What makes the Internet – social characteristics

Below are some links I see between the technical and social characteristics of the Internet. I’ve also made a draft declaration of online rights, building on the work of others in this space (references and credits at the bottom of the post).

What do you think works, doesn’t work, or is missing? :)

I’ve had a few people ask why I’ve focused on the technical characteristics of the Internet at all. Basically I think the technical characteristics both provide some insight to the social characteristics, as well as provide some solid grounding to the argument that the social characteristics, no less than the technical characteristics, should not be tampered with lest we damage the opportunities provided to our society by the Internet.

Let’s extrapolate the technical characteristics discussed in the last post and see what each technical characteristic leads to in a social sense:

  • Open standards – open technical standards for connection and data exchange is a core aspect of the Internet, ensuring the capacity to communicate across different systems and platforms.
  • Common access – once a connection is made online, core aspects of the Internet are common to all (such as root name servers and communications protocols), and thus access provides a common experience, unless specifically tampered with or configured otherwise. This commonality is important as it creates the capacity for people to connect with information and each other across the globe.
  • Peer to peer – the Internet isn’t a hierarchy, it is an enormous number of machines that talk to each other as peers, albeit usually configured to use a common addressing scheme. This feature of the Internet means people can connect, publish, share and collaborate with each other, without relying on a third party (apart from infrastructure).
  • Routing around damage – the distributed nature of the Internet means there is the capacity to work around any failure in the system.  this is extremely important for continuity of the online experience. This feature of the Internet becomes particularly profound when “damage” includes censorship or any other form of tampering, but it also has led to an embedded social expectation that people should be able to access what and who they want online.
  • Massively distributed network – the Internet is designed to have no single point of failure, with many redundancies built in. This approach of a massively distributed stable platform for communications has led to the establishment of massively distributed infrastructure, and as a result massively distributed online communities that traverse almost all traditional barriers to communication and has brought the world much closer together.
  • Multi-source networks of trust – part of having a massively distributed network is the availability of multiple sources, especially when there are failures. How DNS works is an example of a technical multi-source network of trust. As a society we can actively seek out information and other people online and we have the ability to find multiple sources, or indeed first hand sources of information. As such as we can compare and contrast with “official” reports, and establish our own understanding of a situation. Over time we establish networks of trust for people, sources and platforms, which we use to prioritise and contextualise information.
  • Platform independence – Internet communication protocols are necessarily independent of the hardware and software stacks involved in being online, which means communications online are independent of your choice of device, hardware or software.

Below is a further extrapolated list of potentially useful social characteristics or perhaps simply reasonable expectations of our experience online.

A draft declaration of online rights

Below is a set of online rights that we, as online citizens, should be able to expect. Extrapolated from various sources and the technical foundations above.

Please note, it is inevitable some of these will conflict, it is about balancing the best possible set of expectations.

UPDATE: I’ve numbered them so you can more easily refer to them for feedback in the comments :) Thanks crystalsinger for the suggestion :)

  1. The right to anonymity, pseudonymity and the choice to divulge as much or little personal information as we choose.
  2. The right to an uninterrupted connection online, free from any and all human threats of disconnection.
  3. The right to freely express, publish, debate and distribute knowledge.
  4. The fundamental right to observe and the share your observations.
  5. The right to freedom from persecution, discrimination, intimidation, lock-in and being held to ransom.
  6. The right to determine the use and access to personal content and information, including the right to export data to another platform or download for perpetuity.
  7. The right to choose a clean feed, that is, a connection and software that is not filtered or otherwise manipulated to expressly change the online experience of an online citizen.
  8. The right to free association without persecution.
  9. The right to hold others to account for their actions or deeds, especially with respect to this charter.
  10. The right to be free from unwarranted surveillance.
  11. The right to be free from data retention.
  12. The right to be free from retroactive data mining and data policing.
  13. The right to symmetric data rates without discrimination (aka – no difference between upload and download speeds, especially given modern communications infrastructure like fibre where the arbitary limitation is unnecessary).
  14. The right to reasonable affordable connectivity rates, especially when public funds are used in private infrastructure.
  15. The right to tell mathematical truths without restrictions – (encryption related).
  16. The right to use strong cryptography and to have sources of cryptographically strong randomness.
  17. The right to assist others in resisting violations of any of these principles.
  18. The right to have surveillance and censorship systems revealed to the public.
  19. The right to be free from government and corporation actions that compromise or intercept your personal electronic and other computing devices.
  20. The right to privacy of metadata (such as location, browsing history or email recipients) – metadata is content; metadata in aggregate is sensitive, private and powerful content and should be protected.
  21. The right to participate in shaping the future of the Internet – democratising the running of core Internet infrastructure.

