1999: Looking Back, Part 1

It’s been another amazing year in Silicon Valley and the tech world at large, full of highlights and lowlights. My Tuesday column lists the former, as I see them.

What do you think were the tech lowlights of the year? What companies and/or executives screwed up? What government types made our lives worse?

Tripping Linda

Tripp: verb, to betray a friendship, typically by means of surreptitious surveillance, esp. audio tape.

Linda Tripp’s last name has become a verb, and an ugly one. For the rest of her life, her name will be synonymous with betrayal. What she did was loathesome.

Now she’s being prosecuted, in a plainly political way, for her acts. Yes, she broke the law. And yes, we need laws to protect privacy. But when politics turns into prosecution, we are all in danger.

The one benefit of this case is the attention it’s drawn. As William Safire said in a recent New York Times column (free registration required), “The famous Tripp taping of her conversations with Monica, further publicized by this witch hunt in Maryland, may do a lot of good for privacy in America.”

But let’s be clear: This is a witch hunt. The state charges are improper because they are political, and because Tripp is being singled out for a crime that is almost never prosecuted. If she is convicted, the Maryland prosecutors should stop right there and ask for no jail time or fine. Tripp has been punished enough.

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