iPhone 5’s for Criminals In Jail – Is That What Congress Really Wants?
I am an avid reader of Politico, an on line reporting service focused on activities in Washington, D.C. and other political centers. Two reports in the past few weeks really struck me as illustrative of how incapable the United States House of Representatives and Senate are in addressing critical issues facing the Internet while they spend time and taxpayer dollars on matters that, quite frankly, are simply unimportant by comparison.
Earlier this week, Henry Waxman (D. CA.) and Bobby Rush (D. Ill.), members of the U.S. House of Representatives, wrote a letter to Julius Genachowski, Chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, urging him to lower the costs of phone calls from criminals in prison to their families, presumably allowing them to call home more often. Waxman and Rush claimed that “Research shows that regular contact between prisoners and family members during incarceration reduces recidivism.” As Politico reported, they also told Genachowski that “…a one hour call from prison often costs as much as a month of unlimited home phone service.” Apparently, this has been an issue before the FCC for the past ten years. So now Congress wants action.
Meanwhile, down the street, the White House is urging the U.S. Senate to move forward on the long-stalled Cybersecurity Act of 2012, an Act that, while favorably supported by a majority of the U.S. Senate, cannot get the 60 votes necessary from the 100 U.S. Senators to end debate and bring the bill to a vote. Known as “cloture,” without the vote, a bill can be stalled forever.
Perhaps as a result, U.S. News & World Reports claims the White House decided it may adopt what it deems to be necessary for cybersecurity through Executive Orders, effectively bypassing Congress. Interestingly, Senator Ron Wyden (D. Or.) has publicly supported the White House move, effectively admitting that he and his brethren in the Senate can’t get the job done. Curiously, Wyden voted against ending debate on the proposed legislation because he said it wasn’t strong enough. Presumably, nothing is better than something or, perhaps, he feels he’ll get his way if he stalls long enough while security concerns go unaddressed; never mind that a majority of the Senate thinks the current bill is fine. But such results are now commonplace amidst the poisoned atmosphere of partisan politics and no compromise, both of which paralyze Washington today.
In his letter to U.S. President Barack Obama, Politico reports, Wyden cautioned the President against an Executive Order that “… targeted interactive computer services, including search engines and social networks, where … vulnerabilities are unlikely to constitute threats to our national security.” According to press reports, the President’s Executive Orders will resemble the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (a bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives but also stalled in the Senate). CISPA has been criticized by some as anti-business according to reports in the Washington Post.
All of this leads me to the conclusion that if Wyden is right that the vulnerabilities of social networks are not threats to our national security, and if Waxman and Rush are right that crime can be reduced if prisoners call home more often, and if President Obama is right that he can use Executive Orders to solve Congressional impasses, why not simply order that all of our incarcerated citizens be given new iPhone 5’s and Facebook accounts? Then we can do away with all the pay phones in prisons, reduce prison population, and save tons of money — all without a single threat to national security. And there wouldn’t even be any roaming charges! Of course, President Obama might want to reconsider whether he wants to give the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay iPhones, but that’s just a technicality.
And after that breakthrough, perhaps someone could sit Wyden and his fellow obstructionists in the Senate down and convince them that if prisoner rights deserve to be protected with more calls home, so do consumers have the right to have their privacy protected, and that he and his colleagues on both sides of the aisle should put aside their partisan politics and games and get the job done.
We Expert Doug Wood