Befuddled San Francisco officials

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 04/06/2005 - 10:07

The Internet continues to create earthquakes across the entire spectrum of society as established ways of doing things crumble under the unprecedented publishing capabilites of Internet-enabled information tools.

Elected officials, who have enjoyed a close relationship with mainstream media over the decades, are becoming increasing irrational over blogs. While the media has often had an adversarial relationship with elected leaders of one stripe or another, those elected leaders, the media, and political parties all have tended to play by a set of well-understood rules (I'm generalizing here--there are obvious exceptions).

But blogs have changed all that. Bloggers, publishing their own commentary for a worldwide audience (albeit often a small one), don't have to play by traditional rules. The blogosphere is creating an entirely new set of rules, and some politicians don't like it.

San Francisco leaders have introduced city legislation that would require bloggers to register with the city if they write about politics and candidates. What on earth are they thinking? Do they really think they can stifle criticism of city leaders and policies with this kind of heavy-handed approach?

To illustrate just how absurd this is, a transnational fight over publishing is brewing. Excerpts from a secret government hearing in Canada that allegedly is investigating fraud on the part of government officials has been published on a U.S. Web site, and Canadian leaders are seething because they can't do anything about it.

It's not at all clear who, if anyone, has committed a crime. The ban forbids publication. So the Canadian that passed the documents on may not have broken the law, and the American blog is not subject to Canadian law at all.

Ethics and the lack of them certainly play a role here, but it's always been difficult to legislate moral or ethical behavior. But the bigger picture is that it is now much more difficult to hide wrongdoing. Are abuses likely? Of course. But no system is perfect, and I think more transparency in government is always a good thing. Those San Francisco legislators should be take a cold drink of reality and study the Canadian mess. If they continue to try to restrain blogging in San Francisco, bloggers will simply move the official address of record of their sites (and the server) to some other location beyond the purview of San Francisco city law.

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