***WINNER*** 2015 Nissenbaum Internet Law Scholarship Essay – JAMES D. HAYES (Seattle University School of Law – Anticipated Graduation Date: May 2017)

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

As globalization increases at an unprecedented rate and technology sprouts from nearly every nook and cranny of our daily lives, and increasingly so, the growing phenomenon carries a handful of questions and issues as outdated laws struggle to keep it in place. In particular, digital technology poses many questions, as it is becoming a grounds for illegal distribution, copyright infringement, and a free-riding resource that takes copious amounts of time, energy, and labor to create. In response, the American legal system can improve its regulation and policing of digital technology by ensuring digital technology is taken seriously, valued and affordable.

To begin, digital technology must be taken seriously; this is to say the limitless accounts, usernames, and information – which seem largely scattered about in the digital space – must be regulated to better identify individuals on the internet. Currently, there is a digital spider web of genuine, false, and somewhere-in-between accounts; many individual users do not have accounts, while other individual users have multiple accounts, some with conflicting information – this must be better regulated. The legislature needs to propose that everyone, somewhat like their social security number – but not the identical number for security purposes – has a digital security number. From this, all users must use their digital security number to create an account on any digital technological software, interface, etc. By doing so, digital technology will be better policed because all individuals knows that their digital security number will always trace back to them and thus this will serve as a self-policing deterrent.

Further, it not only gives the government an idea of how many internet users we have, but also it allows further innovation because there is less security risk of pirating, given the increased surveillance on accounts. While this may seem intrusive at first, it proves no more invasive than a social security number itself, and much like a social security number the negatives of stolen identity, fraud, and others come with this; however, it will help clear up the digital spider web and pave a clear path to additional secure innovation, while simultaneously reducing the number of individuals who use the digital world as a playground on others’ hard work and privacy. Additionally, while this only applies to residents of the United States, due to jurisdictional reasons, it seems this may be one of the largest pirating categories of individuals; after all many countries have created their own versions of digital technology. Most importantly, it allows digital users to take their digital identity as serious as their actual identity, and this leads me to my next point; by taking digital technology and identity more serious, one can find the value in the product.

Secondly, digital technology must be valued. One way to accomplish this is for legal entities to raise awareness to the public demonstrating the time, energy, hard work, and effort into making the digital technology. Often times, those who fail to notice the value in a product, do not see it as worthy of the price and are not confident in paying for it. If we can increase individual perceptions on the value of the product, we can further increase the likelihood individuals will confidently buy the products as they see them as a product of hard work and worthy of the price. Additionally, Peer-to-Peer sites must be more heavily regulated. By having countless expensive products suddenly free at one’s fingertips it not only takes away the value these products have, but it also allows one to free-ride on others’ product of intensive labor and time. With this in mind, to make digital technology further valued and confidently paid for, it must be appropriately priced and made more readily available.

Thirdly, another self-policing technique is making digital technology more affordable. Programs such as Photoshop, Microsoft Office, and After Effects are quite expensive based on a minimum wage salary – some even costing more than entry-line computers. Given this, many resort to pirating of software because purchasing the digital technology poses too great a burden to bear, demonstrating that even if a product is highly valued, if it is not affordable, individuals simply cannot make the purchase. Further, many countries allow programs central to computer functioning, such as Microsoft Office, to be installed as part of the factory settings, not all computers do this in the United States; this leads to both individuals becoming more apt to pirate such programs and individuals not valuing a product properly, due to lack of exposure to the product. If more knew about technology such as Photoshop, more would know the value of the product, and if it were more affordable, more would buy it confidently. The legislature could mandate that computers are to come installed with basic software free for both the purpose of exposure to the products and cheaper costs to the customers. For example, it could be mandated that computer companies are to pay software companies a given amount per computer, which has their product installed, and as a result, the computer company could receive a small amount back per computer purchased – this not only benefits individual consumers, because the digital technology price is fixed into the computers price and also because it is purchased via manufacturer-to-manufacturer at wholesale, but also the software and computer companies.

In sum, the American legal system often faces difficult tasks of balancing freedom and regulation, but one alternative is self-policing. To achieve further self-policing in the world of digital technology, if said technology is taken seriously, valued, and affordable, it is likely more individuals will front the cost because they are more confident in doing so. After all, we all know few things in life are free, however, we also know that when one is not confident in buying an expensive product, which one does not take seriously, it seems highly unlikely one would accept the burden. To conclude, digital technology seems to be on a strong positive curve of ever-expanding and ever-increasing, action must be taken, but rights are to be protected, as a solution to the American legal system approach, we need to aim for deterrence, confidence, and self-policing through affordability, digital security numbers, and valued products.