Embarrassing stories shed light on U.S. officials' technological ignorance

One U.S. official asked what an ISP is in preparation for cybersecurity negotiations with China.

It's no secret that many U.S. lawmakers are a bit behind the times in terms of technology. One expert speaking at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, shed some light recently on just how far behind some of the most powerful people still are.

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Dr. Peter W. Singer, director of the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, recalled one U.S. official who was "about to negotiate cybersecurity with China" asking him to explain what the term "ISP" (Internet Service Provider) means, according to the Guardian. This wasn't the only example of this lack of awareness.

"That’s like going to negotiate with the Soviets and not knowing what ‘ICBM’ means," Dr. Singer said. "And I’ve had similar experiences with officials from the UK, China and Abu Dhabi."

Similarly, Dr. Singer recalled one account in which Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of the U.S. Homeland Security Department from 2009 to 2013, admitted that she didn't use email "because she just didn’t think it was useful."

"A Supreme Court justice also told me ‘I haven’t got round to email yet’ - and this is someone who will get to vote on everything from net neutrality to the NSA negotiations," Dr. Singer said.

These are hardly the only recent examples of this lack of awareness or understanding. Late last month, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia penned an open letter urging federal regulators to outlaw Bitcoin citing its instability and use among criminals. Those in the Senator's office, however, appeared unaware of Bitcoin alternatives when contacted by The Daily Dot, but declared that Senator Manchin would like those outlawed as well. Last week, Representative Jared Polis from Colorado publicly mocked Senator Manchin's ignorance on the issue with his own, satirical call for a ban on U.S. dollar bills.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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