Congressional Hearing on Second Life Airs Standard New Tech Concerns

Image: Ed Markey and his avitarThis week, the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet held the first-ever Congressional hearing to learn about virtual worlds. 

Committee Chair, Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, convened the meeting, which took place both in the Rayburn Building in Washington and in a virtual Rayburn Building in Second Life. Representatives asked questions such as: Could Second Life be used as a place to launder money? Are children safe in online worlds? Are there churches in there? Are you making any money? 

Aren’t these the typical worries we now have to overcome on any new technology (except for the church question, which just seems odd)?

Rep. Jane Harman (D-California) voiced concerns about terrorists potentially using virtual worlds for training, recruitment, and fund transfers. Harman, a Democrat from El Segundo, fretted that Islamic terrorists could use Second Life to troll for recruits and even practice attacks in a virtual jihad. “I’m not advocating censorship, but I want to make sure these glorious tools are not abused,” she said. What Harman really seems to be calling for is prior restraint, a form of self-censorship to avoid harsher state action. 

Image: US cyber warriors rule!I’m not worried about terrorists in Second Life. The United States Army already recruits and trains in virtual worlds, using the sometimes-controversial games such as America’s Army. I’m betting our tech-savvy warriors will benefit more from the free use of this medium than jihadists. That’s just my view; am I being cavalier about this, or do you agree that this line of concern is based on worry, rather than fact?

Roderick Jones, of the professionally cautious CounterTerrorism blog, commented on this line of questioning, noting that it “seems highly unlikely jihadi terrorists would use the Second Life platform in its current form.”

I’d also offer that terrorist investment in online worlds seems likely to decrease their productivity, and expose them to infiltration by anonymous avatars. Linden Lab staff review financial transactions over $10; while it’s not a perfect system, there seems to be an absence of abuse, with reasonable tracking measures in place.

Benjamin Duranske ‘s post on Virtually Blind recounts the full hearing on Virtual Worlds, while Wonkette provides satirical coverage in a post called Dorkwad Congressman Holds Hearing in Second Life.

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