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Is outcry over government surveillance all bark and no bite?

In the wake of the WikiLeaks (Julian Assange) and PRISM (Edward Snowden) revelations, much has been said and written about the extent to which state-sanctioned surveillance of citizens’ data communications – not to mention the communications of non-citizens – is occurring. With all of this clamor it might seem reasonable to expect voters to express their indignation at the polling places. However, this month’s general elections in New Zealand may suggest that the public is not prepared to make government surveillance a top priority. To be clear, some of the public’s commentary on the implications of government surveillance is thoughtful and reasoned, such as the contributions of TechPolicyDaily contributor Claude Barfield. But much is a cacophony, using the latest ‘scandals’ to score points in perennial political battles. Amongst the political sound and fury generated on the issue are warnings that such activities threaten to undermine democracy itself. A recent example is the call by 500 leading authors – including five Nobel Prize winners – for an international charter to curb the activities of national spy agencies.
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The sharing economy under pressure: Uber, Lyft and Airbnb’s regulatory roadblocks continue

Twenty years ago, government officials were trying to figure out how to get the solo driver commuting in their gas-guzzling car to share a ride, thereby saving some space on the road and helping the environment.  In 2014, people in urban areas are clamoring to ride-share through technology applications that better utilize invested capital in individuals’ cars, reduce the number of vehicles on the road, use less parking spaces, and have the added benefit of...

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Chairman Wheeler and mobile broadband: Ask the right people

I wrote a post in February (Net neutrality: Wheeler’s Vietnam?) on the potential for net neutrality to become a quagmire from which there is no clean escape; I compared FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s embrace of the issue to President Lyndon Johnson’s ill-starred Vietnam campaign.  Seven months later, it appears that I was more right than I knew: the FCC has received close to 4 million public comments on its current net neutrality proceeding, due in no small part to HBO Network comedian John Oliver’s fulsome diatribe on the subject. Speaking at the CTIA Super Mobility Week conference in Las Vegas in early September, Wheeler offered a bone to advocates who don’t like his net neutrality proposal: he suggested applying the same rules to mobile networks that he will apply to wired ones. This change would mark a departure from the 2010 Open Internet rules that exempted wireless networks from the poorly defined “anti-discrimination” rule. This rule essentially requires broadband networks to operate inefficiently in the hope of enabling a wider span of innovative new applications.
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Perhaps we could learn a broadband policy lesson from the Aussies

Having embarked in 2008 on a $40+ billion project to build fiber to nearly every home, Australia had the good sense to do a cost benefit analysis to see whether this effort was worth it. Admittedly, the analysis was a bit late – it began in 2013 – but it found that citizens would have been better off if the government had done nothing. (See Bronwyn Howell’s blog post on for more...