Greetings from Portsmouth, New Hampshire!
First off, I have to give a shout out to the Philadelphia Eagles on a well-earned victory in the Super Bowl. It has been fun seeing the joy it brought to the city and its fans. I just hope no one got hurt diving off the Ritz-Carlton awning or while hanging out on top of the various streetlights in Center City! Eagles fans are certainly ... unique.
On a more serious note, I was sorry to see that internet pioneer John Perry Barlow passed away this week. He gave one of my personal favorite IAPP keynotes in San Jose in 2012. Barlow was a great storyteller and spoke about the powers of unchecked government surveillance and the effects they can have on personal liberty. Almost fittingly, his keynote took place just a matter of months before the Snowden leaks in June 2013.
Reading his Wikipedia page is like something out of a novel: an ex-Mormon academic who introduced the Grateful Dead to Timothy Leary. After traveling the world, he ended up running his family's 22,000-acre cattle farm in Wyoming, all the while co-penning some of the Grateful Dead's most famous songs. More significantly for our field, however, Barlow envisioned the power of the internet on society, writing "The Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace" and co-founding the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Without a doubt, he was a force for good and will be sorely missed.
There have been countless tributes to Barlow, and rightfully so, but I'm also drawn to a column from former EFF staffer and current Slate tech journalist April Glaser. While acknowledging Barlow's inspiring message for personal liberty online, she also challenges his message as an incomplete one. Much of his vision of battling government surveillance for a free and unfettered cyberspace, according to Glaser, failed to take into account the growth of unregulated platforms and other private-sector organizations, or, for example, "places where journalism has gotten lost in the weeds of fake news and new startups have diminishing chances of competing." She continues: "I can't help but ask what might have happened had the pioneers of the open web given us a different vision — one that paired the insistence that we must defend cyberspace with a concern for justice, human rights, and open creativity, and not primarily personal liberty."
Without a doubt, we're entering a new phase in the digital world, one where artificial intelligence, facial recognition, robotics, and so many other big data and technological advancements are integrating with products and services the world around. It's super exciting but fraught with peril, especially for disadvantaged communities and vulnerable people.
Privacy pros can have a role here. Just as Europe considers privacy a fundamental human right, those on the ground who are helping to build and oversee new products and services and implementing privacy by design should consider not just whether they comply with the letter of the law, but also whether they comply with the spirit of it: that the Digital Age ought not to demand we trade rights for goods and services.
Barlow's vision may have been incomplete. It may even be too much to think he should have seen our current digital world coming. But privacy pros can help build on his vision of freedom and openness and help make a dynamic cyberspace one that includes human rights and justice for all.
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