Some references and credits (chronological order)

50 thoughts on “What makes the Internet – social characteristics

  1. Interestingly, the robustness of the technical and social networks you describe have been designed or have evolved for the same underlying reasons. The original built-in redundancy, route-around, soft-fail nature of the technical internet was designed specifically so that the US Military could continue to communicate with each other in the aftermath of a nuclear attack – that was the rationale behind the original money spent. Now a similar, serendipitous resilience has been exhibited by those social networks that work to get the word out on iniquity and injustice. Hence the governments of both Libya and Egypt (and now Syria) struggled to control access to information but are bested time and again by the ubiquitous cellphone, USB Stick, SMS message and tweet wielded by some unimaginably brave individuals.

    • Hi Peter, absolutely. I guess you are coming around to understanding why I’m linking the two :) The technical context is useful to understand and to strengthen the argument. These are great examples. The tech is also now so linked to the economies of governments that merely shutting it down is not really an option, as we saw in the economic aftermath of the examples you gave.

      • Was never not in agreement with the idea of juxtaposing technical and social structures – after all, both created by the same species etc. No, I think I was trying to de-emphasise too much time spent dwelling on the Internet “as is” rather than “as could be”. But if the idea is to lead through to the connections you’re making – well done and go for it!

        It is often profitable to utilise technology’s fine toolsets when attempting to make sense of the animalistic chaos that characterises the social sciences – but too many parallels or inferences drawn can be problematic – look at the crazy way in which economists still think they have the slightest idea of what they’re talking about – those halcyon days long gone.

      • Good point and fair enough :) Please, what can we add to such a declaration to improve the future? You’re going to love my Distributed Democracy idea, just finishing the wiki now. Should be live next week.

  2. Pia,

    Nice declaration of rights. I would however, ask the question – “What is knowledge”?

    For clarification – and something very topical – online copyright infringement. Do you envisage it would be considered that the sharing of content/entertainment would fall under that of “knowledge”?

    Knowledge is defined narrowly as:
    “facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject”

    As you stated: “Some might say everything is knowledge so long as you have context…”

    So with reference to:
    “The right to freely express, publish, debate and distribute knowledge.”
    Do we have a definition of what meet the requirements of knowledge as distinct from something less than facts, information and skills?

    One other point – just to tighten up the wording:
    “The right to determine the use and access to [ones own] personal content and information” implicit rather than implied :)

  3. Interesting that your use of the term “Clean Feed” is diametrically opposite to the Australian Labor Party’s definition :)

    An observation about the list of rights you’ve enumerated is that virtually all of them can be secured for oneself without the need for third party permissions through the use of strong encryption.

    This represents a major change from offline society, where “rights” are a nebulous debatable concept that only exists by consent of the polity.

    In this country, for instance, there is no right to freedom of anonymous speech. It’s conceivable that there might be one day, but only if society generally agrees that it’s a good idea and manages to convince parliamentarians to enact it and judges to defend it.

    Yet an Internet user can utilize crypto to secure anonymity, make themselves appear to originate in another jurisdiction, and speak as freely as they wish.

    It is risky to utilize these “self-actualized” rights from physical localities where they aren’t respected offline (as human rights campaigners in China would attest). But those risks can also be managed and accepted by individuals without any third party approvals (as human rights campaigners in China can also attest!)

    That, to my mind, is the core difference between online society and offline society: who carries the power to give permissions. All of the clashes between governments and netizens essentially break down to a disagreement over that one concept.

