Washington had to face down a lot of technological issues this year, and on a staggering variety of topics. Debates and committee reports flew fast and furious all through the beltway, and lobbyists threw their hands in at every opportunity.
But now that the dust is settling, and the calendar is about to strike 2013 despite the Mayans' insistence to the contrary, what actually happened in 2012 in tech?
Perhaps the biggest impact in terms of technology and the government was around the rights of intellectual property (IP) holders and creators, compared to the rights of everyone else.
To that end, the government launched a pair of potential laws going by the names of SOPA and PIPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act, respectively. Both bills drew the ire of not only the technology industry as a whole, but also regular people, who flooded their representatives and senators with calls and other communications (some reports peg the numbers at 10 million signing petitions, eight million phone calls and four million e-mail messages) insisting that both of these were terrible ideas that would have done much more harm than good.
Both were pulled out, and reports suggest that despite the insistence of copyright holders, a new session of Congress isn't likely to bring a new version of these widely unpopular measures.
It wasn't just piracy that had Congress' attention, though, as cybersecurity issues also dominated. While cybersecurity is important to most every business and private individual with a Web presence – no one wants to be hacked – cybersecurity is very important to government figures as well.
Government branches need to be able to effectively share information – especially as far as law enforcement goes – as well as, when needed, disseminate that information to the public. But measures that would have allowed the government more control over the cybersecurity efforts of private companies met with opposition from within, as the two majority parties battered away at each other over just how far the government should go.
With more mobile users than ever using more mobile data than ever, spectrum auctions from the FCC (News - Alert) also took center stage as the organization attempted to get television stations to fork over their spectrum licenses in exchange for a cut of the proceeds from the sale of the resulting spectrum. But this hasn't sat well on all fronts and has resulted in some controversy.
Also bringing in controversy were online privacy issues and revamping government IT systems in the face of economic hardships throughout the United States.
Information technology generally affects the way we live, work and function as a society, so it's not surprising that technology issues find themselves taking center stage much of the time. While there will always be differences of opinion in the way they should develop – leading in turn to things like the massed outcry against SOPA and PIPA – if government keeps its focus soundly on the taxpayers it is supposed to serve, we’ll all likely come out better for the discussion and the attempts at change, as well as the changes actually made.
What will 2013 bring in terms of hot-button issues? There's no way to know until we're looking at 2014, but chances are technology will be at the forefront of the whole discussion.
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Edited by Braden Becker