Events over the past few years have highlighted the extent to which technology is becoming seamlessly integrated into our daily lives. The emergence of self-driving cars, automated systems, and everyday items supported by the Internet of Things (IoT) illustrate this and examples of the impact this can have when things go wrong range from the Cambridge Analytica fallout to a number of attacks on our internet infrastructure.
The data, networks, and systems that underpin these technological advances are already impacting our digital rights. But, in the future, what might these rights look like if, for example, algorithmic “black boxes” are the tools that govern the world around us? How do we protect our rights and those of the most vulnerable in our society?
While many of us are engaged in fighting today’s battles for digital rights – and preparing for tomorrow’s – the Digital Freedom Fund (DFF) and Oxford Information Labs (OXIL) are mapping issues that digital rights defenders might come up against in five to ten years’ time and the potential strategies that could be adopted now to protect our digital rights in the future.
In September 2018, DFF hosted a “Future-proofing our Digital Rights” workshop in Berlin. The workshop resulted in a number of insights that were summarised in a post-event blog series (you can read posts in the series here, here, here, here and here), alongside which DFF published a set of essays that examined specific future risks to our digital rights and what we might do now to prepare ourselves for them.
Ingrida Milkaite and Eva Lievens (Ghent University, Belgium) looked at the risks posed to children with the increasing collection of their personal data through smart devices that are specifically created for them – the “Internet of Toys.” They noted that we could be pushing authorities to issue clearer guidance on how data protection law could be used to safeguard children’s rights. Sheetal Kumar (Global Partners Digital) explored the expected rise in IoT devices – with a forecast of 30 billion connected devices by 2023 – and the specific vulnerabilities this will expose individuals to when it comes to government hacking and cyberattacks. She suggested that civil society could document government agency hacking and the legal frameworks used to justify these actions, and observed that global norms could be relied on to limit the risks posed by the rise of IoT.
Steve Song (Mozilla Fellow) discussed the potential of a “splinternet” resulting from not only government initiatives (i.e. China’s Great Firewall), but also companies’ ownership of the physical infrastructure underpinning the internet. Song noted that existing laws around competition, consumer rights, and data protection could be leveraged to secure a robust marketplace instead of a “splinternet” monopolised by large platforms. Stacie Hoffmann (OXIL) highlighted the number of evolving digital divides, affected not only by access to technologies but their policy environments, and noted that what gets measured gets done. This was a call for meaningful data collection that can be used to support data-driven policy to prevent growing digital divides alongside the need to support digital skills capacity across society. Iris Lapinski, now the Chairwoman of Apps for Good, discussed the future scenario where artificial intelligence decides our rights. She considered three stages to managing the changes and challenges presented by this dystopian future.
A year since we held these conversations, a number of these future threats have increasingly become a reality. In order to help prepare ourselves for those challenges that are still on the horizon, we would like to continue the conversation about what digital rights threats we may be facing in five to ten years’ time and what steps we could be taking now to get ready to fight or protect ourselves against them.
DFF and OXIL are very excited to bring this conversation to MozFest in London this week. The Future-Proofing our Digital Rights session will be held on Sunday 27 October 2019, between 11:00am and 12:00pm, at Ravensbourne University (Room 804 – Level 8). Anyone interested in looking ahead at the opportunities, threats and challenges related to digital rights and discussing how we can prepare ourselves for the future is welcome to join. The workshop will be interactive, and all areas of expertise and interests are welcome. We hope to see you there.
For those who cannot make it to MozFest, we plan to share some of the issues and discussions that emerge during the session in a blog series over the coming months. If you would like to share your own views in a blog post in this series, please do get in touch!