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Bill of Rights for Cyberspace

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The new 2018 Global Digital suite of reports from We Are Social and Hootsuite reveals that more than 4 billion people are using the internet. The growth in internet use is a great advancement for humankind but there is a darker side to it. There are multiple issues of data breach and increased monitoring of individual internet users. The FBI reports that more than 4,000 ransomware attacks occur daily, while other research sources state that 230,000 new malware samples are produced every day.

In the real world we have the Bill of Rights to protect the civil liberties of American citizens and prevent the government from abusing power, but what do we have for protecting our rights in the digital world? No Bill of Rights exists for cyberspace to protect the civil liberties of individuals. For the scope of this essay, we will focus on the need for creating a Bill of Rights for cyberspace because the right of freedom of expression is not enforced in cyberspace, the right to privacy is breached by private sector organizations and advancements in Artificial Intelligence need to be made accountable for basic human rights.

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Firstly, it seems as if cyberspace has the potential to obliterate true public speech. Freedom of speech is lost due to zoning and censorship in cyberspace. The Internet Community Ports Act (ICPA) suggests that we create special “zones” online where it would be okay for ‘adult’ material to reside, and other zones that would be kid-friendly. This law does not work in cyberspace because cyberspace is a communications medium where everyone is a publisher and decisions need to be made in real-time. To counteracts like these, we need to create the Bill of Rights for cyberspace to save free speech.

Internet censorship is the ability to control or suppress information that can be accessed, published, or viewed on the Internet. Individuals and organizations may engage in self-censorship for moral, religious, or business reasons, to conform to societal norms, due to intimidation, or out of fear of legal or other consequences (Wikipedia).

In the US the perception of internet censorship is mostly based on the First Amendment and the right to free speech and access to content without regard to the consequences. According to GlobalWebIndex, over 400 million people use virtual private networks to circumvent censorship or for increased user privacy.

Secondly, Internet privacy is the privacy and security level of personal data published via the Internet. It is a broad term that refers to a variety of factors, techniques, and technologies used to protect sensitive and private data, communications, and preferences. Currently, the privacy of individuals is being breached by smart closed-circuit television (CCTV), deep packet inspection, and smartphone location tracking. New technologies are making it easier for governments and corporations to learn the minutiae of our online activities. Corporations collect our information to sell to the highest bidder while an expanding surveillance apparatus and outdated privacy laws allow the government to monitor us like never before. Due to these infringements, we need to have the right to privacy in cyberspace.

“In 2019, it’s time to stand up for the right to privacy — yours, mine, all of ours.” Cook writes in an article for Time Magazine.

Perhaps it is not necessary to end mass surveillance, or even to be more transparent on its cyber-intelligence operations, but it is essential to have greater accountability over these operations.

Thirdly, we need to make artificial intelligence accountable for any breach of human rights. Artificial Intelligence is used, for example, to enable systems for mass surveillance. AI can be used to identify and discriminate against the most vulnerable in society. Artificial Intelligence can revolutionize the economy so quickly that it would be impossible to retain any jobs. It could lead to a great loss of employment for humans. Additionally, the complexity of AI systems is hard to fathom so the results provided by them can hardly be verified by humans. We are deploying these systems all over without a thought of the consequences. The use of AI for data analytics and algorithmic decision-making can have an immediate, negative impact on people’s lives, with the potential to hurt our rights on a scale never seen before.

The government has not been inactive it has done its share to protect the rights of its citizens. To combat the infringement of the privacy of individuals the government is trying to encourage good corporate behavior using tax credits or similar financial schemes, but it is not enough for the companies to have adequate security for their clients. The creation of more criminal sanctions to ensure the private sector conforms to cybersecurity laws does not work either because it is the aftermath and the current sanctions are not strong enough. Equifax had a data breach that affected millions but other than financial payouts there was no further penalty. At the end of 2017, the cost of the data breach was $439 million. Of that, Reuters noted Equifax said $125 million will be covered by an insurance policy. Larry Ponemon, chairman of Ponemon Institute, told Reuters the final cost of the breach could end up being more than $600 million. But these measures are not enough to guard the rights of the citizens. All these incidents have led to major economic loss, but no major steps were taken to protect the rights of the individual. We need to have a bill of rights for the citizens to ensure the rights provided in the real world are equivalent in cyberspace.

The rapid advancements in cyberspace have led to the impingement of human rights. The privacy of an individual is being violated by private sector organizations like goggle, Facebook, etc. collecting hordes of unauthorized data of its users. The freedom of expression which is a fundamental right provided by the declaration of independence has been revoked in cyberspace. The government has the authority to take down websites that it feels are a threat to national security. The time has come when all the stakeholders (cybersecurity, digital commerce, artificial intelligence, human rights activist, and technology heads) involved in the governance should come together to ensure that the rights of the individual are protected in the changing scenario of cyberspace by creating a bill of rights for cyberspace.

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