Congressman Adam Smith talks Tacoma tech

Last week’s annual South Sound Technology (SST) conference brought together business, technology and government leaders to investigate new areas of growing technology in the South Sound.
One standout participant and SST regular was Congressman and technophile Adam Smith. Congressman Smith, who represents Washington’s 9th District, has become one of the House’s experts on technology, telecommunications, and economic growth issues, including intellectual property and copyright on the Internet, digital signature and broadband.
We caught up with Congressman Adam Smith to see what our man in Washington thinks about technology, Tacoma and the Internet.
Q: Tell us about the South Sound Technology conference and its purpose?
Smith: One of our big missions is to attract technology companies to the South Puget Sound region, essentially because we want to grow the economy down here, create more economic opportunity, more jobs for folks. Technology is one obvious way to do that. We feel we have the workforce, the network, the retail space that is affordable that can attract technology companies to come to the South Sound to help create jobs and grow our economy.
Q: What are you doing to elevate awareness and programs on technology in Washington state?
Smith: I’ve been meeting fairly constantly with opinion leaders and people in the media, letting them know what we are doing down here in Tacoma, the “#1 Wired City.”
Cable was cheaper and better in the Tacoma/Pierce County area because we have competition here between Click Network and AT&T. We have a lot of opportunity in Tacoma for technology-minded companies and we want to let them know about it.
Q: What can we in the community do to get the tech industry built and growing in Tacoma?
Smith: Get the message out. Talk to the media and let folks know what we have. We’re also doing meetings with specific companies in Seattle or more broadly, letting them know of the opportunities in the South Sound. We’re coordinating with city/county officials to try to make this as attractive a place to do business as possible.
Q: Are you involved with the Digital Copyright issues and what’s your position?
Smith: Yes, I’m involved. I really believe in protecting intellectual property and copyright. The reason I believe in that is if you protect intellectual property and copyright, people will develop new technologies. They will move forward because they will be rewarded for their ideas.
The problem with Digital Millennium Copyright Act and some proposals for the Digital Rights Management issue is, while it protects intellectual copyright, it strangles innovation because it restricts consumer’s fair use to those products.
It also makes it more difficult for people to come along and develop the next generation of products because they’re so restricted on how they can use them. So the whole purpose in protecting intellectual property and copyright laws to help develop new technologies is, in essence, thwarted in this instance.
We need to make sure consumers and fair use are protected – and it is at risk. The basic ability that we all take for granted is there is a show on TV, you’re not going to be around and you can record it and watch it the next day. It’s possible that now might not be around if we don’t protect fair use as these issues are decided.
And it goes way beyond that individual issue. This gets into the broadband issue. Consumers need reasons to use broadband. If technologies and the access to use them are restricted, there’s one less reason for them to get broadband.
Q: What issues face Congress to build out the broadband infrastructure?
Smith: It’s connected to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Making sure we can protect innovation is one of the best things we can do.
Otherwise, a lot of tax credits, make sure people have incentives to build networks.
But right now its as much a demand problem as it is a supply problem. Congress can’t just wave a magic wand and spread. The technology has to develop, people have to feel like they absolutely have to have it.
Q: There’s concern about government getting involved in monitoring users online for public safety and homeland security. What are your thoughts on privacy and what we may have to give up as a citizen to better protect our country from cyber attacks and terrorism?
Smith: I think that, with the free flow of information, comes some privacy issues. Information about you – financial, personal – is just easier to move around more quickly now. That does place some of that information at risk.
But I’m concerned about the government stepping in and restricting that free flow of information.
You can think that there are only bad things about having your information floating around.
But there are also good things that we take for granted. In most cases, you can get qualified for a home loan in 24 hours. Why? Because mortgage companies have access to information about you.
Furthermore, you can get a much better rate on that loan because they can process it more quickly because they have access to that information.
I know that a lot of people get excited about what QFC and Safeway are doing with the card. Personally, my wife and I like it. They send us coupons for things that we want. That’s positive. I don’t think you can be opposed to marketing in a capitalistic economy.
What we have to make sure is that marketing doesn’t violate people’s fundamental right to privacy. I want to make sure that any legislation drafted doesn’t go too far.
Q: What are your thoughts on regulating the growth and proliferation of e-mail spam?
Smith: My primary concern there is you don’t over regulate and strangle the Internet. There are increasing technological solutions to this problem that consumers can do to protect themselves.
Just about any way government drafts that legislation, they’re going to be stepping in front of a legitimate business.
Q: How are you using the Internet to help your campaign and get your message out to your constituents?
Smith: The single best way we use it in my office is to get information to people. We are able to quickly send e-mails to selected groups of people.
If there are folks who are interested in technology, if something comes up – boom – we send them information. Technology and e-mail has helped us most in keeping in touch with our constituents. I represent 640,000 people.
The toughest part of that job is I’m suppose to know what they’re thinking all the time, which is, of course, impossible. But with e-mail its much easier.
Q: Do you see Congress using the Internet more?
Smith: Yes, slowly. I’m on the Armed Services Committee, so I’m trying to plug technology into the military in a variety of different ways.
I’m also involved with Homeland Security. I just met with the Savi company ( which has a technology to track containers throughout the world so you know what’s in them and whether or not the seal has been broken. It’s great technology that’s been helping the Department of Defense for ten years.
We now want to use it on the Homeland Security issue. You can better monitor the sites you want to protect using the Internet. You can have a constant stream of pictures and information available.
There is a company right here in Tacoma that is working on that. I’m trying to develop a comprehensive security site so that you have pictures, maps, everything you need to see right there in one place if an incident happens.
Q: What are you doing with Homeland Security?
Smith: I’m trying to get individual companies plugged in with the local agencies that have things to secure like the Port of Tacoma and the Port of Seattle.
Q: On a personal note, what are your favorite Web sites?
Smith: Keep in mind, I get more information thrown at me on a daily basis than your average person. I’m trying to process what I already get.
But I’m a sports fanatic so I go to a lot. I’ll look at
I make the occasional purchase online. When I purchased a laptop, I went to to get a breakdown on what’s out there. It was very helpful.
More information and opinion pieces on issues such as local technology, homeland security and national defense are available on Congressman Smith’s Web site at By the way, his site is compliant with the Platform for Privacy Preference Project (P3P) specification.
Dana Greenlee is a Web designer and co-host of the WebTalkGuys Radio Show, a Tacoma-based talk show featuring technology news and interviews. It is broadcast locally on KLAY 1180 AM Saturdays at 11 a.m. The show is also on CNET Radio in San Francisco and Boston, on the Web at, and via the XM Satellite Network, on IM Networks’ Sonic Box and on the Mobil Broadcast Network. Past shows and interviews are also Webcast via the Internet at