***HONORABLE MENTION*** 2015 Nissenbaum Internet Law Scholarship Essay – ZENZELE OJORE (Rhode Island School of Design- Anticipated Graduation Date: 2018)

How Can The American Legal System Improve Its Approach To Policing And Regulating Digital Technology Without Unduly Stifling Innovation And Civil Liberties?

As digital innovation grows and internet access is becoming easily accessible to people from and the world, more individuals are invested in creating technology that not only makes the lives of its users easier but provides electronic material that is more advanced than what currently exist. Yet, as there will always be a steady rise in digital innovation there will always be legal concerns to where innovation ends and the need for and legal protection for its users begin. As the internet is this unlimited means to information, communication, and creation there are concerns as to if there should be limitations to its abilities, that might in turn stifle the ability for digital creatives to design products that help to move the nation further in advancements. Creation of digital media such as social media sites and blogs allow easy access to communication with people from every corner of the world but also allow for malicious members to gain access to other people’s information and private lives. In regulating such sites, is it ok to disrupt the innovated ability of quick communication because there are individuals who seek to use it with negative intentions? If anything there will always be people who choose to one up the system and go around the true intentions of digital technologies for malevolent objectives. The legal system might do better in understanding that these issues will occur and seeking to develop methods to weed out persons or companies that use media with negative intentions while still allowing people to create and distribute their innovated material to the world.

A step that would allow policing of digital technology to be carried out fairly is the creation of an Internet database that would allow individuals to reveal their concerns about certain technologies that they believe might be taking away certain rights and raising confidentiality issues. In the creation of this site people could file claims and these accusations could be investigated as to whether the legal assistance is necessary or not. Also, if the laws were directly geared towards just allowing the community to be informed about the limitations and possible privacy concerns about certain digital technologies and sites, individuals would be able to pick and choose which ones they might decide to use. This would allow advancement to continue while giving people the ability to see if certain sites would go against their privacy concerns from the beginning, consequently resulting in everyone having an understanding of what liberties and protection might be available to them. Individuals would not be able to state that they weren’t fully informed of what they were signing up for and people would have more access to information.

For example, in the most recent case of social media vs. civil liberty: Facebook has created a bit of a stir with the creation of something that have made many people feel like they were losing rights. In creation of Facebook’s new Messenger App that allowed their users to use a separate App from the original Facebook one to communicate with their friends via their phone; many people found issue with the App’s ability to share one’s information and location. This appeared to many as an invasion of privacy, although Facebook stated it was implemented to create a better service for its consumers. The program made many feel that their privacy was being imposed on and that innovation was more important than their rights.

This issue shows the problem that arises when modernization is met with a legal barrier that is in place. I believe the American legal system could go about situations like this and more by regulating technologies ability to access and manipulate it’s viewers information by requiring them to label the steps they are taking to protect the consumers privacy somewhere on their digital website or product. If a company were to state how they plan to protect one’s information at the start it’d be easier for a consumer to decide if it were the right type of product for them or not. Also, it is important for technology creators to let their consumer know if their information will be changed or updated, providing this information somewhere that is easy to read. Digital providers should also detail whether any changes will result in a change in privacy guidelines and they should state this upfront before the change begins, allowing people the chance to delete their account if they are uncomfortable.

Sometimes when sites update or change the way they have going about something they neglect to inform the consumers about all the changes that will be implicated. These results in anger from those consumers who feel they don’t have enough of a say in something that they are investing money and time in. Also, when sites evolve or upgrade their privacy settings are changed in result, in requiring that these changes be stated upfront people would be informed to what is happening to their information and whether they are ok with continuing to use this technology. Communication between creators of technology and those that use these products are essential to a society of well-informed citizens. Allowing the American Legal system to serve as a middleman between the law, technology advancement, and customer concerns would allow for a brighter future generation and progress in digital innovation to continue to thrive.

The advancement and progress of digital technology is reaching a point where many feel that one most choose to accept innovation while giving up their rights to privacy and civil liberty but the implication of certain limitations to this will not only allow advancement to continue but allow consumers to rest assure that they will not lose their rights to privacy.