Alexander Howard has put together this excellent compendium of comments on Mike Rosenwald’s new Washington Post editorial, “Will the Twitter Police make Twitter boring?” I was pleased to see that so many others had the same reaction to Rosenwald’s piece that I did.
For the life of me, I cannot understand how anyone can equate counter-speech with “Twitter Police,” but that’s essentially what Rosenwald does in his essay. The examples he uses in his essay are exactly the sort of bone-headed and generally offensive comments that I would hope we would call out and challenge robustly in a deliberative democracy. But when average folks did exactly that, Rosenwald jumps to the preposterous conclusion that it somehow chilled speech. Stranger yet is his claim that “the Twitter Police are enforcing laws of their own making, with procedures they have authorized for themselves.” Say what? What laws are you talking about, Mike? This is just silly. These people are SPEAKING not enforcing any “laws.” They are expressing opinions about someone else’s (pretty crazy) opinions. This is what a healthy deliberative democracy is all about, bud!
Moreover, Rosenwald doesn’t really explain what a better world looks like. Is it one in which we all just turn a blind eye to what many regard as offensive or hair-brained commentary? I sure hope not!
I’m all for people vigorously expressing their opinions but I am just as strongly in favor of people pushing back with opinions of their own. You have no right to be free of social sanction if your speech offends large swaths of society. Speech has consequences and the more speech it prompts, the better.
In mid-April, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requested comments regarding “the consumer privacy and security issues posed by the growing connectivity of consumer devices, such as cars, appliances, and medical devices” or the so-called “Internet of Things.” This is in anticipation of a November 21 public workshop that the FTC will be hosting on the same issue.
These issues are finally starting to catch the attention of the public and policymakers alike with the rise of wearable computing, remote home automation and monitoring technologies, smart grids, autonomous vehicles and intelligent traffic systems, and so on. The Internet of Things represents the next great wave of Internet innovation, but it also represents the next great battleground in the field of Internet policy.
I filed comments with the FTC today in this proceeding and made a few simple points about why they should proceed cautiously here. A summary of my filing follows. Continue reading →
My colleague Eli Dourado brought to my attention this XKCD comic and when tweeting it out yesterday he made the comment that “Half of tech policy is dealing with these people”:
The comic and Eli’s comment may bit a bit snarky, but something about it rang true to me because while conducting research on the impact of new information technologies on society I often come across books, columns, blog posts, editorials, and tweets that can basically be summed up with the line from that comic: “we should stop to consider the consequences of [this new technology] before we …” Or, equally common is the line: “we need to have a conversation about [this new technology] before we…”
But what does that really mean? Certainly “having a conversation” about the impact of a new technology on society is important. But what is the nature of that “conversation”? How is it conducted? How do we know when it is going on or when it is over? Continue reading →
Just FYI… The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) is looking for a full-time Program Manager for its new project focused on Internet, communications, and technology policy. The job description can be found online here and is pasted down below:
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The American Enterprise Institute seeks a full-time Program Manager for its new project focused on Internet, communications, and technology policy.
This project will advance policies to encourage innovation, competition, liberty, and growth, creating a positive agenda centered on the political economy of creative destruction. The Program Manager will work closely with the Program Director in the development and day-to-day management of the project; conducting research; developing a new blog website; commissioning monographs and reports; and coordinating events.
Additionally, the Research Program Manager is expected to: Continue reading →
The International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) has been running some terrific guest essays on its Privacy Perspectives blog lately. (I was honored to be asked to submit an essay to the site a few weeks ago about the ongoing Do Not Track debate.) Today, the IAPP has published one of the most interesting essays on the so-called “right to be forgotten” that I have ever read. (Disclosure: We’ve written a lot here about this issue here in the past and have been highly skeptical regarding both the sensibility and practicality of the notion. See my Forbes column, “Erasing Our Past on the Internet,” for a concise critique.)
