An Open Letter to the Hamilton County Clerk Regarding Web Site Standards and Accessibility [Updated]

To: CountyClerk@mail.hamiltontn.gov
CC: webmaster@mail.hamiltontn.gov
From: noel at weichbrodt dot org
Subject: Express Tag Renewal Center Online Accessibility

Clerk Knowles (and Webmaster),

I was shocked to find, upon attempting to access your online Express Tag Renewal Center (http://www.countyclerkanytime.com/onlinesvcs.htm), that you do not support standards-based web browsers (https://secure.hamiltontn.gov/cclerk/tags/browser.asp) like Firefox (http://www.getfirefox.com). I and many of my friends and family (all your constituents) only use web browsers that adhere to the formal standards of the web (http://webstandards.org/about/) and that offer full protection from various internet exploits and dangers (http://www.mozilla.org/support/firefox/faq.html#mozvsie). To not offer your services to us because of our choice is both a slight and a self-condemnation.

Upon examination of your county web site, it seems that it currently stands in violation of Section 508 (http://www.section508.gov/index.cfm?FuseAction=Content&ID=3), which mandates compliance with both web standards and disabled accessibility standards (http://webstandards.org/learn/faq/#p312). Though Section 508 is a Federal law, and thus does not directly apply to the County, as a government agency compliance with Section 508 demonstrates your concern for standards and accessibility, especially for your constituents who are disabled (http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/websites2.htm), also (http://www.alistapart.com/stories/politics/). Further, demanding the use of closed-source web browsers ignores the quantifiable superiority of other options (http://www.dwheeler.com/oss_fs_why.html).

There are a number of Chattanooga-based small businesses who are competent in the area of standards-based and accessibility-compliant web design (http://www.aiga50.org/cha/). I suggest that if your IT team does not agree with the industry standards and best practices in this area you avail yourself of their reasonably-priced services.

Please note that I will shortly discuss this issue, along with this letter, on my community blog (http://barelylegalsubstance.chattablogs.com). If you wish for further information regarding what I have mentioned above, or to discuss these matters, please contact me directly.

Thank you for your consideration.

Noel Weichbrodt

Background:
A city employee who wishes to remain anonymous recently wrote this on a Linux-related mailing list:

this sucks… the reason they wanted to know what sort of user-agent info is being sent from Safari is so that they could *allow* that browser to access the County Clerk tag & title website… [I] asked why the hell can’t I use Firefox anymore? Their reason:
Firefox is open source. A hacker could modifiy the code and post a hacked version of Firefox on the net. People download the hacked version of Firefox and it sends passwords and other sensitive information back to the hacker.
…the guy who made the policy to block Firefox [on the Express Tag Renewal Center] is one of the programming team managers here. the programmer said he wanted to block firefox, not because of security issues, but because he didn’t want to code his website to work with all possible browsers.

In light of what the city employee posted, my letter attempts to take the County’s elected officials to task. If you care about this sort of stuff, take a couple minutes and write to the addresses I noted above with your concerns.

This, while other counties are cutting costs and increasing performance by switching to free/open source software.

Update: Added links to the quoted URLs

February 2nd, 2006 | Chattanooga, Law, Letters, Rhetoric, Security, Transparency, Unbelievable | 5 comments

A Modest Proposal to the Librarian of Congress

Submission Information

Proposed class or classes of copyrighted work(s) to be exempted:
Motion Pictures, Software, Audio Recordings, and Digital Text.
Brief summary of the argument(s) in support of the exemption proposed above:
These classes of works (Motion Pictures, Software, Audio Recordings, and Digital Text) have traditionally been granted copyrights for the purpose of encouraging the public dissemination of the works for the benefit and use of the public by providing a property incentive to the originator for a short period of time. The DMCA ignores this traditional cause of granting a copyright, and moreover establishes crippling restrictions on the aforementioned “benefit and use of the public”. As such, the DMCA’s use should be restricted to the text of the DMCA itself, with the consequence being that any private party which attempts to discern the workings of the DCMA with the intent to apply it in any broader fashion outside of the text of the Act itself would be committing a punishable, criminal action under the DMCA.

Just an idea ;)
I am awaiting a response from the LoC.
Found via Slashdot.
(more…)

November 3rd, 2005 | Books, Copyright, Current, Information, Law, Letters, Music, Rhetoric, Science, Security, Sucks, Technology, Transparency | No comments