    – mark

    • Hi Mark, thanks for the great points. I agree that the distribution of power is a key differentiator, along with the distribution of publishing, collaboration, monitoring (to some extent) and indeed property (coming soon with a 3D printer near you!). I think Foucault would be both terrified and excited by the Internet because it turns things around :)

      I guess this post isn’t about creating a bill for a parliament to enact, but rather to try, as a community, to define what we should be able to expect. Yes we can enact most of these ourselves, but where they are explicitly or implicitly threatened, such a declaration gives us a line in the sand to defend our turf, so to speak :) Until we draw such a line, it’s too easy for the line to shift further and further away from what we expect.

      • My point was less about coming up with a bill for a parliament to enact, and more about the futility of parliaments believing they have authority to act.

        The social contract is changing. “Consent of the governed.”

        Which is what this site is all about, I guess :)

      • Yes, indeed :) Also interesting is other elements how the social contract is changing, like people’s perspective towards force. For millennia it has been a “legitimate” means to maintaining peace/control. Many modern societies expect a strong rationalisation for any use of force, it’s quite a different world.

  4. Perhaps replace bullet points with numbers do people can easily refer to specific items when commenting?

    FWIW I agree that the first right suggested is ABSOLUTELY critical to successful online community. Yes, there are downsides to anonymity, but we simply strive to manage those as best we can (demoted in WoT system? whatever). It’s no argument to justify throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    • Thanks for that, I’ve updated the post with numbering to make it easier to discuss individual rights :) Also, your feedback on #1 is good. I completely agree. I think managing a constructive tone online is about good engagement, respect, collaboration. Forcing people to use their names not only becomes a barrier to participation, but it demonstrably doesn’t improve the dialogue which is the main argument people have against it.

  5. Does Right 1) include the right to impersonate another anonymous contributor? Shouldn’t, I would think – Privacy and anonymity I agree with but comments must be attributable.

    In the same vein, how about the declaration of conflicts of interest. Hiding behind my funny FDotM Character, I might very well be the very person I am urging everyone to support

  6. Pia, Possible answer to my comments on your 1) – again technology to the rescue. PGP and other security mechanisms ensure “you” are who you say you are, through possession and use of a pre-arranged token. This provides security and attributability(?) while not requiring loss of privacy. Perhaps we need something similar as a verification of a particular instance of anonymity. In fact a pseudonym is a sort of low-security token but susceptible to man in the middle attacks, cloaking etc.

    The token could perhaps also serve as a key for some sort of encryption regime to keep NSA / ASIO out of the loop. Lots of food for thought. Great conversation. What with JG/KR bunfight and this, I haven’t done a scrap of real work yet!

    • I think you answered yourself sufficiently :) And I agree. It’s not just about rights, it should probably be about responsibilities too.

  7. Some thoughts:

    A) You made me log in to post a comment on your declaration of the right to anonymity :)

    B) I thoroughly agree with Intrepid Fear that using the word “knowledge” introduces some confusing ambiguity. Perhaps “ideas”, “information” – though that rings of IP problems…

    C) I would be careful of declaring one right – number 4 – to be fundamental. What does this infer about the other rights?

    D) I think there is an internal conflict, or at least a substantial tension, between declaring rights of freedom from intimidation and persecution (rights 5 and 8), and rights to freely express oneself (rights 1, 3, 4, 9, 17) particularly if done anonymously. So long as people are able to express themselves, some will use that opportunity to persecute others. Look at cyber-bullying as an example. I do not think these are irreconcilable, but there is a great big grey area in there, and determining what sits on what side of the line in the sand will be very difficult.


    • Hi Dan,

      Firstly, we didn’t make you log in, you chose to you Facebook authentication to contribute a comment, but you could have put in a pseudonym/fake name & fake email addy to contribute :) But it is a good point.

      I agree the sharing of “knowledge” creates some issues, but hey, that’s why this is a collaborative project ;) Perhaps something like “knowledge created or experienced personally”? Not sure on the answer to this yet. I think we are in the middle of a massive shake up about what “IP” means in any sense. We do after all live in a remix culture. Is anything truly original, and do the IP protection laws satisfy their original purpose of a short term monopoly and then passed into the public domain for the public good?

