It was recently reported that Google has agreed to pay the Federal Trade Commission a record $22.5 million fine for violating online privacy agreements. Earlier this year the Obama Administration released a blueprint for a “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights” for online users. And recently the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute was one of several organizations who signed on to the “Declaration of Internet Freedom.”
There is a growing sense that Internet users are entitled to minimum standards of privacy, openness and access online. How has this idea evolved in the United States? And how does it compare to consumer and policy maker expectations in Europe? Is the rise of the Pirate Party, first in Sweden but now also Germany, a reflection of European voter frustration on digital policy issues?
This week the New America Foundation and the Heinrich Boell Stiftung, a German think tank, hosted a joint event to discuss a range of topics related to digital issues and internet policies.
Open Technology Institute Policy Research Associate Patrick Lucey reported on the highlights:
Daniel Weitzner, the deputy chief technology officer for Internet policy at the White House, kicked off the conversation, which explored topics like the Obama Administration’s proposed “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights” for online users and European protests of ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. The ACTA is an international treaty that raises concerns similar to the SOPA/PIPA debate in Congress earlier this year. Just like American citizens, residents of Europe are worried that over-aggressive copyright enforcement could lead to increased online surveillance and limits to free speech.
Two major themes emerged from the panelists’ comments. First, the public is extremely engaged on policies that govern our online experience. Usually dismissed as overly technical, Internet governance issues have grabbed the public’s attention, underscoring the importance users place on freedom online. Dr. Jeanette Hofmann, the director of the Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society, noted that the rise of the Pirate Party in Germany has forced all other political parties to clearly define their positions on a range of Internet policy issues.
Second, there is a strong public expectation that policy reforms which could impact our online experience must be debated in an open and public way before being implemented. Part of the opposition to SOPA/PIPA in the U.S. and ACTA abroad was rooted in process as much as content: Citizens refused to accept reforms that were drafted in secret or attempted to be rushed through Congress.
At the end of the event panelists agreed that while there are many cultural differences between the U.S and Europe, citizens here and abroad are in closer agreement than many think when it comes to expectations on online privacy, surveillance and efforts to maintain a free and open Internet.