It must be difficult to be a member of the Tea Party, having to balance the desire for more rights for everyone — including corporations — with less government to enforce those rights. A recent Heritage Foundation event featuring Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), highlights the movement’s dichotomy. Here’s where the Tea Party — or Paul, at least — gets it right and wrong on technology policy.
Paul seems to understand the problems surrounding copyright enforcement online, right down to his reasons for opposing SOPA. It wasn’t so much what SOPA was trying to do in terms of shutting down pirate sites or forcing companies such as Google to act in some cases, as much as it was about the lack of due process in making these things happen. “There almost needs to be a trial …” he said. “It shouldn’t be just one person complaining to another website and all of a sudden the web site is shut down.”
Paul even suggested the idea of a federal court process through which copyright-holders could go to ask for fast adjudication on their claims of infringement, presumably to balance out concerns over high legal costs with the need for due process. I’ll assume, then, his defense of the YouTube model for content removal (and, by proxy, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act) is just a matter of not really understanding that law. Under the DMCA, complaints lead directly to takedowns or, in some cases, expensive trials that destroy companies and business models that end up being on the right side of the law.
In response to an audience question, Paul noted there’s room for debate over the length of copyrights and patents to balance out innovation and consumer protection with creators’ needs to monetize their inventions. The real question, however, which Paul didn’t address, is how we amend copyright and patent law to address new technologies and modes of delivering content.
If the recently defeated Cybersecurity Act of 2012 really was problematic privacy-wise, as even Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) thinks it was, Paul was right to vote against it. He’s also right to stand up for consumer rights, claiming that any bill offering immunity against lawsuits to companies that share user data with the government will essentially protect those companies should they decide to breach contractual terms about data sharing. Consumers make considered choices when selecting service providers, he said, but “you don’t have a choice to make a contractual arrangement with our government.”
However, because signing up for services from companies such as Google, Facebook or any other web company requires voluntarily agreeing to its terms of service and privacy policies, Paul said they have access to whatever you grant them. I’m not for obtrusive privacy regulations that will unduly limit innovation and perhaps drive up the costs of services, but some rules and regulations laying out what companies can do with user data — and how they explain those uses in their privacy policies — probably aren’t the worst things in the world.