Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Advocate.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Weigh in on America's technology agenda

Barack Obama is almost certain to be the president who appoints the nation's first Chief Technology Officer.

In some sense it is shocking that America doesn't have one yet. We have a Chief Medical Officer (the Surgeon General). We have a Chief Safety Officer (the director of FEMA). Yet, we have no Chief Technology Officer (CTO). No one who oversees the nation's increasingly critical digital infrastructure.

Every major corporation in America, and countless minor ones, have a CTO. Computer and network technology has become the ubiquitous backbone supporting nearly 100% of America's business productivity. As goes the private sector, so goes the government. Every department within the federal government, as well as nearly all state and local government offices, are now computerized and connected to the Internet.

And yet, no one oversees it all. America has no national technology strategy.

While leaving questions of who should fill that role for another post (I do have some ideas there), this begs the question of what America's national technology strategy should be. What is it that we're going to ask this CTO to go do?

That's where you come in. Tapping into the wisdom of crowds, the folks at have put up a website called where you can submit your own ideas for what initiatives a national CTO should pursue, and where you can vote on the ideas submitted by others. It's anonymous and requires no login or signup (although you can sign up for updates if you want).

There are hundreds of ideas that have been submitted so far. I would encourage everyone to take a few minutes to look through the top-ranked ideas and submit your own votes. Here are the four ideas I would most like to see a national CTO take action on:
  • Network Neutrality -- bar network service providers from discriminating against some kinds of traffic while fostering others.
  • Open government data -- create data format standards for all government data to ensure inter-operability between systems, and implement policies for making government data available to the public within reasonable time frames.
  • Ensure trustworthy elections equipment -- establish standards and tests for the design and construction of the hardware and software in any election equipment.
  • Make election equipment software code public -- mandate that the software applications used in electronic voting machines and other tabulating equipment be open to the public. (Note, I'm not saying that it needs to be strictly Open Source software, just that the public has the right to see the source code used in voting machines, even if that code is owned by a corporation).

There are lots of other great ideas in the top 10 or top 20 on that I also support, such as repealing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Patriot Act, fostering science and technology programs at universities to restore America's competitiveness in the global economy, et cetera. But many of these, in my opinion, fall more clearly into other people's areas of responsibility. Repealing the DMCA and Patriot Act, for example, is more the job of the Congress than it is of a national CTO.

Anyway, go vote and make your voice heard. Last time we went out and voted, we got a great new president-elect! So you know voting matters.


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