In her fascinating and important IAPP guest essay, archivist Cherri-Ann Beckles asks, ”Will the Right To Be Forgotten Lead to a Society That Was Forgotten?” Beckles, who is Assistant Archivist at the University of the West Indies, powerfully explains the importance of archiving history and warns about the pitfalls of trying to censor history through a “right to be forgotten” regulatory scheme. She notes that archives “protect individuals and society as a whole by ensuring there is evidence of accountability in individual and/or collective actions on a long-term basis. The erasure of such data may have a crippling effect on the advancement of a society as it relates to the knowledge required to move forward.”
She concludes by arguing that:
From the preservation of writings on the great pharaohs to the world’s greatest thinkers and inventors as well as the ordinary man and woman, archivists recognise that without the actions and ideas of people, both individually and collectively, life would be meaningless. Society only benefits from the actions and ideas of people when they are recorded, preserved for posterity and made available. Consequently, the “right to be forgotten” if not properly executed, may lead to “the society that was forgotten.”
Importantly, Beckles also stresses the importance of individual responsibility and taking steps to be cautious about the digital footprints they leave online. “More attention should instead be paid to educating individuals to ensure that the record they create on themselves is one they wish to be left behind,” she notes. “Control of data at the point of creation is far more manageable than trying to control data after records capture.”
Anyway, read the whole essay. It is very much worth your time.
Today over at the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) Daily Dashboard blog, I have a guest post entitled, “Let’s Not Place All Our Eggs in the Do Not Track Basket.” The essay builds on my Senate Commerce Committee testimony last week by arguing that:
If there’s one lesson I’ve learned in twenty-one years of covering information technology policy, it’s that there are no simple silver-bullet solutions to complex issues like online safety, hate speech, spam, cybersecurity, data breaches or digital privacy. Problems such as these demand a layered, multifaceted approach that incorporates many solutions, the first among these being education and awareness-based efforts.
I continue on to explain why that means we should be cautious about placing too much faith in privacy techno-fixes like Do Not Track, which won’t likely be any more successful than past silver bullet efforts. (Note: Justin Brookman of CDT will be offering a counterpoint to my essay next week on the IAPP blog. I look forward to seeing what he has to say. He also testified alongside me in the Senate last week.)
Anyway, if you are interested in the issues discussed in my IAPP guest post, you might also want to check out some of the related essays down below the fold: Continue reading →
Following up on Eli’s earlier post (“Does CDT believe in Internet freedom?”), I thought I’d just point out that we’ve spent a great deal of time here through the years defending real Internet freedom, which is properly defined as “freedom from state action; not freedom for the State to reorder our affairs to supposedly make certain people or groups better off or to improve some amorphous ‘public interest.’” All too often these days, “Internet freedom,” like the term “freedom” more generally, is defined as a set of positive rights/entitlements complete with corresponding obligations on government to delivery the goods and tax/regulate comprehensively to accomplish it. Using “freedom” in that way represents a grotesque corruption of language and one that defenders of human liberty must resist with all our energy.
I’ll be writing more about this in upcoming columns, but here’s a short list of past posts on Internet freedom, properly defined:
- The Problem with the “Declaration of Internet Freedom” & the “Digital Bill of Rights” – by Adam Thierer (July 2, 2012)
- A Note to Congress: The United Nations Isn’t a Serious Threat to Internet Freedom—but You Are – by Jerry Brito & Adam Thierer (The Atlantic, June 19, 2012)
- Does the Internet Need a Global Regulator? – by Adam Thierer (Forbes, May 6, 2012)
- More Confusion about Internet “Freedom” – by Adam Thierer (Mar. 1, 2011)
- Internet Freedom–Real vs Imagined – by Adam Thierer (Dec. 12, 2007)
- A Response to Andrew McLaughlin on Net Neutrality & “Freedom” – by Adam Thierer (July 9, 2011)
- Web 2.0, Section 230, and Nozick’s “Utopia of Utopias” – by Adam Thierer (Jan. 13, 2009)
- Cyber-Libertarianism: The Case for Real Internet Freedom - by Adam Thierer & Berin Szoka (Aug. 12, 2009)
- Broadband as a Human Right (and a short list of other things I am entitled to on your dime) – by Adam Thierer (Oct. 14, 2009)
- “Internet Freedom”: How Statists Corrupt Our Language – by Berin Szoka (Oct. 27, 2009)
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the publication of Technologies of Freedom: On Free Speech in an Electronic Age by the late communications theorist Ithiel de Sola Pool. It was, and remains, a remarkable book that is well worth your time whether you read it long ago or are just hearing about it for the first time. It was the book that inspired me when I first read in 1994 to abandon my chosen field of study (trade policy) and do a deep dive into the then uncharted waters of information technology policy.
