It’s time to write and enforce a digital bill of rights

Last Call

MarcfreyThe internet is a technology breakthrough that has the power to change everything: The way we communicate, the way we interact with each other, the way we do business and even the way we think.

Yet with all it offers, there is no enforceable ethical or legal framework that protects individuals. Most thinking and writing on the matter is focused on technological prowess as we blindly admire its constant growth and growing influence; but not enough has been documented and agreed upon regarding how we should harness its power while curbing its capacity for harm.

For example: Equifax, one of three major consumer credit reporting agencies, did not ask private citizens permission to collect their data. Yet the firm made money off this data, and when it was recently hacked, 143 million U.S. consumers were left to worry about their online footprints. Ironically, one of Equifax’s services is personal data protection.


Technology continues to accelerate. We’ll soon belong to a new ecosystem that links devices, systems, data and people, often referred to as the Internet of Things, or IoT. For illustration purposes, think of applications like Amazon Echo, refrigerators that keep count on how many beers you had, self-driving cars and medical devices that keep track of data, just to name a few. The IoT has the ability to advance society, but with that ability comes great risk of abuse.

In the old world, if the brakes on a car failed due to a manufacturer's default, it was clear who would bear the responsibility. In the future, who’s to blame when a self-driving car gets in an accident due to a hacked traffic system?

Giant companies have emerged in the internet age, but it is unclear if and how they protect our privacy, prevent fake news from clogging our brains, thwart foreign powers from influencing elections, etc. An ethical and legal framework is needed to safeguard us from abuse by companies that do business online.

The implications run deep: privacy, the ability to trust companies and institutions, knowing that data is not being misused, the certainty that we aren’t being spied on, and the ability to get clear and true information. These are fundamental parts of what make America a free country. Otherwise, we’ll watch as the term “private citizen” loses meaning and “free will” becomes an outdated expression.


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