In my job, I try to help governments design good Information Society policies. (By the way, our report on eInclusion strategies for the UK government just came out, the first of Tech4i2 ltd.).
And it is difficult to find effective ways to promote Information Society, e-government, e-business and so on, from the government side. A lot of effort is spent in that, with uncertain impact and continuous learning by doing.
Yet I find that while it is difficult to promote Information Society, it is much easier for government to hinder it, involuntarily of course. I had some “weak signals” about this recently.
– Every time I go back to Italy, I am struck by the absence of open wi-fi networks. You can find no cafe, pub or library with wifi for customers, even paying. The reason is simple: some years ago, in the aftermath of 9/11, a special decree (named after the Pisanu minister) required all Internet Providers to register users, in order to avoid uncontrolled, anonymous access to Internet. The rationale was, apparently, to avoid terrorist submitting anonymously threats and dangerous stuff. Italy is, to the best of my knowledge, the only country to have such a regulation. If you provide free open wifi, you have to register users, and photocopy their ID card. The result is of course that nobody does it, it would be too time-consuming to register users while serving a coffee. So Italy is missing the fundamental trend of pervasive, cloud computing: users are not accustomed to always-on services, industry lacks interest in building services which cannot be used. The whole ecosystem is not being built. My gut feeling is that Italy is missing an important trend, and that the negative impact of the Pisanu law is now much deeper, while its benefit are currently non existing. But I haven’t studied in depth the topic and I’m happy to hear from my Italian friends.
– I spoke at the “OpenDays” in Brussels, and there a MEP spoke about the need to regulate blogs. Yes, it’s true, and he’s a member of the “liberal” party. I was a bit shocked I must say. He should meet and talk a bit with Monica Arino of OFCOM.
– at another workshop I met the boss of one of the largest European social networking sites, who said that his dealings with government are not to promote ICT and innovation, but to prevent government from doing harm (for example, by forbidding cookies)
It is quite paradoxical to do research on how to best promote ICT, and then realize that the main thing is really: “DO NO HARM”. And this is likely to be exhacerbated in the web2.0, where top-down, organization-led planning is less effective.
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