Is Biden Bad for Internet Freedom?

Gizmodo posted some of Joe Biden’s history as it relates to internet freedom issues. It got a lot of attention on Digg, so I think it’s worth addressing.

First, let me say up front that I like Joe Biden as a person and politician. In hindsight, I don’t think I’d have voted for him if he ran for president (as opposed to VP), but I’d have cheered him on from the side lines, because whenever I’ve seen him on c-span, he’s come off as more genuine than most others.

That being said, let’s go over the issues raised by Gizmodo one by one:

He asked Congress to spend $1 billion to monitor peer-to-peer activity. (In fairness, much of this is to prevent child pornography, but the tactic is apparently a little blunt.)

Gizmodo is a little biased in it’s presentation here, given that it wasn’t “much” of the money going to fight child porn, it was ALL of it. What’s more, peer-to-peer file sharing isn’t exactly a private activity. With most forms of P2P, anyone with an internet connection can scan what’s available, and collect IP addresses of those providing content. Frankly, if you think you’ve got a “reasonable expectation of privacy” while using Bittorrent or Limewire, then you don’t understand P2P.

What’s more, the government already monitors p2p for kiddy porn. This isn’t a slippery slope legal issue, because the government already does it, and thus the legal issues are already there to be dealt with one way or another.

Two Biden bills have been explicitly anti-encryption, because you know, encryption makes it hard for the FBI to read people’s e-mails.

This one is bad. I don’t know the history of the bills they are referring to, so I can’t verify the language of them. However, this position stinks of Big Brother trying to do an end-run around the courts. “If we can’t spy on those with a reasonable expectation of privacy, then we’ll make having that expectation illegal.” I hope such legislation wouldn’t stand up in the courts.

This one would scare me a lot more, though, if Gizmodo hadn’t demonstrated a clear bias with the presentation of the first issue. I should probably do more research for myself.

He has expressed support for internet taxes and internet filtering in schools and libraries.

This is actually three different issues. I’m opposed to internet taxes on principle, but I don’t do enough spending online to care all that much. I paid over $100 on sales tax when I got my Macbook. I won’t pretend that’s a good thing, but it stung enough for me to feel a little bitter toward those who circumvent state sales tax by purchasing goods online. I’m still opposed to the idea of an online sales tax; just not as much as I might be otherwise. (Side note: It sort of annoys me that the internet is biased against those who choose not to use credit or debit cards.)

As far as internet filtering in Schools: That’s a state issue. All the grade schools I went to filtered the internet, and it was never more than an annoyance. I don’t see it as a problem.

Filtering the internet in libraries: I’m oppose to it. Libraries were designed as free resources for information. However, with that in mind, they also tend to be very public places, so there’s a question about the legality of the government monitoring internet access in libraries.

The RIAA seems to be one of his best buddies: Biden sponsored a bill that would restrict recording of songs from satellite and net radio, and another one that would make it a felony to “trick” a computer into playing back unauthorized songs or running bootlegged videogames. That latter one died when Verizon, Microsoft, Apple, eBay and Yahoo all argued against it.

He took a bad position, and got shot down. The system worked. Let us celebrate that, and hope Biden learned his lesson.

Biden was one of just four senators invited to attend a celebration of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act hosted by the MPAA’s Jack Valenti and the RIAA’s Hillary Rosen, two of American file-sharer’s most wanted.

He has connections to companies that are working hard to protect their investments. Again, this would worry me a little if he was actually running for president. But, he’s not. What’s more, being opposed to piracy isn’t a bad thing. He’s just ill informed about how best to deal with it.

When he was asked in 2006 about proposing net-neutrality laws, he said there was no need, since any bit-filtering violations would provoke such a huge public ruckus they’d have to hold congressional hearings anyway—and they’d be standing-room only. (Wonder if Biden reads Gizmodo.) [Cnet]

A lot of people are misinterpreting this statement. He’s not opposed to Net Neutrality legislation. He simply thinks it’s redundant, because there are already FCC regulations in place. Admittedly, I don’t agree with him. I think we do need stronger Net Neutrality legislation. However, this isn’t half as bad as McCain’s outright vocal opposition to Net Neutrality.

Overall, I don’t like Biden’s tech record. But, I’m not voting for him. It’s widely stated that no one votes for the vice president. I think that’s a good thing. No doubt there are a lot of republicans who are likely to do so this year (Sarah Palin is getting a lot of positive attention), but anyone who votes for the vice president is likely to be very disappointed when the person actually running for president gets the job.  The Vice President isn’t the one with sign/veto power.

Obama’s and McCain’s positions on tech issues are the ones that matter, and Obama’s position is the one I like.


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