Laptop ban makes no sense

Laptops are about as popular as cigarette smoking on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Tradition-bound members of the Senate Rules Committee last week voted not to allow lawmakers to use laptop computers for any purpose in the Senate chamber. The voice vote was not recorded. The reasons given for the apparent anti-technology decision were many: They make too much noise run contrary to tradition and our favorite could interfere with senators' "interpersonal communications."

The reality is that a group of individuals charged with overseeing some of the government's largest information technology modernization projects is unwilling to allow even basic computer technology into their work space. When Senate staff members were granted access to the World Wide Web almost two years ago Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) said lawmakers did not want to fall behind their constituents as e-mail video and Internet services become ubiquitous. At a hearing around the same time minority leader Sen. Wendell Ford (D-Ken.) expressed concern about how the Senate could keep its members supplied with the latest systems when technology was advancing so rapidly. We find it hard to believe that these same two lawmakers are among those now trying to stifle the use of technology on the Senate floor.

Journalists are often faulted for what many see as a constant resistance to change. But it is rare indeed to find a newsroom today that is not highly automated. Not only do reporters file stories via computers they frequently take notes and do research on them.

It is hard to come up with a convincing reason why individual lawmakers should not be allowed to trade in pad and pencil for a lightweight laptop computer.

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