Technology Can Expose Government Sins, But You Need Humans to Fix Them

Lorelei Kelly: “We can’t bring accountability to the NSA unless we figure out how to give the whole legislative branch modern methods for policy oversight. Those modern methods can include technology, but the primary requirement is figuring out how to supply Congress with unbiased subject matter experts—not just industry lobbyists or partisan think tank analysts. Why? Because trusted and available expertise inside the process of policymaking is what is missing today.
According to calculations by the Sunlight Foundation, today’s Congress is operating with about 40 percent less staff than in 1979. According to the Congressional Management Foundation, it’s also contending with at least 800 percent more incoming communications. Yet, instead of helping Congress gain insight in new ways, instead of helping it sort and filter, curate and authenticate, technology has mostly created disorganized information overload. And the information Congress receives is often sentiment, not substance. Elected leaders should pay attention to both, but need the latter for policymaking.
The result? Congress defaults to what it knows. And that means slapping a “national security” label on policy questions that instead deserve to be treated as broad public conversations about the evolution of American democracy. This is a Congress that categorizes questions about our freedoms on the Internet as “cyber security.”
What can we do? First, recognize that Congress is an obsolete and incapacitated system, and treat it as such. Technology and transparency can help modernize our legislature, but they can’t fix the system of governance.
Activists, even tech-savvy ones, need to talk directly with Congressional members and staff at home. Hackers, you should invite your representatives to wherever you do your hacking. And then offer your skills to help them in any way possible. You may create some great data maps and visualization tools, but the real point is to make friends in Congress. There’s no substitute for repeated conversations, and long-haul engagement. In politics, relationships will leverage the technology. All technology can do is help you find one another.
Without our help and our knowledge, our elected leaders and governing institutions won’t have the bandwidth to cope with our complex world. This will be a steep climb. But, like nearly every good outcome in politics, the climb starts with an outstretched hand, not one that’s poised at a keyboard, ready to tweet.”