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United States Government Technology

Embarrassing Stories Shed Light On US Officials' Technological Ignorance 299

colinneagle writes "Speaking at the SXSW Conference recently, Dr. Peter W. Singer, director of the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, recalled one U.S. official who was 'about to negotiate cybersecurity with China' asking him to explain what the term 'ISP' (Internet Service Provider) means. This wasn't the only example of this lack of awareness. 'That's like going to negotiate with the Soviets and not knowing what "ICBM" means,' Dr. Singer said. 'And I've had similar experiences with officials from the UK, China and Abu Dhabi.' Similarly, Dr. Singer recalled one account in which Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of the U.S. Homeland Security Department from 2009 to 2013, admitted that she didn't use email 'because she just didn't think it was useful.' 'A Supreme Court justice also told me "I haven't got round to email yet" — and this is someone who will get to vote on everything from net neutrality to the NSA negotiations,' Dr. Singer said."
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Embarrassing Stories Shed Light On US Officials' Technological Ignorance

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  • I've heard that government moves slowly, but having high-power officials 20 years behind the times seems a bit outrageous.
  • Who's worse? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Qzukk ( 229616 ) on Monday March 10, 2014 @05:02PM (#46449443) Journal

    The guy who had to learn what an ISP was, or the guy who didn't know and didn't ask and made government policy on it anyway?

  • by Old97 ( 1341297 ) on Monday March 10, 2014 @05:04PM (#46449465)
    It's not the government. These people have access to all the modern conveniences via their jobs. They have chosen not to learn anything about them which would be O.K. if it wasn't critical to their job performance.
  • by drainbramage ( 588291 ) on Monday March 10, 2014 @05:10PM (#46449537)

    Perhaps what they've learned is that digital footprints are easier to track.
    Not that they are hiding anything...

  • Re:SCOTUS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by danlip ( 737336 ) on Monday March 10, 2014 @05:24PM (#46449715)

    There are state Supreme Courts, and other countries have them too, so unless you are going to type out the entire thing, SCOTUS is more specific. Are you opposed to all acronyms, or just this one for some reason?

  • by pavon ( 30274 ) on Monday March 10, 2014 @05:28PM (#46449755)

    Okay, the cybersecurity negotiator ignorance is bad, the rest less so.

    I have been a happy man ever since January 1, 1990, when I no longer had an email address. I'd used email since about 1975, and it seems to me that 15 years of email is plenty for one lifetime.

    Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration. I try to learn certain areas of computer science exhaustively; then I try to digest that knowledge into a form that is accessible to people who don't have time for such study.
            - Donald Knuth

    The role of Supreme Court Justice is also "to be on the bottom of things". It is possible to understand enough about email to make good judgements about it without using it on a daily basis. The justices have to make weekly about subjects which they have absolutely no interaction with in their normal day-to-day life. From technical to finance to agriculture, no one can possibly be an expert on all the issues they hear. It is their job to constantly learn enough about a subject to know what is important from a legal and constitutional point of view. If they are failing to do this, then that is a legitimate complaint. The fact that they weren't familiar with "common knowledge" technologies before encountering them in court, or haven't chosen to incorporate them into their life isn't.

  • by RichMan ( 8097 ) on Monday March 10, 2014 @05:30PM (#46449783)

    Actually this is why you should be very concerned about the NSA. The people doing NSA surveillance know what they are doing. The oversight does not. That is the scary thing.

  • by ElementOfDestruction ( 2024308 ) on Monday March 10, 2014 @05:32PM (#46449807)
    You know of an IQ Test that can measure corruptibility? I don't think the problem with our elected officials is generally a lack of intelligence; it's a lack of character and responsibility to their actual electorate, rather than the highest bidder.
  • Re:to this day... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TsuruchiBrian ( 2731979 ) on Monday March 10, 2014 @05:36PM (#46449845)

    The hard drive *is* memory. It's non-volatile memory (as opposed to volatile memory, like RAM). It's also a hard disk (as opposed to floppy disks). It's also magnetic storage (as opposed to optical, etc). It's also electro-mechanical storage (as opposed to solid-state).

    It actually bugs me more that RAM is referred to as "memory" which is and should be a very generic term.

