The battle for individual control of privacy (and our personal data) is heating up. Microsoft with its Do Not Track feature in Windows 8, preset to “No”, has just thrown sand into the marketing gears of the Information Age moguls and entrepreneurs. After years of seduction by Silicon Valley on the wonders of the Internet, the reality of loosing our anonymity is finally raising a level of concern, and not just in cyberspace. There is increasing anxiety about traffic cameras, GPS tracking, and robo-call election campaigning to name a few of the other slippery slopes.
The signs of increased push-back and the desire to have more self-initiated control are there as well. It started with unsubscribe requirements newsletters and marketing messages and the Do Not Call list legislation. Now, with caller ID standard on most cellular and landline phones as well as cable television, we have an up-front choice to “opt-in” or “out” of any intrusion. We want to be in control of who invades our “space.” We want to protect our privacy as well as preserve our freedom of choice.
The war, however, is far from won. As with almost everything else in life, this one, too, is about the money. Follow the money. It is the lifeblood of Google, Facebook, and Twitter.
It is also about control. Control the delivery channel down to the individual and you control everything, content included. The writers, artist, photographers, and, yes, the content providers like you and me, are left at their mercy. Take away our personal data and the marketing revenue stream becomes little more than a trickle. But it is more serious than just loss of revenue. It is also about loss of freedom and our loss of anonymity. Like frogs in cold water, we have been steadily loosing our personal freedom as the Internet marketing community slowly turns up the information gathering and usage heat.
Back to the Basics
Freedom is what being a human is all about. Protecting that freedom is why the Founding Fathers wrote the United States Constitution. “Give me liberty…or give me death” was their slogan. The Constitution defines the boundaries and the rules of engagement for protecting that freedom. The American Revolution had many causes…like Taxation without representation, loss of liberty and self-rule, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, speech, and yes, anonymity. Without anonymity and some great thinkers to take advantage of it, the our American Revolution might not have happened. Thomas Paine, Ben Franklin, and others were some of the revolutionary thinkers and writers but the publishers under the cover of anonymity made possible the communication of those ideas. The many wars and global conflicts since then give testimony to the necessity of being prepared to protect and even die for our Constitution and the freedoms it protects.
It was simpler then, but now, the Information Age, and more specifically the conversion from analog to digital of everything, has changed this.
The Internet revolution has its own many causes…like, Freedom of information, Free Software, Free Music, and data access to everything at our fingertips, … Free music, free video, free everything. But do not mistake Free for Freedom. And although there have been many declarations of Internet freedom and independence (John Perry Barlow, Jaron Lanier, 99%, Tea Party, Al Gore) , we have yet to define the new rules — the boundaries of our cyberspace behavior.
A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace
by John Perry Barlow <[email protected]>
Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.
We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.
Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. You have neither solicited nor received ours. We did not invite you. You do not know us, nor do you know our world. Cyberspace does not lie within your borders. Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a public construction project. You cannot. It is an act of nature and it grows itself through our collective actions.
You have not engaged in our great and gathering conversation, nor did you create the wealth of our marketplaces. You do not know our culture, our ethics, or the unwritten codes that already provide our society more order than could be obtained by any of your impositions.
You claim there are problems among us that you need to solve. You use this claim as an excuse to invade our precincts. Many of these problems don’t exist. Where there are real conflicts, where there are wrongs, we will identify them and address them by our means. We are forming our own Social Contract . This governance will arise according to the conditions of our world, not yours. Our world is different.
Cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications. Ours is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live.
We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.
We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.
Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here.
Our identities have no bodies, so, unlike you, we cannot obtain order by physical coercion. We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonweal, our governance will emerge . Our identities may be distributed across many of your jurisdictions. The only law that all our constituent cultures would generally recognize is the Golden Rule. We hope we will be able to build our particular solutions on that basis. But we cannot accept the solutions you are attempting to impose.
In the United States, you have today created a law, the Telecommunications Reform Act, which repudiates your own Constitution and insults the dreams of Jefferson, Washington, Mill, Madison, DeToqueville, and Brandeis. These dreams must now be born anew in us.
You are terrified of your own children, since they are natives in a world where you will always be immigrants. Because you fear them, you entrust your bureaucracies with the parental responsibilities you are too cowardly to confront yourselves. In our world, all the sentiments and expressions of humanity, from the debasing to the angelic, are parts of a seamless whole, the global conversation of bits. We cannot separate the air that chokes from the air upon which wings beat.
In China, Germany, France, Russia, Singapore, Italy and the United States, you are trying to ward off the virus of liberty by erecting guard posts at the frontiers of Cyberspace. These may keep out the contagion for a small time, but they will not work in a world that will soon be blanketed in bit-bearing media.
Your increasingly obsolete information industries would perpetuate themselves by proposing laws, in America and elsewhere, that claim to own speech itself throughout the world. These laws would declare ideas to be another industrial product, no more noble than pig iron. In our world, whatever the human mind may create can be reproduced and distributed infinitely at no cost. The global conveyance of thought no longer requires your factories to accomplish.