A Technological Nostradamus
Long before most of the world had heard about this thing called “the Internet” or using terms like “cyberspace” or even “electronic superhighway,” Pool was describing this emerging medium, thinking about its ramifications, and articulating the optimal policies that should govern it. In Technologies of Freedom, Pool set forth both a predictive vision of future communications and “electronic publishing” markets as well as a policy vision for how those markets should be governed. “Networked computers will be the printing presses of the twenty-first century,” Pool argued in a remarkably prescient chapter on the future of electronic publishing. “Soon most published information will disseminated electronically,” and “there will be networks on networks on networks,” he predicted. “A panoply of electronic devices puts at everyone’s hands capacities far beyond anything that the printing press could offer.” As if staring into a crystal ball, Pool predicted: Continue reading →
Defining “privacy” is a legal and philosophical nightmare. Few concepts engender more definitional controversies and catfights. As someone who is passionate about his own personal privacy — but also highly skeptical of top-down governmental attempts to regulate and/or protect it — I continue to be captivated by the intellectual wrangling that has taken place over the definition of privacy. Here are some thoughts from a wide variety of scholars that make it clear just how frustrating this endeavor can be:
- “Perhaps the most striking thing about the right to privacy is that nobody seems to have any very clear idea what it is.” – Judith Jarvis Thomson, “The Right to Privacy,” in Philosophical Dimensions of Privacy: An Anthology, 272, 272 (Ferdinand David Schoeman ed., 1984).
- privacy is “exasperatingly vague and evanescent.” – Arthur Miller, The Assault on Privacy: Computers, Data Banks, and Dossiers, 25 (1971).
- “[T]he concept of privacy is infected with pernicious ambiguities.” – Hyman Gross, The Concept of Privacy, 42 N.Y.U. L. REV. 34, 35 (1967).
- “Attempts to define the concept of ‘privacy’ have generally not met with any success.” – Colin Bennett, Regulating Privacy: Data Protection and Public Policy In Europe and the United States, 25 (1992).
- “When it comes to privacy, there are many inductive rules, but very few universally accepted axioms.” - David Brin, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us To Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? 77 (1998).
- “Privacy is a value so complex, so entangled in competing and contradictory dimensions, so engorged with various and distinct meanings, that I sometimes despair whether it can be usefully addressed at all.” – Robert C. Post, Three Concepts of Privacy, 89 GEO. L.J. 2087, 2087 (2001).
- “[privacy] can mean almost anything to anybody.” – Fred H. Cate & Robert Litan, Constitutional Issues in Information Privacy, 9 Mich. Telecomm. & Tech. L. Rev. 35, 37 (2002).
- privacy has long been a “conceptual jungle” and a “concept in disarray.” “[T]he attempt to locate the ‘essential’ or ‘core’ characteristics of privacy has led to failure.” – Daniel J. Solove, Understanding Privacy 196, 8 (2008).
- “Privacy has really ceased to be helpful as a term to guide policy in the United States.” - Woodrow Hartzog, quoted in Cord Jefferson, Spies Like Us: We’re All Big Brother Now, Gizmodo, Sept. 27, 2012.
- “for most consumers and policymakers, privacy is not a rational topic. It’s a visceral subject, one on which logical arguments are largely wasted.” – Larry Downes, A Rational Response to the Privacy “Crisis,” Cato Institute, Policy Analysis No. 716 (Jan. 7, 2013), at 6.
In my new Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy article, “The Pursuit of Privacy in a World Where Information Control is Failing” I build on these insights to argue that: Continue reading →