Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Congressional hearing on virtual worlds

I watched the bulk of the congressional hearing on virtual worlds earlier today but ultimately gave up before the end... frustrated at the direction things were taking.

Philip Rosedale's position statement included quite a long video presentation about Second Life - why on earth would congress be interested in sitting thru 5 minutes of unadulterated SL advertising? - but having used part of his allotted presentation time with the video, he then seemed somewhat bemused to be asked to summarise his position well before he had finished getting thru his written material. Shame. On the other hand, and to be fair, he did much better in what I saw of the questioning phase.

Of the initial position statements, it seemed to me that Larry Johnson of the NMC did best, abstracting away from the specifics of the current technology and focusing on the long term significance of what is happening.

But during questioning it rapidly became clear that congress wasn't really interested in the future anyway. Much more important to them was the potential threat of using Second Life to support terrorist activities, how age verification works or not, and how Linden Lab monitors unusual currency transactions. One got the feeling that the agenda was largely being driven by what we'd call the tabloid media in the UK. Or so it seemed anyway...
Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat, called for a clear understanding of how virtual world activity might help the U.S. fight new trends in terrorism.

She stressed that she was not advocating censorship. "I want to make sure these glorious tools are not abused … or changed into tools that facilitate the use of terrorist attacks," she said.

(See story in PC Magzine). Good grief, if congress is worried about the use of technology to support terrorism I suggest that they shut down email, the Web and the mobile phone network for a start. Oh, and they'd better get rid of paper and pencils while they are at it :-(.

Fleep Turque has put together a partial summary of the hearing.

Larry Johnson's full written submission to congress is also available.

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