What’s Wrong with Congress

I believe that the greatest reason for the failure of the modern incarnation of the elective body of Congress is precisely because it is elected. It has come to believe that its purpose is to be elected again, therefore much of its energy is devoted to that goal alone. And I’m not just talking about lobbyists and pork barrel projects here.

As evidence, I submit the new bill introduced by Rep. Pete King of NY’s 3rd district. The proposed law, referred to as the “Camera Phone Predator Alert Act,” would require any mobile phone containing a digital camera to sound a tone whenever a photograph is taken with the camera’s phone, and prohibits such a phone from being equipped with a means of disabling or silencing the tone.

The premise behind this ill-conceived legislation is to protect children from people taking their picture for harmful purposes without them being aware. Let’s be clear here. There are ample laws on the books now which makes the taking of such pictures illegal. The laws are so broadly inclusive at present that they are being used to prosecute teenagers as sex offenders who take lewd photos of themselves and send them to their boyfriends. (While this behavior is criminally stupid, it is hardly criminal.) So any argument that this law is needed for prosecution purposes falls pretty flat.

Further, the nature of “predator” is premeditated. Anyone determined to take such a photo would have ample opportunity to acquire a small camera or video cam, neither of which are covered by the law. There are so many ways around this law that it is laughably unenforceable. Presumably a camera-phone that shouted “Free Candy!” every time it snapped a picture would meet the law’s requirements. The bill’s very existence makes its author look like he understands absolutely nothing about digital photography. Not to mention that while people Mr. King’s age have a mental preconception that cameras should make a nice mechanical click, children, most of whom have never heard of film, have no such expectation.

So would this bill’s passage make our children safer? No. The bill might as well require that anyone intending to do harm to children must wear a neon pink cone shaped hat at least 12″ tall, with optional tassel on top. But then its purpose isn’t really to protect the children, it’s to protect Mr. King’s chances of reelection. Whether the bill passes or not, he can claim during his next campaign that he’s an advocate for the children. And voters, most of whom won’t look any deeper than the bullets on the glossy brochure, will buy it. In the meantime, effort in Congress is wasted on self-aggrandizing political stunts like this.

And we wonder why nothing happens there… the reality would seem to be that lots and lots happens there. It’s just that most of it is not done to benefit us. It’s done to benefit the next campaign.

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