We Need an Internet Bill of Rights
The Facebook data scandal. Allegations of Russian “bots” meddling in American elections. Claims of political bias on our digital platforms. Internet-connected devices secretly tracking the most intimate moments of our lives and selling our data to unscrupulous third parties.
Over 90 percent of American adults believe that consumers have lost control of how our personal information is used and gathered. (And in today’s era of hyper-polarization, getting 90+ percent of Americans to agree on anything is nothing short of a miracle!)
The warning signs are unmistakable: The status quo of the Internet Age is unsustainable and increasingly dangerous. The United States of America is in desperate need of bold, new legislative solutions.
The crux of the problem is that America’s internet laws are absurdly outdated. Laughably outdated! My specialty is chargeback fraud. I’m the owner, cofounder and COO of an ecommerce company that manages and protects billions of digital transactions annually. The law governing chargebacks was enacted in 1974 -- nearly 45 years ago!
We’re trying to protect online retail in 2018 with a statute that predates the existence of the World Wide Web!
Each year, outdated internet laws cost us billions of dollars -- Lloyd’s of London estimates the cost of cyberattacks at $400 billion annually), and the problem is rapidly growing: Juniper research predicted that the cost of data breaches will rise to over $2 trillion by 2019. When the growth of fraud outpaces the growth of ecommerce, it’s a recipe for disaster.
Left unchecked, the cost of fraud, theft and data breaches could trigger an ecommerce Armageddon. But even beyond the economic cost, outdated internet laws have also undermined our privacy, sowed confusion and eroded public trust.
I’m not an anti-tech Luddite. I owe my professional livelihood to the Internet; technology has been very good to me. Over the past 20 years, I’ve seen Silicon Valley startups dramatically improve our lives and spur groundbreaking, jaw-dropping innovation -- but then again, I’ve also seen fraudsters, hackers and Big Brother entities brazenly exploit the gaps in our digital laws.
The inescapable truth is, we cannot preserve the good things about the internet if all the bad things continue to go unchecked.
The internet is fully integrated into our lives: We walk around all day with our smartwatches and smartphones. We share WiFi networks. Our families are all on Facebook, uploading photos and private conversations. Smart-speakers are listening to everything we say -- in our bedrooms as well as our kitchens and family rooms. Whenever we’re online, we’re leaving behind an invisible trail of digital fingerprints.
But does the data belong to us? To corporate America? Or to Big Brother? These are some of the privacy concerns that must be addressed. To protect Americans, I propose “The Bill of Rights for the Internet Age”:
The Bill of Rights for the Internet Age: Protecting the Rights of American Citizens
1. Keeping your “browsing history” private: Except in cases of fraud or potential criminal activity, all third parties must receive a citizen’s consent before they track and/or share their “internet history” with others.
2. Full disclosure when being monitored, and the right to opt out: Except in cases of fraud or potential criminal activity, third parties that track or monitor the Internet usage of citizens must, at the citizen’s request, promptly provide a full record of such data; and the right to have the data deleted.
3. Preserving the privacy of your social media accounts: Except in cases of fraud or potential criminal activity, no citizen can be forced to reveal his or her personal social media passwords, or be required to provide access to their personal social media platforms.
4. Ownership of your personal, digital content: All personal photos, images, videos, writings and recordings that a citizen creates and then uploads to a social media platform, interactive website or digital “cloud” will remain the Intellectual and/or Personal Property of the citizen. Unauthorized reproduction of their Intellectual and/or Personal Property will be prohibited.
5. Notification of injurious data breaches: Citizens must be notified about personally injurious security breaches.
6. Fair play on social media platforms and/or internet providers: Social media platforms and internet providers must be transparent with their rules and regulations. Censoring political opinions and/or political content must not be done arbitrarily or capriciously. Whenever possible, political content generated and promoted by foreign countries should be labeled as such.
7. Protecting children on social media: Social media platforms must enable parents and guardians to monitor the social media activities of their children. Parents and guardians must have the right to adjust settings and remove undesirable content on their child’s account.
8. Protection from “unfunded government mandates” on data-mining: Whenever the government requires businesses to track and collect the personal data of citizens, reasonable precautions must be enacted to protect the data. Business must have the right to petition the government for additional assistance.
9. Keeping your health and fitness data private: Personal data about your health, DNA (genetic), daily activity level and individual fitness, including the data collected by smartphones, smartwatches and wearable tech may not be disclosed without a citizen’s expressed consent.
10. Safeguarding email and text communications: Except in cases of fraud or potential criminal activity, a citizen’s personal email account and personal text messages will be afforded the same legal protections as “snail mail” (traditional mail).
It’s my hope that “The Bill of Rights for the Internet Age” will spark public debate, raise awareness and, ultimately, result in a better online experience for all Americans.
Tech isn’t inherently good or evil; it’s simply a tool. Our job is to use it wisely and to be far more vigilant when it comes to our data, privacy and personal freedoms. In the immortal words of Thomas Jefferson, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” That was true in the 1700s; it’s just as true in 2018.
"The Bill of Rights for the Internet Age” is an important first step of a very long journey. And since we’re still in the embryonic stage of the Internet Revolution, this just might be the most consequential journey of our generation.