The proposal by the Copyright Office (Aug. 4 in the Federal Register) that would make it “necessary to use Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) web browser in order to preregister a work” is more than just a bad policy. It is an excellent example of future problems of e-government implementation and the potential for problems with long term availability of government information through GPO.
A new article (Copyright Office draws heat for proposed IE-only rule By Joab Jackson, Government Computer News, 08/17/05.) quotes the Copyright Office’s reasons for the new rule:
The office says its browser choice is limited by the commercial software package it will be using to manage the registration system, as well as the time needed to test other browsers.
There was, and is, no intent to endorse a particular vendor. The office’s goal is to make the system available to everyone, and therefore to enable frequently used browsers,” said Marybeth Peters, the Register of Copyright.
The is an excellent example of a government agency making a technical decision based on economic constraints, time constraints, and the constraints and limitations imposed by the functionality of commercial software used to build and manage its web site. In this case, evidently, Copyright is using tools that build sites that work with IE only.
If we use the the Copyright Office example as a lesson and apply it to GPO’s plans for building its future digital system, we can come to two insights:
- Technical decisions are usually driven by non-technical requirements. No matter how much we may discuss what the “ideal” system might look like technically, in the end, it will look like what the government can afford. It will be built with software that is commercially available and such software was likely designed to accommodate the needs of for-profit companies wishing to control content and not designed for open government and ease of information sharing.
- To keep government information freely available we must focus on policy first and technology second. Even “good” technology decisions can be bad policy decisions.
By avoiding policy decisions and forging ahead with the technical matters of its Future Digital System, GPO is setting itself up to create a system that could be good technically while creating bad policies.
GPO should immediately affirm, in no uncertain terms and without equivocation, that it will guarantee that it will provide information products for free to the public and that those products will be fully-functional and not encumbered, disabled, controlled or otherwise non-optimal or locked-down versions.
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