It is impossible to talk about standards and jurisdictions without talking about power. There is a word, a Swahili word, that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is “nguvu”. It’s a noun that loosely translates to “being uncontrolled” or “unowned” as Professor Jonathan Zittrains called it. Like our economic and political worlds, internet too is at risk of being defined by the principle of “nguvu”: how it works, who tells the users what they should access where and when, are really dependent on standards.
The question of internet jurisdiction is all about rules and power, should it be controlled? This takes us back to the history and evolution of internet. The internet developed as an open platform where people meet freely to talk, share and receive information. The wave of globalized usage has certainly generated a wave of new concerns such as privacy, freedom of expression, and security. These are genuine concerns that can’t be dealt with using the informal RFCs.
So, should the internet be owned at all? I had a misconception that the US (because it’s strong and powerful) owns the internet and operates it somewhere in California. It seems I am wrong. The dispute on the control of the internet is faced with user demand for privacy which is hard to ignore. The communication corporations such as google, Facebook, and twitter will have to response to geopolitics which control their operations across the globe. For instance, the European Court ruling on the “The Right to be forgotten” is pressing though laughable. The court should have considered the consequences it will forced on every stakeholder:
- Individual users will claim Right to “Imperfect Past”. I listed to Obama’s remarks during the opening of Obama Foundation. He proudly admitted that he had a partly wasted youth, but lack of records served in his favor, he got elected. In the same way, every user would demand that their past should be inaccessible because it should not matter now. This is certainly against the ethnics of internet as a free platform and if the new standards allow, then it’s unfair and selfish. Some will be anonymous, but they can access information about others, a breach on the freedom of expression.
- Google and Facebooks will be held ransom by geopolitics. It’s possible for google to delete information as demanded in Europe, but that won’t ensure its accessibility in America. I looked up Mario Costeja Gonzalez, the man who sued Google, and what he wanted he sought immunity is still in Wikipedia. In reality, this rule may not be realistic because some sources will still have the deleted personal information. If Google and Facebook delink information on demand, then articles in newspapers may also be erased. Of course, we expect a lot of erasure and consequently journalism will be affected as information relevant to the public will be lost.
- Every country will seek to show its sovereignty. Assume every country share my assumption that US indeed controls the internet. With the Europe breakaway from that control, then even South Sudan will get an incentive to act powerful. This contagious effect will globalize and that will be the rise of chaos putting the future of internet in doubts. The ruling begs UN to act as referee by bringing its members together to work collaboratively in setting new standards or protect the freedom of internet over parallel restrictions.
- Who to trust. There is a serious public concern on who to trust yet we can look them up. Imagine if our past is filtered and cleaned on our specifications. This will present perfect us which is not possible at all. The risk of this ruling being adopted by many polities is high because politicians who should be scrutinized by electorates will rush to clean their past. This will invite criminals into politics because how will you know their email scandals, trials on past abuse of office, or sex assaults? One may argue that people can transform with time, but it’s not everyone who can turn a new leaf especial in maturity.
- Erosion of social norms and codes of conducts. The reason why people follow rules is because they fear consequences. If the internet is unowned then the users will act appropriately because what they do wrong might be used against them in the future. Take away that fear with the power of erasure and we will create an indiscipline society. Having to face an indecent past is trace compare to what we might face for granting the right to be forgotten. It’s Abraham Lincoln who once observed, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”. Let’s not give individuals power to act and erase in the coded world.
While our discussion and presentation by Professor Zittrain focused on the past, I feel the “Right to be Forgotten” is a real threat to the internet as a free platform. It bears more harm than good. It might turn out to be a blunder as I fear,I hope not. I would love to hear your point of view in the comments. Oh wow, thanks to Professor Zittrain for such an amazing presentation. He solved a lot of lingering questions.