Sunday, February 10, 2013

More Modern Governing

I'd been sitting on this post for a bit, and then unfortunately this happened and became a thing...

According to reliable sources, Swartz was driven to abandon hope for his future when he acted like an activist and broke some laws, and was facing 35 years in prison.

In my opinion, this tragic outcome is just another sign of how our government is failing to keep pace with the realities of technology in the modern world.

We have a system where re-elected prosecutors worry about looking soft on virtually any category of crime, and hesitate to make reasonable deals to allow citizens who briefly lose their way to repay a debt to society and move on with a life that is generally unblemished in the eyes of the law.

When convicted of any felony in the US, some of which area easy to accidentally do, one faces a lifetime of punishment.  Abandon all hope of future employment for those who wear the scarlet "F".  And more and more, even misdemeanor convictions can haunt you.

Similarly, a drunken poor decision to urinate behind a bush can brand you as a convicted sex offender for the rest of your days.

We drive people to undesirable outcomes when we ruin the hopes they place on their future lives.  The reason the phrase "paid his debt to society exists" embraces the concept that we want those who lose their way to be able to regain the good path.

And the joke of it is that there is a real problem with digital law breaking in the modern age.  Credit-card and other information theft is generally trivial to accomplish, and there are plenty of people out there living it up with money coming out of the credit card companies and small businesses (who eat costs sometimes).  And the fact is that these people face limited risk of being caught and punished despite repeated or massive abuse.

So when we catch an activist who is clearly not in it for the money, we throw the book at someone who helped create the digital world we love.

The part that is hardest to swallow is that when it comes to generating revenue, it appears that government is all about embracing a new technical world.  My local PD and govt employ automagic ticket writing cameras that must be reaping dividends when they're hitting people for $100+ for every failure to fully stop on a red for a right turn...

And recently I snagged this pic of what appears to be an auto-license plate scanner on a local PD cruiser:

I assume this will make ticketing easier for a variety of infractions.

The executive and judicial branches embrace technology when it comes to putting your embarassing life details on the internet as well.  For years now people on the interwebz have been lulzing at funny mugshots.  Criminal databases are often public, and some states put all court cases online so everyone can know things you might otherwise consider private.

And yet, when it comes time to "re-elect" judges it seems like there is no concept of openness.  It seems rare to find any transparency of why a given decision is made, so you end up with internet articles full of raging outbursts about why someone should've been punished more, or how on earth could someone like this get off so lightly?!?  if a judge is serving in a public capacity, and if my mistakes are open to the world at large, why shouldn't everyone be allowed to access the information behind judicial decisions and outcomes?

There are a lot of areas where technology could have significant impacts on pursuing justice.  For example, it seems likely that cell-phones could be programmed to automatically capture information and contact authorities when they detect gunshots and/or screams via integrated microphones.  This could probably be done in software with checks and balances, and reduction of false-positives (ie: movies).  Some people might consider that an invasion of privacy, while others might point out that it could save lives.

There are a lot of opportunities and choices ahead for all of us in this space...  it's a shame Aaron won't be around to help us build the future.  In my opinion, he should've been fined and placed on probation and allowed to live his life.

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