Things we can agree on.

I had the misfortune recently of sitting through a discussion of the policies of both Presidential candidates on data protection and cybersecurity. Or so I thought.

While the representative from the Obama campaign, a respected law professor and privacy expert who I have seen testify before Congress many times, was direct but cautious in his answers to the moderator’s less-than-pointed questions, the representative from the McCain side, a former FTC commissioner who has also done good work on privacy issues, filibustered, brought up irrelevant things like ACORN instead of talking about problems with the REAL ID Act, and managed to mention taxes 3 or 4 times at least. I’ll have to check my tape while I write the straight news article on the event.

So I left the Rayburn building feeling a bit down about our prospects for achieving things like more broadband access or sane copyright enforcement. But then I got a call from an acquaintance familiar with some of my older blogging work, asked me what I think about Network Neutrality.

Now, I make my living as a journalist. I strive to be objective, which to me means being fair and yes, balanced in how I report on events. This doesn’t mean I give equal time to both sides, or I don’t find a way to debunk a statement or ask a tough question when I hear someone lie to me. It means I keep an open mind, observe, and report. If something is wrong, I find out and report that. I don’t opine for myself. For someone who is self-taught and started as a blogger, it’s not easy. But even as a blogger, I try to be nuanced. There’s too much “hate speech” going around on tech policy topics, whether copyright protection, network management or intercarrier compensation (don’t ask). And topics as complex as these can’t always be boiled down to right and wrong, black or white, A or B.

Back to my phone call. I was giving my personal opinion, based on my years of experience following the telecommunications industry in the private sector, as a journalist, and as someone who enjoys thinking about the law.  Actually, I wasn’t giving much of an opinion at all. How can I?

Surely, there are legitimate issues in dealing with things like network management or network neutrality. They’re complex. They’re often overblown and turned into political footballs. But it’s perfectly reasonable, I said, to believe in things like equal opportunity, rule of law and honesty. Don’t lie. Don’t cheat. Don’t steal. Don’t tip the scales on either side. Do the right thing. Simple, right?

Does that translate into specific policies I advocate? Absolutely not. I’m no more in favor of specific regulations than I am of total deregulation. If you ask me what I really think about a specific net neutrality bill, I honestly don’t have an opinion one way or the other. Really. I just told you what I think one paragraph ago.

I’ll boil it down to this: Look at any policy issue and ask what the right thing to do is. It’s right to make sure the consumer gets what he pays for. It’s right to make sure if someone owns something and another uses it (outside of fair use), the owner gets paid. How do we get there? I’ll let others talk about it and I’ll sit back and report. And if I see bullshit, I’ll ask about it.

What’s my opinion? I don’t know, and I probably don’t care. The wonks and the businesses can hammer out the details. But I think we can all agree that there are things we can agree on in technology.