February 23, 2019

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The SSSCA: It's Nothing Personal

  • October 3, 2001
  • By Dennis E. Powell

There are a couple of considerations when looking at the uphill battle that's faced by opponents of the SSSCA. The first is the effect it is likely to have in real life on Linux, and the second is what to do about it.

How will it effect Linux? Opinions vary, from not at all to making the use of Linux a crime punishable by a $500,000 fine and five years in prison. As a practical matter, it's probably the former -- there are simply too many Linux hackers around. Law enforcement budgets are always tight, and the FBI didn't share in the swag collected by Hollings, McCain, and their ilk. But as a general rule, it's better not to break the law, and better still to bring foolish laws to a halt before they're ever enacted. (As a veteran of some unsuccessful attempts in this regard, and a few successful ones, I can say that one good piece of information is that the huge majority of proposed laws never see the light of day. The bad news is that there is some major juice behind this one.)

Mark Twain famously noted that those who are interested in the law or sausage should never watch either made. In the years since he made the remark, there has been considerable reform in sausage making. Laws usually involve a combination of hype, deal making, and coercion in their path from proposal to enactment; if you thought that any useful purpose -- whether the thing is actually a good idea -- figured into the equation, you'd be wrong in most cases. (Oh, for the Constitutional amendment that would limit the number of laws that could be passed annually to five, and then only if five others were repealed.) So any campaign to kill this thing cannot rely on reasoning and public interest. It must instead demonstrate that it is in the legislator's best interest to vote no on the SSSCA.

Email carries practically no weight, and online petition campaigns carry even less. Send 'em and sign 'em if it makes you feel better, but don't think you've accomplished anything. If you want to stop this atrocity, you'll need to fire up the printer, get some envelopes and stamps, and send actual physical mail. You can pretty well forget Hollings, and probably McCain, too, but the other members of the committee are worth lobbying -- as are the senators from your state, and the member of Congress from your district. The letters should be polite and to the point, noting that you will follow the legislation with interest and that its ultimate fate will weigh heavily in how you vote next year. The balance of power in Congress is very close, with both sides desperate to maintain or acquire majorities in 2002. For this reason, nice notes to the leadership in both parties would be in order, because anything that is likely to switch a few hundred thousand votes one way or the other will this year, more than any other, get some attention.

But such an effort would require a lot of letters from each of a lot of people. We do not have tens of thousands of dollars with which to buy representation, and we do not own television networks with which to sway public opinion. We are merely a whole bunch of individuals, and for our voice to be heard we must sing in unison, all of us.

Will we succeed? I have no idea. But if we don't try, we don't deserve to.

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