In 2018, some, in the U.S. Congress, proposed an Internet Bill of Rights that though well intentioned, was essentially a set of regulations proposed to adhere companies to obligations with regard to data, security, and privacy. At the time, I thought little of it; the notion didn’t get a tremendous amount of attention, but nagging me, in the back of my brain, was that a U.S. politician was proposing an industry regulation under the guise of “ Bill of Rights.”
What is a Bill of Rights?
The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution became known as the Bill of Rights; protections which still stand as a symbol and foundation of liberal ideals of individual liberty. The Bill exists to further limit government and the rule of law; largely concerning legal protections for those accused of crimes (and what were largely considered crimes at the time) while guaranteeing civil rights and liberties to the individual (e.g. freedom of speech, press, and religion). Such Bills are now found in countries and in the guidelines of governments throughout the world. A Bill of Rights sets rules for due process of law and, in the U.S. at least, reserves all powers not expressly stated as belonging to the Federal Government, to the people (or the States).
The Obama Administration, well before that proposal in 2018, used the name in the same way, publishing on the White House website, A Consumer Internet Privacy Bill of Rights. “Bill of Rights.” It was in revisiting that, that the nagging feeling I felt in 2018 became clear; that governments were increasingly appealing to the heart strings of what people want, without implementing (or even suggesting that what is needed are) the very limitations and controls on our governments.
Individual control, transparency, security… these are the tenets espoused by politicians lately, noble causes and certainly things that everyone wants; but the focus of political attention is toward the notion that we need these protections from companies (companies that we optionally choose to use) while the reach of governments remains unchecked.
Protection of our use of the Internet from Government
Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.
According to The Pew Research Center, 79% of Americans are concerned about how “companies” use their data. Their survey further showed that 70% of people want to know when companies are collecting personal data as well as knowing how companies use it.
A sea-change in public sentiment transpired over the last 15 years or so, from the exuberance for an unregulated bastion of free speech, the internet, to people seemingly being more concerned about what companies do, than what governments do with information about us.
I realize the political colors showing in my views here, and I’m not frequently one to speak so substantially about the role of government in society, but this a shift in the mindset of people the world over, that reveals a genuine concern — people are more concerned with what a business does (a business that has no means of enforcement of any decisions, beyond how we engage with them) more than the fact that governments (all governments, this isn’t a commentary specific to the U.S.), are empowered to enforce, regulate, and even act based on information.
This is one of the “laws of the land” so to speak, in the United States; the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, one of many U.S. Amendments in the Bill of Rights that should clearly apply to our digital lives. It’s time that it clearly apply to the internet and the fact that every website, every company, online is virtual, worldwide, and should be protected from regulations that will limit what people can do on the internet.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
To that end, my take…
The Internet Bill of Rights
- All persons have the right to access the internet regardless of race, color, religion (creed), gender, gender expression, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status, in any of its activities or operations.
- Any and all free speech protections extend to every aspect of the internet. Government may not make, consider, nor may government employees express, any law abridging nor prohibiting the free exercise of speech or abridging the freedom of speech, inclusive of but not limited to written content, images, and video; nor infringe upon the right of the people peaceably to assemble, or to petition the Government for a redress of grievances, online.
- Government and law enforcement, or respective agencies, may not conduct monitoring, nor search, maintain, or seize, online information and data pertaining to any person, persons, or private organizations, with legally secured probable cause or explicit permission of the people in question. All data maintained and secured by a government entity must be completely wiped and removed, deleted, within 15 days of a request by an individual associated with said data; as long as said person and request is not under investigation with clear cause established and legally secured.
- Private property may not be used, taken, nor considered for broad public use, without just compensation; websites, apps, and other online works are considered the private property of their owners and creators, and use of such services are limited to the terms, conditions, and decisions of those owners, subject to change at any time.
- Internet properties privately owned, including but not limited to websites, apps, widgets, and eCommerce, are considered virtual (online) experiences for the purposes of commerce, and are not subject to local, regional, state/province, nor country, commerce regulations, limitations, tariffs, or taxation. Localized shipping, warehouse, and business tax policies and regulations may apply, given the physical presence of commerce in that regard; governments are prohibited from infringing upon or taxing the online aspects of commerce in any way.
Originally published at https://seobrien.com on May 25, 2021.