iPod of death condemned by irrefutable anecdotal evidence. Apparently.

February 10, 2007

Now more on the great iPod menace I mentioned earlier.

The Pedestrian Council of Australia tells us:

The makers of the iPod should be responsible for warning users of the dangers of using the music player while crossing roads

Excellent. Now we just need someone to warn us about the danger of crossing the road while stupid.

But NSW police warned against legislating for “stupidity”.

Hooray!

While he [Senator Kruger] did not give any statistical evidence to support his claim, he cited the death last month of a 23-year-old man from Brooklyn who was struck by a bus while listening to his iPod.

Ah, anecdotal evidence. How can mere statistics and scientific rigor compete with that?

But the State Traffic Commander, Chief Superintendent John Hartley, said: “You can’t legislate stupidity – if people are stupid enough to do something that’s so distracting they can’t see cars coming, that’s a problem they need to deal with.”

And that is another point here. In 2006, Bruce Schneier presented a lecture as part of the USC Public Diplomacy and Technology Speaker Series on the future of privacy, where he said:

To me good laws are technologically invariant. That if you are going to write a good law it can’t hinge on a particular technology.

What he was saying was that technology is changing at a such a fast pace now that legislation cannot keep up, and thus a good law should relate to the actual issue, rather than a specific technology. (For instance a law protecting the privacy of personal communications would be better than a law specifically protecting paper mail, because not only are email, instant messaging etc. not explicitly covered, but implementation specific issues such as “message in transit” are dangerously out of context when applied to the different technologies.)

In this case, the issue is “any distraction to the person crossing the road”. The person in question is primarily placing only themselves at risk, but if you think that you can (or should) legislate against that, any law to do so that singles out a particular technology will not only be stupid and discriminatory political point scoring, but largely pointless and ineffectual as well.

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