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Signing the Bill of RightsAn Electronic Bill of Rights

by Winn Schwartau
President and CEO,
Interpact, Inc.

American leadership need to realize that as a result of creeping indifference, today, “In Cyberspace you are guilty until proven innocent.” Our collective digital faces are rubbed into that unfortunate truism every day as decisions that affect each of our lives are made without our consent or knowledge. As individuals we are known by our Digital Essence embodied as bits and bytes distributed amongst 50,000 + anonymous data bases over which we no have access or recourse to amend, edit or correct.

For $100, I hired my cyber-PI neighbor to assemble the medical, financial, legal records and whatever else he could find on a local TV news reporter (with his consent.) The results? 17 pounds of records, 14.5” high.

I went to the Internet and, using my VISA card, paid for on-line research in the hopes of further violating my victim’s privacy. When all was said and done, I spent less than $1,000 and knew more about the TV personality than he knew about himself; including spousal abuse.

This is wrong. Morally and ethically, this is wrong. The 200 year old concept of public records did not envision Intel, Microsoft or the Internet. The Constitution did not envision the records of 265 million Americans being sold on a CD for $29.95. The solution is a simple, yet bold one, requiring political strength, vision and the love of one’s constituency more than oneself.

The answer is a six point Electronic Bill of Rights which takes into account the realities of modern technology, and overarching legislative wisdom.

1. I own my name. My name is mine to do with as I please. Not yours.

2. You, as a business, may use my name for the purpose of our transaction only. You may not sell, barter or otherwise market my name, or any information about me, without my explicit permission.

3. If you need to keep my name in files for the purpose of ongoing business, you will protect it from abuse, illicit access or accidental release.

4. If you have any files containing my name, you must notify me of the existence of those files, send me copies upon request, and provide a reasonable means to add, delete or correct information.

5. The Government will create a new Data Classification called “Personal but Unclassified,” and set standards for its protection in both the private sector and for legitimate government needs.

6. I will have civil and criminal recourse against persons and organizations, private and government, who either violate my Electronic Rights, or permit them to be violated.

These simple principles will bring back much of the privacy that has been eroded away since the dawn of the computer age. It places a common sense limit to how my name may be used, and will add credibility and accuracy to existing data bases.

These simple principles will also cause a backlash by those organizations who do not believe in the privacy rights of the individual and whom make their living by twisting the concepts of public records and unregulated data bases for their personal profit.

But more importantly, these simple principles will help us find the leaders in Congress who understand how critical and fundamental these rights are and should be. These new leaders will find the political courage to finally make cyberspace a much, much safer place to play, live and do business.

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eRibbons are courtesy of Alon Cohen and are available at http://people.bu.edu/xrpnt/ribbons/ribbon.html/ CURRENT EVENTS READING: Asymmetrical Adversarialism by Winn Schwartau NEW: Internet and Computer Ethics for Kids by Winn Schwartau Free! Download the 1st edition of Schwartau's classic: Information Warfare Cybershock: Schwartau's guide to protecting yourself on the Internet