by Mike Banks
At a time when critical issues of national importance are being
discussed in basement rooms at the US Capitol due to Anthrax laced
letters sent to government offices, email has become more important
than ever for person-to-person communications. Bioterrorism has
now impacted even email. No worry that you'll get sick when you
next check your email inbox since terrorists have not yet figured
out how to send those powdery spores via email attachments (digitizing
Anthrax spores seems to kill the little critters).
I sent email to my representatives this week expressing concern
about how the Anti-Terrorism Bill signed by President Bush poses
extensive threats to civil liberties. Even though it was routinely
editorialized by major newspapers as going too far without usual
protections against abuse by policing agencies, while the final
bill does require judicial oversight and the bill was given a four
year sunset clause to end it in 2005. I expected the usual replies
from those officials in the form of canned "Thank-you-for-sharing
your-thoughts-and-concerns" email. What I got back concerns me even
My Senator returned an email urging me to call the local office
to express my feelings because . . . "As IÕm sure you know, letters
containing anthrax have disrupted Congress by forcing the closure
of the House and Senate office buildings. The Capitol, however,
remains open and legislative work continues." What has that to do
with email Senator?
The Senator goes on . . . "Currently IÕve received approximately
30,000 letters and emails which, because of the closure of the Senate
office buildings, my staff and I have been unable to open and process.
Thousands of more letters are being held by the Capitol Police."
Sorry Senator, that doesn't fly, it falls flat an excuse for access
I have an old college buddy who works for another senator who tells
me he's set up at home to retrieve the office emails and continues
to work from there. I know the flow of email has not slowed due
to Anthrax and it is now an even more reliable method to reach elected
representatives, as it can be retrieved from anywhere.
How did my Congressperson respond? "This reply is not your final
correspondence from me -- it's just an automatic acknowledgment
that I have received your e-mail. I will send you a response through
the regular mail service that addresses your specific concern. However,
in order to ensure that I can respond properly, I ask that you reply
back with your full mailing address, including street address, city
and zip code."
Swell, now they're responding to email via snail mail! I prefer
the email Congressman. The present danger is not just to our physical
health from Anthrax, but more to the health of democracy when policy
makers are inaccessible to constituents. My concern now is that
they don't seem to value email as an effective way to communicate
with the voting public. The average person in this country now has
four email addresses and can be reached at work, at home and on
the road via web-based email. This could be said to compare to having
multiple writing pads and pens at work, at home and on the road.
While the famous "Carnivore" email intercepting technology sought
by the FBI will now easily track and monitor our correspondence
with Presidential approval, Congresspersons and Senators seem to
want to continue to communicate by snail mail when it makes even
less sense now to do so. Nevermind that email doesn't cost nearly
as much as regular postal mail. My Congressman continued . . .
"Again, thank you for your e-mail message. I am privileged to serve
as your voice in Congress." I want to know who is serving as my
EARS in Congress since email seems an unreliable method of communication
with representatives and regular mail is "being held by the capitol
police" as email goes unanswered but for canned responses making
excuses for lack of response and then promising to send me expensive
postal mail to answer my concerns.
We take email seriously (well except for silly urban myths and endlessly-forwarded-cutesy-pass-it-on-absurdities)
in that it is a routine part of nearly everyones life now. Physical
access to government office buildings is blocked and communication
by snail mail is nearly impossible, while phone access is much more
cumbersome. It's time our representatives began to take email just
a bit more seriously. ItÕd be nice if they answered it too.
Mike Valentine does Search Engine Placement for the Small
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