Earlier this week, the president of the United States (George W. Bush) sat down with a reporter from CNBC for a friendly interview. During the chat, the reporter asked him about his Internet usage. "Have you ever Googled anybody? Do you ever use Google?" she wanted to know.
The president replied that he does use "the Google" (his words) on occasion to "pull up maps" -- "I forgot the name of the program, but you get the satellite ..." -- for viewing his ranch.
This exchange has prompted chuckles among techies and non- across the Internets -- another famous reference by Bush from 2004. (More troubling to me in that CNBC interview is Bush's admission that he will not use e-mail: "I don't e-mail, because of the different record requests that can happen to a president.")
But Bush isn't the only elected leader out there who has demonstrated a poor grasp of fairly basic technology -- and worse. As such, I think these kinds of gaffes ought to elicit more than dismissive snickers or disgusted eye rolls. They should elicit feelings of concern and some probing questions of both candidates and politicians about how technology fits in to their agendas, including how they are going to work to protect our exposed digital borders.
Now, I'm not saying that elected leaders need to be DBAs or certified Linux admins anymore than a CEO of a private organization should be. They should, however, have a decent understanding of and interest in topics such as e-commerce and data security, as well as advisers and staffers who are keenly attuned to technological issues. This is, after all, the Internet Age, and the Internet is an essential tool for our economy and security -- which makes the Internet a plausible place for attacks in the U.S.
Examples and reports of political techno-ignorance seem to be on the rise, and I don't think people in the tech community needed to be told that by a former EU commissioner.
The most significant proof, in my mind, is a recent report from the Government Reform Committee which gave the federal government a pathetic D+ for its handling of data security. Seems that since 2003, every single one of the governments 19 departments has suffered at least one data breach, though some have suffered hundreds. If there's been a call for sweeping reform throughout these departments, I've yet to read about it.