    If anything the harddisk is probably a better candidate for the term "memory" than RAM is. A harddisk is what ultimately must store the data permanently and recall it. RAM exists to make certain frequently used data quicker to access, and it "forgets" when the computer is powered off. Granted this is basically equivalent to short-term memory, but I think long-term memory is more what people think of when they think of the generic term "memory".

  • Re:Who's worse? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by LynnwoodRooster ( 966895 ) on Monday March 10, 2014 @05:39PM (#46449879) Journal
    It should be fully expected, since after all, this is a Government where you have to pass a bill to find out what's in it [].
  • by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Monday March 10, 2014 @05:40PM (#46449895)
    Why did we get a comment containing a link to a blog post about a news article elsewhere on the internet []?

    I mean, holy crap, Slashdot, can't you even bother to give us a link to the actual article anymore? We have to go on a link-to-a-link goose chase?
  • Re:An advantage (Score:5, Insightful)

    by es330td ( 964170 ) on Monday March 10, 2014 @05:49PM (#46450009)

    but I thought most people on slashdot wouldn't know what they were

    /. is a place wherein denizens brag about using their acoustic couplers, or bbs'ing at 300 baud or computing in the snow, uphill both ways while editing inodes by hand with a magnet. You take a pretty big leap when you guess that "most" people don't know about an outdated technology.

  • Well, duh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by superdave80 ( 1226592 ) on Monday March 10, 2014 @06:28PM (#46450395)

    Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of the U.S. Homeland Security Department from 2009 to 2013, admitted that she didn't use email 'because she just didn't think it was useful

    No, she knew how every email was scanned, so there was no way in hell she was going to use plain ol' email. She is just using the "I'm old so I don't use computer stuff" excuse to cover the real reason.

  • by globaljustin ( 574257 ) on Monday March 10, 2014 @06:42PM (#46450501) Journal

    having high-power officials 20 years behind the times seems a bit outrageous.

    it is completely outrageous...the people who make the laws about a thing not knowing the essential function of how a thing works...that's the definition of legislative incompetence!

    the problem is there is so much impoetence & misunderstanding about Tech that the relative measure for 'competent' is frighteningly low...

    here's who to blame:

    1. Politicians themselves. They're idiots if they don't try to understand what they're making laws about plain and simple. But it doesn't end there....if we're trying to diagnose this problem we have to look deeper. Any cursory look at **policy** will show that **Republicans** are by far and away the worst offenders. They wear technological & scientific ignorance like a badge of honor They're always against Net Neutrality.

    2. Tech industry. Your Google's, M$, and even's...they all throw money around to accomplish their *corporate* goals. They flood the conversation with PR & drown out any dissenting voices. They make anti-user moves, including monopolies, then lobby congress to avoid any anti-trust accountability. This all causes intense confusion in the literature!

    3. people. We do a shit job of explaining ourselves. We give new products idiotic and abstract names that alienate non-techs. We have a culture of **snobbishness** and **superiority** that leads us to be condescending & either *over-explain* or more often **over-simplify**

    if you are a US citizen, you can make a difference in ***ALL THREE CATEGORIES*** starting today...stop voting for Republicans...stop giving shit stupid confusing names...and stop acting like knowing something that is confusing & only comes with trial and error makes you inherently superior!

    tech is confusing...we helped make it this way...we can fix it!

  • by jawnah ( 1022209 ) on Monday March 10, 2014 @07:11PM (#46450681)
    I think one of the major issues here is that voting has become a joke. "We" (and I mean the collective American people, not just myself and the others responsible for the next statement) vote for these idiots based on the fact that they have someone sending amusing tweets and know how to talk in circles about things. We definitely don't vote for them based on anything reasonable (like experience, previous ACTUAL accomplishments, etc). If we want that to stop, we need to stop voting for prom queens and vote for a leader.
  • Re:SCOTUS (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 10, 2014 @07:53PM (#46450957)

    To make people feel superior? You're projecting the insecurity you feel when people who know what they're talking about talk in front of you about things you don't know enough to talk about. Acronyms are used by people with knowledge of a subject to more quickly communicate information about that subject to someone else who is also familiar. If you're reading this site, you can use a search engine to find your acronyms. I bet you threw away every book you ever read when you came to a word you didn't recognize.