      I think 4 does create some issues, but I think it serves a purpose. Why should we limit what people share with each other? I can agree with limitation on privacy and even security to some extent, but there is a strong culture of limiting information flows well above and beyond that. The Internet is not about selective transmissions, it is neutral about what is transmitted. So I guess it’s possibly useful to challenge the cultural assumption which clashes directly with the open, sharing and collaborative culture of the net.

      I agree there is a clash between freedom of expression and freedom from persecution (and all iterations from there). As mentioned I think it is about finding a balance. Perhaps this is where Craig’s idea of responsibilities comes in. This isn’t just about right, but also about responsibility to uphold others’ rights. What do you think?

      Cheers for the great input!

      • I did log in, I am comfortable having attribution for my writing. However there is no option for posting anonymously. At best I am forced to defraud the system by providing false information. I have some reservations myself about the right to anonymity, however I thought it might be worth noting that in this forum at least, there is a systematic exclusion of the genuinely anonymous. Pseudonyms are – as you pointed out to me – a different matter.

        My point regarding knowledge is simply that when stating rights, one ought to use as unambiguous and succinct language as possible. I am not a huge supporter of existing IP laws. I think CGPGrey said it very well here http://youtu.be/tk862BbjWx4

        I don’t have a problem with right 4, what I was trying to express was concern with the phrasing. Each other right was expressed as “a right” whereas this one alone was “a fundamental right”. This creates confusion. Is this right somehow more important than the others? Why does it deserve emphasis?

        I suppose my idea of a declaration of rights is that it should be – as you say – a line in the sand. It is as unambiguous a guide as possible to let people know what is and is not appropriate behaviour. Something I could turn to in a quandary and use to inform my position.

      • Cool, so basically you’re telling me to be less fundamentalist ;) Good point and it is a good thing to fix. I won’t make changes here, setting up a wiki for edits like this. Lines in the sand can be useful, lest we find all the sand blown away one day.

  8. I think no discussion of rights is complete without a discussion of responsibilities. Each right implies a responsibility to not breach that right for other people.

    The challenge in societies is balancing rights with responsibilities in an equitable fashion, and then managing the relationships with external entities (individuals, organisations, etc) who do not ascribe to the same rights and responsibilities.

    In certain situations it may become necessary to limit or remove certain rights – particularly when other entities do not acribe to the same set. Can we build in a system for doing this in an equitable and fair manner (given that it is unrealistic to model ever individual situation and set rules for it), perhaps using a principle such as gradual degradation.

    • How do you propose doing that when it is technically impossible to remove rights from other people, because they’ve asserted them without needing your consent?

      One of the challenges for Governments these days is that they seem to believe that we only have civil society because of their implicit threat to revoke our participation if we don’t play nice.

      How will it work if revocation of participation is impossible? It’ll mean that we’ll need to rely more on consensus-based social relationships, less on authoritarianism.

      • Hi,

        The interaction between reputation and identity is probably quite complex… not just with anonymity but also pseudonymity, where a pseudonymous user can escape negative reputation by discarding the tainted nick. It’s also difficult to tell now, since Internet reputation systems are in their infancy.

        As far as “context” is concerned, you’re familiar with the theory of privacy as “integrity of context”, I take it? Possibly privacy also deserves its own post; it means at least three or four different things, and you touch on some aspects in your list, but perhaps a comprehensive treatment would be good…

      • Do people only do the “right” thing under threat? Perhaps we are about to go back to Hobbes vs Rousseau ;) I think Mark makes a good point, but I guess in my mind by having something like a charter of rights/responsibilities, then we can hold each other to it, like a big P2P social contract. We have our own methods for holding each other to account now. Though the tech literacy of the mainstream is obviously still woefully behind being properly enabled. Perhaps that is part of the reason tech keeps being overlooked in education :/ What do you think?

      • In real life, our government has the ability to remove certain rights from us when we are judged to be criminal for example. We get put in jail.
        On the internet, if these proposed rights were accepted it would be possible to deny someone’s right to be free of persecution and also their right to uninterrupted access to the internet. These circumstances can be seen in some of the actions of some vigilante hackers, or even by Anonymous.

        So perhaps it is not impossible to take away someone’s rights on the internet… though I would consider it unethical. Just a thought.