These increasingly hostile and colonial measures place us in the same position as those previous lovers of freedom and self-determination who had to reject the authorities of distant, uninformed powers. We must declare our virtual selves immune to your sovereignty, even as we continue to consent to your rule over our bodies. We will spread ourselves across the Planet so that no one can arrest our thoughts.
We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more humane and fair than the world your governments have made before.
February 8, 1996
How should we do this? The American Revolution provided a framework for “self rule” in a new form of government where the people were superior to the “government” but subservient to the rule-of-law. The sovereign state was to protect the individuals and their persons and papers, regulate trade and commerce, negotiate treaties and establish a representative form of government that could respond to future changes. But did it anticipate the internet revolution, the digital age and the rise of corporate oligarchy? Probably not, but they did know that we cannot move forward without a constitution, that we cannot ignore change, that we must live in spite of it and not through loopholes. People matter, rules matter, natural law matters (life, liberty and the pursuits of science, art, happiness). The rule-of-law makes it happen.
It’s back to the basics. John Perry Barlow and Jaron Lanier said that the laws we live by greatly lag the technology of the day or constrain us in ways we cannot see. Nothing could be truer in the 21st century than the vast space between constitutional freedoms and the “rights” of the Internet. Copyright, patents, and other tools for protection of invention and human creativity were designed for the “physical nature” of the Industrial Age. We can touch and feel books and machinery but they are hard to copy. In our digital world, we can copy them without much effort at all. Today, protecting their ownership and value, is far more elusive. We need rules that are no longer as much about safeguarding what things do but protecting the ownership of the intellectual property provided by their creators. Yet, we have precedent. Privacy and anonymity were parts of our founding fathers thinking. We just need to reapply them to today’s thinking.
The great thinkers of our time believe that privacy and anonymity are also principles behind the founding of the Internet. Recently, Bob Metcalfe (founder of the Internet and Ethernet) said that “anonymity was a major design requirement in the TCP/IP protocol” source addresses were not to be “reviewed or analyzed”. The network was to be blind to the traffic it carried. It was not the network’s responsibility to determine the “value” of the packets…”we are living in an era of obscenely abundant bandwidth”…Metcalfe quipped…”look what we are doing with the excess”…”YouTube”
Where do we stand today? Unregulated trade in an individual’s information is a form of slavery even if it includes 99% of the population. Hyperbole yes, but nevertheless we have slid far down the slippery slope of placing corporate greed ahead of individual rights. We need to put the individual, yes, each one of us, back at the top of the list, Numero uno. If we don’t, we can’t help but dissolve into oligarchy and corporate rule. We must stand together for our rights as people by acknowledging that our property can and does also exist in digital form and must be protected.
What do we do?
The Personal Data Coalition believes that the following four barriers must be overcome if we are to resolve the cyber property rights issue: Legal, Financial, Technical, and Sociopolitical.
Legal: The 4th Amendment is popularly viewed as the search and seizure or the man-and-his-castle amendment. Over time, however, interpretations have been made to include the right of privacy in automobiles and with the advent of the digital age, the computer. Although implied, the right of ownership needs to be more clearly defined. Our data is our data regardless if it is shared with a third party (ie Third Party Doctrine). The nature of digital information is it’s ability to transcend physical location. Fundamentally, we need to ask, “Is our personal data our personal property” and “what are our rights”? Answering the question is fundamental to our freedom in the world to come and should be part of our Constitution and “Rules of Engagement”.
Financial: The Internet is still in its “Wild Wild West” phase. Liberties are being taken in the name of convenience and marketing efficiency that are, in reality, leveraging the intellectual and personal property of individuals without proper compensation. It is a form of a Ponzi scheme that if not stopped the consequence is loss of freedom. As discussed earlier in this piece, people are starting to show their concern. The newly formed Personal Data Ecosystem Consortium, perhaps sensing long overdue concern for this issue, is proposing the creation of information management standards. Although their activities may be just “letting the fox in the hen house”, they may be a step in the right direction. As usual the jury is still out and the devil is in the details.
Technical: The Personal Data Coalition and its technical partner PEA Computing have long believed that the over 30 year’s dominance of the Relational Database has been a key barrier to efficient individual information property management. As a consequence, our personal data is scattered over thousand’s of unsupervised databases. Most of it is out of date, inaccurate, misleading, and unsecured. The net result is that there is no single version of the truth, anywhere. And, as we are now learning, the adverse consequences are steadily on the rise.
Sociopolitical: The fear of big brother and Orwell’s 1984 may be the greatest barrier. On the surface providing constitutional protection for personal data would seem to give our government ultimate control of our freedom. Yet, information about us is already in their hands as well as thousands of businesses and individuals. This is not only inefficient and probably dangerous, but will likely lead the very situation that we all fear. The Constitution has provided the order and guidance through the rule-of-law we have needed over the past 200+ years. It can do the same for us for the next 200 years. Thus, it must not be ignored.