeavor such as this, but given that the previous administration “lost” thousands of e-mails by circumventing existing security practices, starting from scratch might not be a bad idea. In fact, it may be a fundamental requirement to maintain Obama’s pledge of a more open government.
The importance of oversight
This is an extremely technical time and an extremely technical country -- and it should have an extremely technical governing body.
Ideally, none of the above agenda items would be necessary if only the tech industry would police itself and make sound decisions that would not negatively impact the country as a whole. Unfortunately, utopian ideals such as these are far from reality, as has been proved by corporate malfeasance in just about every large industry within the United States. OSHA, the FDA, and other government agencies exist for this reason. The telecommunications, software, and hardware industries are not exempt.
It took a few decades from the inception of wireless communication for the government to see the need to create the FCC, and it’s been a few decades since the Internet became mainstream. It is not time for the creation of this post -- it’s well past time.