We Need a Bill of Digital Rights

The more personal technology evolves, seemingly the more intrusive it becomes.  If all of us had the time to read every EULA (End User Licensing Agreement) we signed in order to get access to technology - and if we all had the ability to fully understand them - we would be shocked at the rights we sign away and what we give the makers of our devices and the providers of our apps and content to right to do to us.

Pure capitalists respond to this notion in a very specific way.  Uncomfortable with the arrangement?  Don't sign it.  Don't use it.

Unfortunately, it's not that simple.  And I'm not talking about somebody's desire to experience the cool factor of Google Glass overriding their common sense.  I'm talking about technology's contribution to society and how society runs, and how indispensable it already is - and will continue to become.

Perhaps a hypothetical situation is in order.  Aaron and Fred are competitors.  Each needs to schedule a business lunch with a common business contact we'll call Malcom.  As Aaron walks down the street between meetings, he uses his gadget-du-jour to look up Malcom's customer profile, where he's annotated Malcom's business address and food preferences.  Without breaking stride, Aaron tentatively books reservations at three five-star restaurants in the vicinity of Malcom's office that serve the type of food he likes.  He also e-mails Malcom to tell him to take his pick.

Fred, on the other hand, doesn't want to sign away his rights.  He has to wait to get back to his office to get Malcom's number and tell him to hold a lunch appointment.  He'll have to make several other phone calls to book reservations and confirm.  It might take him 30 minutes to set up the same business lunch that Aaron set up in 5 while walking down the street between meetings.

Who wins when tasks that normally take 30 minutes instead take five minutes, and are checked off with minimal effort on the part of the technology user?

Over the long haul, how much more efficient and effective is Aaron as compared to Fred?  How long is it before Fred's resistance to signing away his digital rights begins to hurt his ability to compete?  To enjoy free time?  To function within society?

When we start to think about how technology advances grant us power within our society, at what point do we begin to think that avoiding the use of technology puts citizens at a material disadvantage as compared to everyone else?

To me, this is the most compelling argument for a digital Bill of Rights.  By that, I mean real amendments to the Constitution of the United States that give us certain rights of privacy, recourse and more.  In that fashion, these rights would be both natural and inalienable in the sense that they cannot be signed away.

Nobody should need to, as a precondition of their being able to function within a digital society, sign away their rights to seek recourse through the court system in favor of an arbitrator.  Or remove their right to band together and sue under class action status.  Nobody should sign away a reasonable expectation of privacy.  Nobody should be put in a situation where their own device can testify against them in a court proceeding.  Nobody should be in a position where the maker of their device can materially change the functionality of something they own on a whim.  We should live in a society where the response to even attempting to write something into a EULA that violates basic digital rights results in a nullification of that attempt - Sorry, it's unconstitutional.

The next big wave involves bridging the gap between digital technology and the physical world.  How long will it be before we're able to visualize objects using a smart device and replicate them with a physical model?  Given the advances in 3D printing recently, not long at all.  Now, what if in order to participate in that next big wave we need to sign away rights to corporations to get access to the technology?  

Whether or not we use technology to its fullest extent plays a big role in how employable we are, how our voices are heard and how much spare time we'll have with which to pursue happiness.  We shouldn't have to sacrifice basic rights to be on the same level playing field as a typical citizen within our society.

We need to think these things through, then draft and pass a Digital Bill of Rights.