Surely, I thought, they’re not proposing passing a secret law. Surely they’re not going to say that the citizenry isn’t allowed to know what’s in the law that Congress is considering.
[but it turns out] …I can know the contents of the bill Congress is debating, but only if I pay $10k to a private party, and only if I promise not to tell anybody what is in the bill or engage in public debate about it.
Which brings us to the most interesting question of all: Are the members of Congress themselves, and their staffers, allowed to see the spec and talk about it openly? Are they allowed to consult experts for advice? Or are the full contents of this bill secret even from the lawmakers who are considering it?
We’ve seen this before. Laws that are copyrighted or considered the property of a private company. (One comment to the Felten post above says that it is it’s perfectly acceptable for the law to be private intellectual property in forty-seven states.)
But this is worse. Felten says of a proposed law to “plug the analog hole”:
“This is much worse than a claim of copyright. Copyright doesn’t stop you from talking about what is in the document, or from rephrasing it in your own words. A copyrighted law can at least be debated. Here, they’re claiming the (proposed) law is a trade secret and cannot be discussed at all.”
What are the implications? There are at least two: First, treatment of a bill as being proprietary could become a precedent for even more private control of what should be public information leading to even less access to information and even less government accountability. Second, the law itself deals with “a fundamental vulnerability in copy prevention schemes” (see: the analog hole WikiPedia) in a way that would effect the functionality of all hardware for all purposes — even legal copying of public information (say files downloaded from govt. agencies) could, potentially, be disabled because of this.
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