Politicians Team With Tech Industry on Internet Bill of Rights

Given compelling issues of privacy breaches and data hacks, Senator Nancy Pelosi became convinced that a set of principles that everyone in the tech industry agreed to would be a good step toward adhering to values. She asked Democratic legislator Ro Khanna, who represents Silicon Valley, to create such a list. He consulted with Apple, Facebook, Google, think tank Center for Democracy and Technology and individuals including Nicole Wong and Tim Berners-Lee, and just recently released the resulting Internet “Bill of Rights.”

The New York Times reports that, although the Internet has operated “nearly unfettered” since its inception, “it has become ever clearer with every misstep — including but not limited to Russian interference on social media platforms, the amplification of hate speech and fake news, and the misuse of personal information — that tech’s freedom has come at a steep price to the American people.”

The first principle elucidates the right “to have access to and knowledge of all collection and uses of personal data by companies,” something that some companies already follow but none are required to do by federal law. The second “right” is that consumers should have to give permission (opt-in) before their data can be collected and shared, and that the process should be simple.

The third “right” is “to obtain, correct, or delete personal data controlled by any company,” or, what is called in Europe the “right to be forgotten.” This is trickier territory, so Khanna added that this principle should be followed “where context appropriate and with a fair process.”

The fourth focuses on “timely notifications in the case of breaches,” the fifth gives consumers the right to move their data, and the sixth “calls for making net neutrality a law rather than a regulation.” The seventh would stop big ISPs “from collecting more data than is necessary for the rendering of services,” and the eighth “addresses fostering competition.”

The ninth principle protects consumers from being “unfairly discriminated against or exploited based on your personal data,” and the tenth requires companies that collect personal data to demonstrate “reasonable business practices and accountability to protect your privacy.”

NYT dubs this “an admirable list,” but adds that turning it into law “will be like pushing back the ocean, especially since the business models of many of these companies are predicated on sucking up as much data as they can and exploiting it for gain.”

“This is a 15-year fight, but I do not think tech is immediately primed against it and Congress is more willing to be strong on regulation,” said Khanna. “Tech is amoral — it is great in many ways but not as great in others, and they need to now spend the next 10 years thinking about how they shape that tech for public good.”

Berners-Lee agreed. “If the Internet is to live up to its potential as a force for good in the world, we need safeguards that ensure fairness, openness and human dignity,” he said. “This Bill of Rights provides a set of principles that are about giving users more control of their online lives while creating a healthier Internet economy.”