Don’t force technology slow-down

Published 11:03 am Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ever-evolving communications technology has federal law enforcement agencies worried because they are losing their ability to listen in on conversations. Now leaders of those agencies are preparing to ask Congress for a law that would, in effect, require communications companies to hold back their technological advances to a pace slow enough that government eavesdroppers to keep up. It’s a bad idea.

The New York Times reported earlier this week that a task force of government agencies is preparing a proposal designed to ensure that their ability to tap into communications isn’t further eroded. Apparently, in recent cases communications companies have been unable to help the government listen in on conversations because new technologies simply don’t provide a way to do so. The government’s solution, it seems, will be for companies to stop introducing new technologies unless they are open to surveillance.

Leaving aside the question of whether it’s truly necessary for the American government to have access to private communications, putting up road blocks to technology is a bad, bad idea. Doing so would stifle innovation and, because that innovation is what keeps American companies in the lead among global competitors, it would be harmful to business. It would also harm most Americans who have come to expect — and depend on — reasonably priced communications — from telephones to the internet. Technological advances have kept prices low, and holding back those advances would undoubtedly hinder the ability to keep prices down.

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There are very few situations which are improved by more laws and more regulations. In this case, the convenience – and it really is nothing more — of government agencies would be served at the expense of Americans and American business. When the question of these proposed communication regulations comes to Congress, probably in 2011, Congress ought to toss it right back to the administration with a resounding “no.”