Hawaii Innovation Alliance Launched
On the national front, we had the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA), beaten back by a massive groundswell of opposition from major internet firms and grassroots geeks alike. Here in Hawaii, a proposed law that would have required internet service providers to track and save user data for two years was shelved after a similar uproar from the tech community.
At the same time lawmakers at both the federal and local level are pushing for stronger regulation of the internet, it looks like the internet is finding its voice and fighting back.
At the Hawaii State Capitol, more than 30 bills have been introduced related to "cybercrime," proposing things like increasing penalties for web designers and developers that use "unauthorized graphics," or making "unauthorized computer access in the 1st degree" a Class A felony (on par with violent crimes like rape and murder).
Some of these bills are well intentioned, but have grievous unintended consequences. Others seem to be rooted in petty, personal squabbles. But this apparent upswing in legislative activity aimed at technology clearly calls for greater participation and a stronger voice from the tech industry.
Tonight on Bytemarks Cafe, the weekly science and technology show I co-host with Burt Lum, we brought two leading voices into the studio to review some of the proposals before the 2012 legislature. While Daniel Leuck and Peter Kay touched on a few of the specific bills in circulation, their main message was a broader one.
"It's time for the tech industry here to grow up," Kay said, outlining a three stage plan to move forward.
First, he said, we need to address current legislation, tracking bills and submitting testimony in a coordinated, constructive way. Ideally, the tech industry should stay ahead of lawmakers, working with them before new laws are even drafted.
Secondly, we need to have a unified voice. Whether it's a grassroots, decentralized coalition or a formal organization with a bona fide full-time lobbyist, the tech community needs to be better represented, and represented consistently. The community includes both well-funded firms to bootstrapped startups and independent entrepreneurs. Given its growing size and proven savvy with tools like social media, it shouldn't be hard for us to have a real impact.
Finally, Kay said, Hawaii needs a tech candidate. Someone with the knowledge and backing of the tech industry needs to get into office and fully represent its interests. Of course, he said, Rep. Kym Pine's district would be a great place to start.
You can download the MP3 audio file of today's show (or better yet, subscribe to the podcast in iTunes and get the latest Hawaii tech and science news each week).
Following our radio show, the conversation continued at a "Tech Town Hall." It was held at The Greenhouse in Kakaako and streamed live on the web, and dozens of people showed up and spoke up. Veterans of the legislative process, including Yuka Nagashima of the HTDC and Susan Jaworowski, shared their insights on how to be effective lobbyists. Attorney Ryan Hew spoke on how laws are drafted.
Tech currently has a bad reputation, Nagashima said, so it's important to avoid looking like a 'one-trick pony' (a la Act 221). She added, "Decisions are made by people who show up."
Hew said: "Use statistics when submitting testimony. Long rambling manifestos make you look like a crazy person."
The conversation was live tweeted with the hashtag #HiTechTown, and you can watch the full recording of the event below:
The gathering solidified the Hawaii Innovation Alliance, which started as a simple Facebook group that Kay set up in the lead up to the HPR radio show (and enlisted Burt and I as co-administrators). After tonight, HIA is quickly growing into an official organization, with a charter in the works and several committees already formed.
Tara Coomans, head of the Hawaii chapter of the Social Media Club, had called into our show. After the Tech Town Hall, she was heading the HIA Communications Committee. Jaworowski, another caller, now co-chairs the Education Committee. She's already shared a series of videos that she created to explain the state legislature website.
So what happens now? Join the Facebook group to find out. A separate website is already in the works.
Meanwhile, organizing and advancing HIA is likely to be a key session at the fifth annual Unconferenz, taking place Feb. 25 at Kapiolani Community College.
Geeks of all stripes are encouraged to register... even those with no interest in politics. There are a number of proposed sessions on the table, covering everything from mobile app development to "design thinking."