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Framing a Digital Bill of Rights

With convention season in full force, is it time to convene a cyber convention to draw up a Bill of Rights for the digital age? TechCrunch co-editor Erick Schonfeld thinks so. He is proposing a Digital Bill of Rights, one that will serve as a comprehensive national technology policy for the Internet Age. "What we need," he writes, "is a Digital Bill of Rights that spells out what freedoms and rights consumers can expect from Internet service providers, content companies, device manufacturers, and the government itself."

Neither political party has put forth anything that comes close to filling the bill, Schonfeld says. "McCain's technology platform is a bit vague, and Obama's choice of tech-challenged Joe Biden as his running mate is not exactly a confidence builder." So he is taking a first stab at such a bill of rights and inviting readers to add their thoughts. His bill would cover five major "rights": to use and reuse content, to control digital property on one's own devices, to the free flow of information regardless of data type, to some degree of online privacy, and to control one's digital identity.

While he outlines the areas in which consumers should have rights, he is less clear on what those rights should be. With respect to the right to use content, for example, he writes: "The concept of fair use needs to be updated and clarified, while still balancing the fundamental right of copyright holders to profit from their creations." OK, we knew that, but updated and clarified how? Likewise on the right to control what is on one's devices: "Copyright law and DRM technologies are so intertwined and confused that both consumers and companies could benefit from clearer rules of the road." Uh-huh, but what should those rules be?

One blogger calls the whole idea a load of bullshit, arguing that no one nation can develop a policy to control the global Internet. The fact of the matter is that our laws and policies already regulate the Internet and the activity that occurs in Cyberspace. As Schonfeld points out, much of that regulation involves "inadequate attempts to transplant rules from a different era." Few would argue the point that many of our laws are anachronistic. While Schonfeld's outline offers few firm policy proposals, at least it helps frame the discussion.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on August 27, 2008 at 12:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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