Law in the Internet Society

-- By BriannaCummings - 03 Nov 2015

Freedom Isn't Free!

Many of us hear and use this saying often without a second thought. This essays seeks to press forward on this notion. If we are to accept that freedom is not free then naturally we must ask how much does freedom cost and are we willing to pay the price? This is the line of questioning most would follow (including myself) but in doing so we miss the mark. Before determining a price and questioning if we are willing to pay it we must define freedom. The first question is what is freedom? How do we define this, what does it mean to be free? Webster defines freedom as “the quality or state of being free: ...the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action … liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another … independence” I believe this to be a good underlying definition, I also believe it to be generic. Freedom must be defined individually. Having a clear definition of what freedom means to us is the only way we can begin to question how much we are willing to pay for freedom.

How do I define Freedom?

I am not entirely sure what freedom means to me. I agree with Webster but I also believe freedom includes being free from inconvenience and the oppression of debt. These concepts may not be mutually exclusive but at times it feels as though they are. If I am to be free of debt to achieve personal freedom I feel the need to take a high paying job to pay off my debt quickly. However in taking that high paying job I have subjected myself to the constraint of doing work that I am not truly passionate about. Further of I am to be free of inconvenience I will use sites such as seamless and amazon, but it has been proven that these sites are constantly collecting data about us that we did not input on our own. How can one be subject to constant surveillance and free at the same time? How am I to demand convenience as a condition of freedom in a world built on consumerism, where I am the commodity? Maybe this is possible if I do not consider the infringement on my privacy as an affront to my freedom. I'm not ready to actively give over any notion of I have of Internet privacy to maintain convenience, though I admit I have been doing so passively for nearly a decade through use of Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and many other tracking sites. Before I didn't know my data was being stored and collected but now that I do I must decide what I plan to do and how this information affects my definition of freedom.

What price are we willing to pay for freedom?

Are we willing to give up 21st century conveniences to be free from data mining? Are we willing to go back to the days of doing our own grocery shopping and laundry? Pay for cable or rent physical dvds? Hailing our own cabs? Picking up the telephone or writing letters to friends? Which of these new found 'luxuries' are we willing to give up? My inclination is few or none of them, especially if we do not have a viable alternative. But are we giving up too easily? Is this because we do not understand what is at stake or are we just lazy? Personally, I never gave a second thought to ads on Facebook until they started advertising things I had received emails about or searched for on amazon or Google. This began to disturb me but not enough to stop logging in. Instead, I used Firefox instead of chrome and ran noscript in my browser. Now I'm using a laptop with free software but I must admit I still have a facebook account that I log in to regulars, reading and posting. I haven't even begun to think what life would be like without Amazon and Peapod. Giving these things up are much easier said than done and places a premium on freedom. This premium is high and I'm not sure I or my peers are willing to pay it at least right now. I fear that by the time we are willing to it will be too late. By then any semblance of privacy will be gone forever.

All hope is not lost

This past Friday I was an attendee at the SFLC Conference where I was able to witness the demonstration of FreedomBox. Eben has mentioned this in class many times but his words have not done it justice. The demonstration was truly revolutionary, I watched as ads disappeared from newspaper websites with ease and an IP website continued to think a computer was in Europe even though I could see it in front of me in New York City. There were also demonstrations of instant messages and phone calls being run through tor on a computer with an encrypted hard drive. FreedomBox is not a silver bullet but putting them in widespread circulation will undoubtedly change the way we (millennial) view the Internet and our privacy. Making us aware of this tracking in surveillance may not lead to everyone deleting their account but it may lead to us taking action to curtail the surveillance or 'game the system'. In an ideal world we'd erase our online presence with commercial entities that sell our information but I think we're far from an ideal world, most people don't even realize they're being spied on.

The most interesting part of the essay draft, from my point of view, is the identification of dependencies on service businesses that communicate through the Net. I would have expected you to investigate how, by legal, political, and technical means we could deal with the evident fact that all sorts of services (you didn't mention health care services) collect and manage data about us. You could certainly ask how far contract law can be used to include terms for user-protective data management, and how public regulation and general provisions on good faith and fair dealing might be made to help. Rather than diverting ourselves to FreedomBox, for the moment, let's ask about the legal and political contributions that the society can expect for dealing with the issues you've identified.
Jianing: Hi Brianna, you have raised a good question which also confuses me a lot when I think about the situation. Take your essay and Natalie's together, the two essays have almost depicted a full picture of the challenge we are facing--which is, companies across different industries are constantly recording the biometric data we give out through our interaction with them and, we simply can't avoid it when we do not have a choice, for example, when taking health care services or depositing money in commercial banks (Natalie), and we aren't willing to sacrifice the magic convenience of modern times for our freedom when we do have a choice, for example, giving up Facebook or Instagram (Brianna).

Yet I totally agree with you in saying that all hope for freedom is not lost. Free software would, of course, be the ultimate solution--everyone would be able to see, detect and fix it if the software code includes the possibility of facilitating misuse of user information. But free software is not simply a technical issue: in order for free software to win the final war, we have to expect a civil society educated and awakened enough to fight for their own privacy and a democratic government not so obsessed with controlling its citizens and not so dependent on giant interest groups--both of which will hardly be achieved in a very near future. Then I come to think about some more moderate ways to cope with the issue while we move slowly towards the final destination of free software. The Supreme Court may extend the Fourth Amendment's protection to the metadata generated from our activity, which is presently denied the protection of "reasonable expectation of privacy" by the Court (Juan,second essay). This may prove a judicial approach to prevent government and companies from surveilling us or infringing on our pirvacy. From a political perspective, an Information Management Bureau may be established to oversee government officials and companies to make sure that user information, biometric data and metadata are being protected. This Bureau should be subject to the scrutiny of the legislatures and the public, as any administrative agency in a democratic political system do.


Webs Webs

r5 - 01 Feb 2016 - 13:37:25 - JianingLiu
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