January 20, 2004
Fractals, Digital Divides and Policy

Parker Thompson just attended the Technology, Values and Justice conference this past weekend at U of Washington Law School. Interesting folks like Vint Cerf [one well dressed dude (his bad-ass factor as on par with Sean Connery)], Judge Donald Horowitz and Ed Lazowska, who talked about how the digital divide can be seen like a fractal, where a percentage within a percentage within a total has access and the rest are left out, like this issue left the radar the second Bush stopped keeping stats (note the reports on the site date to 1998 and 95.

    Morton Horwitz Professor and Legal Historian at Harvard spoke next and gave perhaps the best talk of the conference. In a brilliant talk Horwitz discussed access to technology as a right the way we consider access to language education (for example, to non-native speakers) a right. If, he argued, technology is a window to participation in our justice system then denying access to these technologies would constitute denying some citizens access to the justice system. I have heard the argument made that Internet access should be treated as a utility, like electricity or water, but never that it could be considered a requisite to participation in civil society provided for by the Constitution.
    An interesting example he used was a mechanic. Apparently bankruptcy law prohibits creditors from taking a mechanic's tools to cover debts owed, the rationale being that this would deny the mechanic his ability to earn a wage (I may be missing the finer point here). Horwitz posited that this might be analogous to someone in an information profession (say lawyers) having a right to his or her professional books. He goes on to suggest this principle could be extended to protect an individual's right to information (e.g. legal information).

Interesting ideas. Check it out. Parker told me he and the two other students there were perhaps the only non-gray attendees. But he said they were fascinated and it rocked.

Posted by Mary Hodder at January 20, 2004 11:28 PM
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