      • I understand taking away someone’s rights to be unethical, but the removal of a right is perhaps, itself, an old way of thinking. Are there other ways to maintain a harmonious society? Surely, a key currency of the Internet is reputation, and transparency about where people/companies/gov undermine online rights is an incentive for good behaviour? Are there other ways to encourage “good” behaviour apart from punishment? Vigilantism is kind of defined as those who take the law into their own hands right? But online, where everyone has the tools and the means to do so, perhaps it is a new way or maintaining order? Perhaps it is a path to chaos to. Perhaps the future is simply more chaotic ;)

      • Good point! Hmmm, I think anonymity important, will put together a blog post as to why. Have been meaning to write about this for a while. Obviously this isn’t as relevant for psuedonymity, I will ponder upon this. I guess the cruz of it is something like the context of an interaction is important. Hey if you want to do a guest post here (or anyone else for that matter) let me know :)

  9. Perhaps what we’re trying to arrive at is a “contract” between us as individuals and us as a collective (of whatever size). This has ever been the issue of any society – the needs of the many etc.

    So how about the contract between Me (The individual) and Us (The collective). Simply stated, it would be a contract indicating what each party brought to the relationships and what each was entitled to extract from the relationship:

    Rights and Responsibilities
    o My responsibilities to Us upon Me becoming a member.
    o My rights as supported by Us upon Me becoming a member
    o The responsibilities of Us to Me in accepting Me as a member
    o The rights of Us over Me once I become a member.

    o Collectives can be formed by any member.
    o Collectives can be be members of other Collectives – nestability.
    o Collectives can be temporary, existing for seconds or minutes – or permanent.
    o Collectives consist of at least one person. In fact, when first introduced as a member into the overall structure (the default or proto collective) , a person is their own collective with a membership of one. Thus all interactions are essentially between collectives.
    o A Collective’s rights and responsibilities devolve from those of its constituent members

    Collectives have a structure consisting of:
    o A title or name and attributes – raison d’etre etc
    o A unique, verifiable identity.
    o A Spokesperson is the designated representative of the collective and provides a single attitudinal interface to and from its Collective.
    o A Secretary ensures all members are informed on all transactions affecting the collective and manages changes in membership – collective coordination and housekeeping.
    o The Spokesperson and Secretary can be the same person.

    All this could be reasonably well modelled in an IT structure – in fact collectives as described above are roughly equivalent to Google Plus’s Circles.

    Now perhaps I have spoken a bit much – time to listen for a while – but I am enjoying this whole thingy

  10. Will give some more thought to this.

    In the meantime, some related & thought-provoking reading:
    (via @digiphile): ‘The Social Network Users Bill of Rights’: http://blog.prnewswire.com/2011/03/12/the-social-network-users-bill-of-rights/
    (via @arstechnica): White House announced Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights & Do Not Track Agreement: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2012/02/white-house-announces-new-privacy-bill-of-rights-do-not-track-agreement.ars

  11. Re anonymity: SlashDot, for example, which uses “An Anonymous reader writes…” for people who haven’t logged in. This effectively creates a single user “Anonymous” with a very wide and varying range of views – not that useful when attempting a to-and-fro conversation or when trying to reference earlier statements. So I think we should insist on the user of Avatars which are unique but do not, in themselves, identify the actual people animating them. People can have multiple Avatars if they wish. Does any know if Second Life has a “do’s and don’ts” list or some equivalent of “Rules or Participation”? I’m sure they must have encountered some of these same issues.

  12. Nice list! Few issues though:

    5. The right to freedom from persecution, discrimination, intimidation, lock-in and being held to ransom.

    While I agree with the right of any online citizen to walk the halls of the internet free of persecution, intimidation and harm, I feel that the term “lock-in” in this context is a bit out of place.

    In my experience, lock-in typically refers to vendors trapping users within contracts, proprietary formats and/or scare tactics (like loss of data/security when moving information out of the organisation’s infrastructure).

    In the context of point five, is lock-in being referred to as data capture by less than friendly social networks like Facebook (data goes in, never comes out e.g.: http://arstechnica.com/web/news/2009/07/are-those-photos-really-deleted-from-facebook-think-twice.ars)

    I think lock-in is something that really should be addressed when it comes to interacting and sharing information, including your own, online.

