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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Legislating Via Pokemon Go

The New York Times reports on an awful innovative approach to policy making:

Since its introduction this month, the app known as Pokémon Go has sent millions of players chasing after imaginary creatures in parks, city streets and, occasionally, ditches and trees.

But according to two New York State lawmakers, the game has the potential to lead children to a more frightening locale: the homes of sexual predators.

In an informal investigation by Senators Jeffrey D. Klein and Diane J. Savino, staff members took a list of 100 registered sex offenders across New York City and compared it with locations where Pokémon Go players could collect virtual items or use other game features.

In 59 cases, those locations were within half a block of offenders’ homes. The staff members, who played the game for two weeks, also found 57 Pokémon — which appear on players’ phones as if they exist in the real world — near the offenders’ homes, according to a report the senators released on Friday. Such overlap has been reported in other states, including California and North Carolina.
What is the result of the senators' inability to maintain discipline among their staff members? Why new policy of course! The Times continues:
In New York, those discoveries prompted Mr. Klein, a Democrat who represents parts of the Bronx and Westchester County, and Ms. Savino, a Staten Island Democrat, to propose two pieces of legislation, scheduled to be introduced next week. 
The first would prevent moderate or high-risk sex offenders from playing so-called augmented-reality games — like Pokémon Go — and the second would require the games’ creators to cross-reference their virtual landscapes with lists of offenders’ homes and remove any “in-game objective” within 100 feet of them.
Critics of the law point out that there have been no reports of the game leading to more crime on the part of sex offenders.

Laws targeting sex offenders are unlikely to be met with many challenges, as few groups advocate on sex offenders' behalf. And it is theoretically possible that events may come to pass in which Klein and Savino's fears are realized and Pokemon Go players who stray too close to the homes of sex offenders are victimized.

While I have heard a lot of strange stories about the trials and tribulations Pokemon Go players face, victimization at the hands of sex offenders is not an anecdote with which I am familiar. Klein and Savino's proposals may sound sensible, but they do not appear to prevent any actual harm.

Additionally, the proposal to place restrictions on the game's creators may lead to delays and restrictions on the app's use and availability in New York. While people tend not to care about hardships faced by sex offenders, Klein and Savino may face an unexpected backlash from the nostalgic hipster crowd should their restrictions on the app become law.

Merits of the proposals aside, my main reason for highlighting these policies is the awful methodology that led to their creation. Senators staff members wandered around New York and played Pokemon Go for two weeks. Indeed, here are the last few sentences of the article:
While Mr. Klein said addressing Pokémon Go would be one of his top priorities for the new legislative session in January, he also said his staff members seemed to enjoy researching the report. 
“A lot of them are very good at it,” Mr. Klein said. “They’re really into the game.”
These policies and the "work" leading to their creation are the type of government work straight out of an episode of The Thick of It. Indeed, I suspect that Klein and/or Savino started wondering where their staff members were, and a clever intern came up with the excuse that they were playing Pokemon Go as a form of policy research.

These policy proposals and their development present a rare insight into the process of policy development. I hope that I am not the only one who is appalled that government time and resources are allocated based on staff members' temporary obsession with catching imaginary creatures on their smartphones.

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