Documentary coverage of IGF-USA by the Imagining the Internet Center

Response from Marc Rotenberg, EPIC, to Lee Rainie’s ‘What We Don’t Know About the Future of the Internet’

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marc_rotenbergMarc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center noted that he began working more than 15 years ago through a group called The Public Voice to promote positive decisions about the Internet – before the WSIS and IGF processes began – in order to get civil society involved in global decisions. “We felt it was important to have the voice of civil society in these discussions,” he said.

He joked that Lee Rainie’s talk was an unusual thing to see in Washington, D.C., because he admitted to the things he didn’t know about. Then he got serious. “Lee’s survey is particularly helpful, because it helps us understand both what we know about the Internet, people using the Internet, where the gaps – for example – exist in access to broadband –  and then on some of the more difficult questions, really what we don’t know yet. These are questions we need to ask and look more closely at, and that’s enormously helpful.” he said. “I am very glad Lee used the ‘P word,’ which is not ‘privacy,’ it is ‘paradox.’ Because, increasingly, as we look at issues related to Internet policy we see a lot of paradox.”

He noted the conflicting desires people have to share things while also maintaining privacy online. “Try to friend your kids on Facebook,” he joked, “and you will get an instant lesson on the ongoing value of privacy.

Even though people put out all of this personal information, they still feel that they want to exercise some control over it. They don’t have a view that, ‘Oh, gee, I’m a data exhibitionist – everyone come and take a look.’ Their view is much more like, ‘Here’s a photo of my friend from the party last week, you four guys gotta check this out.’ It’s this desire to want to exercise some control over digital identity that is actually framing many of the big debates that are happening today in the online world.  – Marc Rotenberg

He said when young people formed a protest group to dispute changes in Facebook’s terms of service it was a sign of their conflicted feelings. “To me, that was entirely a debate about privacy,” he said. “I don’t mean to go all Habermas on you, but this ability to negotiate public and private spaces is an essential part of the human condition and we’ve been doing it forever, from the village to the city to new communication networks to online communities  and I don’t think anything there has changed. I just think you’re seeing it presented in a new way.”

He said transparency of government should be accompanied by government respect for individuals’ privacy. “A second paradox is the relationship between privacy and transparency,” he noted, saying that governments should be making their work more transparent.

There’s no contradiction whatsoever between saying a government should be open and accountable for what it does and it still has to respect the privacy of the personal information it collects about its citizens about the information it collects about citizens. That’s one of the big challenges we face in the information age – not letting the desire to ensure that the accountability for decision-makers – which is critical for democratic institutions – become an excuse to reveal the private facts of individuals, which really don’t relate to the activities of government.  – Marc Rotenberg

He noted that there is a convergence of all of these concerns that leads to a need for a declaration of rights. “There has to be a discussion about a bill of rights for Internet users – we have to begin the discussion about protecting the fundamental rights and freedoms of people who go online,” he concluded. “It’s a overdue debate.”

-Janna Anderson, http://www.imaginingtheinternet.org

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