    In the context of point five, the term lock-in should be removed or extrapolated to talk about the freedom of moving personal information in and out of a system or service without fear of the data being stored, copied, cloned or sold sans permission from the data’s owner.

    A separate point ought to be created about the movement of data in the context of vendor lock-in. The rules could align themselves to the goals of Google’s own Data Liberation Front that encourages full portability of information in and out of Google products (http://www.dataliberation.org/).

    To be clear, there ought to be no problem with online services and products creating their own proprietary formats for the use of data within their own products, but free, unencumbered export abilities ought to exist that give the user back the data in an open format.

    Also, I notice there’s no point says that users have a right to know if their data has been involved in a data breach or network compromise?


    • Hi Luke, some great feedback, and a good point about “lock-in”. Easy to fall into too specific terminologies at times but I like your alternative. I think the right to know of network compromises or data breaches is a great idea too. The Sony debacle a case in point. I’m putting up the wiki and we can edit them live there.

  13. I don’t know to what extent it belongs here, but one practical problem that seems to be going around is the question of centralised services who set themselves up for the use of the general public, but then aren’t. Services like Facebook, G+, Paypal, Visa and similar, where the network effects mean that there can really only be one, or at most a couple, but the company running it is a private company and resists the obligations of common carrier status.

    I’m not sure how to phrase that as a set of positive rights, though.

    • I think this could be handled fairly easily by enacting legislation similar to that for trademarks. Once a word or phrase that has been trademarked becomes a ‘generic’ term for a class of product or service, the trademark owner can no longer enforce that trademark in all uses. e.g. ‘Kleenex’, ‘Hoover’, ‘Google’.

      Surely we can set up legal triggers that identify at what volume/market share/userbase a product or company has de facto become part of the global infrastructure, and impose additional obligations on them.

  14. Just wanted to add here a link to an interesting article by George Monbiot who, in my opinion, is very much a “canary in the coal mine” in seeing emerging trends before others do. The article discusses the fact that elements of the UK financial press are now starting a push to have Corporations given the vote (justified because they pay taxes). The proposers forget, of course, the fact that the essential and legal nature of a Corporation is a completely selfish entity which, if human, would be pathologically so – the complete antithesis of a constructive member of a society. I highlight this article because my conviction, as discussed earlier, is that the global challenge we face as a society (and therefore a key consideration in the design and implementation of a global, technology-mediated social structure) is the reining in and control of large Corporations. Note that all current “social” technology we talk about is controlled by a handful of large US Corporations.

    • One interesting way to think of corporations is as (science-fictional) aliens, either metaphorically or in fact. If the definition of alien is “a person who is not a human”, and that’s a fairly reasonable one, they fit perfectly. The science-fiction author Charles Stross introduced this idea in his blog post “Invaders from Mars”[1] about a year ago.

      It really does fit — like the hypothetical extraterrestial aliens, corporations are not human, not even remotely human. They don’t even experience life and death as we do, they don’t fall in love or reproduce as we do, they don’t have our goals or priorities or morals, they don’t feel honour or loyalty or betrayal. About the only language we have in common is money; anything we don’t express in money (for instance, a human life) is completely incomprehensible to corporations.

      Once you start thinking that way, of course, you see other aliens among us (nation-states, churches), but the corporations are the biggest concern these days.

      Whether you take it as metaphor or fact, it’s a very useful thinking exercise.

      [1] http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2010/12/invaders-from-mars.html

      • Thanks for the link, I’m a fan of Charles Stross’ work, and this is certainly an interesting contribution to the thought experiment.

      • Excellent comment, Sabik! – cogent and left-field at the same time! Yes – a great way of looking at them. – as potentially immortal, supra-national, inhuman, powerful, destructive entities that parasitise humans (especially the Type A’s) and that really do not have our best interests at heart (or even care) – and should therefore be planned for as a potential problem.

      • @Peter, I wouldn’t just say destructive and parasitic — corporations have done great constructive things, too, the relationship is a lot more subtle than just destructive parasitism, with massive amounts of mutualistic and commensal interactions along with the parasitic ones.