    Here's a hint for you: if you don't know the meaning of an acronym, and you can't be bothered to find out, move on to the next article! This story is not for you! If you find this happening a lot, it could be you don't have a sufficient vocabulary for participation in this forum. Don't feel bad, it just means you're average!

    Here's another hint: acronyms are far more often constructed for the sake of having a clever acronym than ever for the purpose of making an idiot feel like an idiot. Seriously, when it comes to acronyms making one feel inferior, only the guilty are taking offense.

  • by whoever57 ( 658626 ) on Monday March 10, 2014 @07:55PM (#46450971) Journal

    To make "storage/memory" as the words for "Hard-drive" & "RAM" guarantees confusion.

    1. We already have logical terms that roughly distinguish the two functions: RAM and ROM

    "ROM". You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  • by PJ6 ( 1151747 ) on Monday March 10, 2014 @09:04PM (#46451415)

    These people have access to all the modern conveniences via their jobs. They have chosen not to learn anything about them which would be O.K. if it wasn't critical to their job performance.

    Actually the SCOTUS has shown they are more than willing to learn about something required for them to do their jobs.

    Go back a few years when they had a specific case about video games and free speech in 2011. They set up a lab and played the ultra-violent games for a few days, both online and off, to help make a decision. (All of them agreed with the free speech, two dissented saying it was not regulating speech, but was regulating the sale of products.)

    Historically the judges have been willing to get their hands dirty and view the gritty details when they are called to review them for a case. They have traveled to remote locations, dug through physical evidence, and gotten their hands dirty. They may not be hardcore gamers or telecom experts, but when it comes to ruling on the law they are making determinations based on the exact wording on the law. Such a decision can be made based on reviewing the facts, reviewing details provided by experts, and looking at the specific items enough to satisfy their opinions.

    ... which makes the shocking naïveté they've shown in certain opinions pertaining to campaign finance even more unsettling.

  • by globaljustin ( 574257 ) on Monday March 10, 2014 @09:15PM (#46451471) Journal

    first, you posted the wrong's the proper link: []

    2nd, You commit fatal false equivalence. These two things:

    1. ALL REPUBLICANS in lockstep opposing ***any*** net neutrality policies

    2. ONE legislator **writing a letter** that does nothing more than **ask** for **another agency** to consider regulating something

    false equivalence all over...1 is way different than 2. 1 is a baseball bat to the head...the other is...

    3rd, everyone who understands the issue agrees Net Neutrality is the right course....only corporations & their GOP sockpuppets oppose net neutrality. However, ***regulating Bitcoin is a debatable policy*** Many would want some kind of government resopnse. I'm not saying its a good idea, or that i agree with the letter.

    1 is different than 2...your comparison is full of logical error, false equivalence, trolling, and willful ignorance

  • by Old97 ( 1341297 ) on Monday March 10, 2014 @11:23PM (#46452129)
    I'm happy to give them a break until they assume the authority to make decisions that depend on understanding technology. Once they do that they have the duty to be knowledgeable and competent. Anyone aspiring to such authority should be preparing and educating themselves.
  • by globaljustin ( 574257 ) on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @12:06AM (#46452279) Journal

    yeah, the thing you (attempted) to link to was **NOT WHAT YOU CLAIMED IT WAS**

    it was a **false equivalence** searching to find a non-abusive law that a GOP'er co-sponsored does not, in any way, counter or disprove my point...for the same reason as above...

    **false equivalence**

    you're dead in the water...just accept that things are different than you thought & adapt...take pride of it...only if you refuse to change are you being prideful

  • by Nyder ( 754090 ) on Tuesday March 11, 2014 @12:31AM (#46452339) Journal

    It's not the government. These people have access to all the modern conveniences via their jobs. They have chosen not to learn anything about them which would be O.K. if it wasn't critical to their job performance.

    Maybe it's time to have education requirements for senators, congresspeeps, Ambassadors and anyone who has to deal with laws or other countries. They would be required to keep up with what is going on in the world, tech, social and whatever. Anything less is just hurting us in this day & age, seeing as the world (tech wise, and whatever) moves faster then it did back when.

    Oh ya, drug test those peeps also so they can see what it's like for us.

"What the scientists have in their briefcases is terrifying." -- Nikita Khrushchev