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Is an ‘Internet Bill of Rights’ the Cure for What Ails Tech?

Lawmakers are divided when it comes to technology policy, but there may be baseline principles both parties can rally behind.

(TNS) — With Democrats and Republicans alike calling for stricter oversight of Silicon Valley, one lawmaker has drafted an “Internet Bill of Rights” that some tech experts believe could be a blueprint for solving the Big Tech regulatory puzzle.

In an op-ed for The New York Times, Recode’s Editor-at-Large Kara Swisher commended the author, Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., and called the 10 principles of the Internet Bill of Rights “an admirable list.” But will they actually become law?

Swisher says that depends on the outcome of the midterm elections. Rep. Nancy Pelosi told Swisher “there would be action” if the Democrats take the House in November.

Some of the principles touch on controversial topics unlikely to garner bipartisan support, such as making net neutrality rules the law of the land, rather than FCC regulations that can be changed as administrations come and go.

According to Khanna’s Internet Bill of Rights, American consumers should have the right:

  1. to have access to and knowledge of all collection and uses of personal data by companies;
  2. to opt-in consent to the collection of personal data by any party and to the sharing of personal data with a third party;
  3. where context appropriate and with a fair process, to obtain, correct or delete personal data controlled by any company and to have those requests honored by third parties;
  4. to have personal data secured and to be notified in a timely manner when a security breach or unauthorized access of personal data is discovered;
  5. to move all personal data from one network to the next;
  6. to access and use the internet without internet service providers blocking, throttling, engaging in paid prioritization or otherwise unfairly favoring content, applications, services or devices;
  7. to internet service without the collection of data that is unnecessary for providing the requested service absent opt-in consent;
  8. to have access to multiple viable, affordable internet platforms, services and providers with clear and transparent pricing;
  9. not to be unfairly discriminated against or exploited based on your personal data; and
  10. to have an entity that collects your personal data have reasonable business practices and accountability to protect your privacy.
Allie Bohm, policy counsel for Public Knowledge — a think tank that helped Khanna draft the principles — thinks the principles are good guidelines but when it comes down to codification, said “the devil [will be] in the details.”

“There are real questions about whether this should proceed as one bill or multiple bills,” she told InsideSources. “Privacy has much more bipartisan support, and aside from Capitol Hill, net neutrality has [a lot of] bipartisan support. I think they’re articulating the right goals here.”

Bohm said it’s important not to read too much into the principles, because they’re just that — principles — and actual legislative efforts will be much more precise. She thinks Congress will have a lot of work to do figuring out how to balance corporate and consumer interests.

“Say I post a photo on Facebook and want to delete it, it’s not nearly as problematic as hey, New York Times, I don’t like this article you wrote about me, please take it down and Google, stop indexing it,” Bohm said. “In Europe you have the right to be forgotten and you can do that, while in America we have the 1st amendment which protects your right to information.”

Bohm said future laws regulating the internet and content will need some form of due process to evaluate when personal data or personal content should be corrected or deleted. That, in turn, would lead to the question: How responsible are tech companies for the personal content on their platforms?

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 protects tech companies from any liability regarding the content to which they provide access. Earlier this year, Congress passed the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), which made tech companies liable for content on their platforms that facilitates sex trafficking.

Just last week, a Texas woman sued Facebook for not doing enough to stop criminals from using the site to facilitate sex trafficking.

Roslyn Layton, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) who specializes in tech policy, agrees regulation of Silicon Valley is important, but worries the Internet Bill of Rights isn’t a complete picture of the problems in the unfettered internet ecosystem.

Layton said there are four factors that “create trust in the online ecosystem”: knowledge of the user, levels of technology, business practices and institutions. The problem with Khanna’s Internet Bill of Rights, she said, is that it’s only focused on two of those factors.

“You have to have a holistic policy, you have to look at making sure people are educated when they go online, you need innovation, you need standards for business practices, and you need institutions that are up to snuff,” she said. “The Internet Bill of Rights is only covering one or two practices. We need to meaningfully make sure consumers get educated and engage responsibly online. We don’t have that today. We should focus on the areas where we have a gap, which is consumer education and privacy.”

Ultimately, Layton said, it’s important Congress doesn’t overdue any attempts to regulate the tech industry for fear of discouraging innovation or intruding on consumers’ lives.

“I think Ro Khanna is a thoughtful person, and an Internet Bill of Rights is a concept we can understand,” she said. “The original Bill of Rights is about protecting people from government intrusion. We have to keep that in mind, we should keep government from intruding on us. Ten percent of our GDP is information/communications/tech industry. There were 40,000 startups last year, and that’s largely because from 1996 to 2016, we had a pro-growth, investment, and market policy. I think those things should be recognized.”

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