        They don’t like us or hate us — those are human emotions. Casting the corporations as our enemies is a category error for one thing, and for another ignores the complex symbiotic relationship that we have.

  15. Interesting, also, that the US legislation subsequently used to claim “person-hood” for corporations (The 14th Amendment) was originally drafted to protect the rights of freed slaves. Corporations claimed that they were just “groups of people brought together for business purposes” and therefore should have personal rights. I will consider the arguments only after the first Corporation (i.e. all its staff) are incarcerated for some corporate malfeance – apparently, the “personhood” doesn’t seem to extent that far

  16. Sabik, It’s the “Potentially” that’s important. Absolutely there are good and bad corporations – and no, they don’t have human emotions. In fact, the same applies for “good” and “bad” people. But corporations are legally-bound to maximise profit using any legal means – “just being nice” can get a CEO fired. They are governed by a set of principles that are very different from those that govern the members of a society. So the issue we face, just as it is with people, is to ensure we, as a society, can control the rogues both individual and corporate. I would argue a large multinational going rogue can cause considerably more damage than an individual. Look at the GFC. Despite incontrovertible evidence of pervasive and on-going crimes across all the big banks, the ONLY financier now in jail is Bernie Madhoff – and HE is in jail simply because he was stupid enough to steal from the Rich! And don’t forget the reason the GFC happened (the big one is still in front of us) is that Corporations used their power to lobby for the dismantling of financial legislation (Glass – Steagall etc) – so that what they were doing was, technically, no longer illegal. The US is in it’s current position simply because it has lost control of its corporations.

    • Oh, it’s not that corporations are legally bound to do this or that — it’s that the corporation takes on a life and an identity of its own, independent of any (or even all) the people that constitute it. At that point it’s not human, but it is a person. Whether it’s legally bound to maximise profit is an insignificant detail, it would be just as alien without it.

      The same applies to any institution we put together — nation-states, churches, universities, charities, clubs — they’re all non-human persons, they’re all aliens. They have different constitutions and rules, so they’re different kinds (species?) of aliens, but none of them are human.

      Some of these aliens have done great constructive things, built cathedrals, got us to the moon, built railways across continents, tamed the wilderness, probed the secrets of the atom and the universe… and, yes, some of them have done great evil.

      We also can’t get rid of them; as long as there are more than about three of us on the planet, they will arise from within us.

      (As an aside, as far as churches are concerned, Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods provides an interesting viewpoint; churches as alien beings are pretty much exactly the titular small gods of the novel.)

  17. Just had another thought:
    This list seems primarily – and in one case explicitly – targeted against government and corporate impositions on our rights. However it is worth considering our rights against other hostile entities. Specifically I am thinking of those who code/spread viruses and infect our computers with backdoors and other trojans.
    To some degree this is already dealt with by the stated rights against surveillance and data retention, but this is a narrow part of this issue. Sony’s classic rootkit may not be covered in this bill of rights. Botnets even less likely. Perhaps there ought to be some protection against the involuntary storage of data on our devices, or perhaps something similar. I’m not nerd enough to know the best way to phrase that though.

    • If it didn’t have the obvious trigger issues and trivialisation issues I’d suggest ‘digital rape’. Perhaps ‘digital violation’ would suffice.

      • The declaration should use the most unambiguous language possible, rather than the most evocative. Some people would consider having their ID stored by the passport office would be digital violation. We need to be precise and eloquent with our wording.

        Also, digital violation sounds like fingering someone.

      • As our digital selves (data, social media, devices) become more integral to our real-world persona & sense of self, digital violations become more like flesh-and-blood violations. The forcible storage of data or programs/agents/whatever on our digital ‘bodies’ will increasingly echo the sense of violation in real-world physical violence.

      • Sure. But “violation” just means breaking a rule or disrespecting something. Having a rule that says “don’t break digital rules” is circular, whilst saying “don’t digitally disrespect people” is vague. If I read the list of rights I want to have a good idea of what is permissible and what isn’t.

        We summarise what we consider to be appropriate behaviour in this declaration, so that people may understand it, even people with a quite simple grasp of the internet.

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