Thomson Reuters, the venerable
marketeer legal publisher, has joined hands with the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, and not too small a smattering of federal alphabet law enforcement agencies, to produce a report on the future safety of the digital world. It’s called The Digital Economy: Potential, Perils and Promises, a report of the Digital Economy Task Force.
Curiously, news of the report was broken by David Lat at Above The Law, under the heading “The Dark Side of the Web.” After all, it’s not like ATL isn’t all about serious legal issues confronting the safety of children, right? Lat begins by offering his position:
I am on record as an optimist when it comes to the internet. The free flow of information on the web, including but not limited to websites like Above the Law, helps people make better decisions about their lives and careers (and also entertains, a value that shouldn’t be ignored).
Unclear as to what that meant, I clicked on the link, only to learn that Vivia Chen has no future as a video interviewer and that the quote above is all there is to David’s deeply nuanced view of internet freedom. It’s a shame, as I would hope for more from David on an issue that’s his bread and butter. But the report goes further.
The technological frontier of the digital economy presents countless opportunities and challenges for the public and private sectors, including for example, the potential to provide financial tools for more of the world’s poor who are currently “unbanked.” It is also evident that new forms of payment and trade continue to emerge – including digital currencies, prepaid cards, and alternative payment systems, among others – where anonymity reigns and their growth has been left largely unchecked.
While the growth of the digital economy can lead to many benefits, it also opens the door to those who seek new and profitable avenues to perpetrate illicit activities. The child pornography and sexual exploitation industries, in particular, are moving outside of traditional economic mechanisms and into the shadows of the digital world. It’s on this central issue that the DETF has decided to focus their effort.
What? Did you expect otherwise? Come on, when the report comes from the ICMEC, did you think they were going to be concerned about your privacy?
Our hope is that the recommendations contained in this report can lead to a worldwide policy debate of the digital economy. We need to inform decision makers and digital pioneers in order to develop new methods and mechanisms for addressing these groundbreaking technologies. And we must create a coordinated and thoughtful approach in light of this global, technological revolution. Together we can ensure that the potential of the digital economy is not exploited by those who seek to use it for harm.
Our global community deserves no less.
Okay, it’s not “do it for the children,” but do it for the global community. Same idea. The report contains every buzzword, from “thought leaders” to “stakeholders” to “human sex trafficking,” so no one feels left out. It praises the “good uses” of the internet, to make money off others, while artfully condemning how it’s become the new frontier for evil, who hide in the shadows of anonymity.
What is striking about the report is how it’s well-phrased to touch the heartstrings of anyone who has ever been hurt by dishonesty or worse, or fears that they or their loved ones could be victimized by the evil lurking behind the forces of technology. Not cops, mind you, because they do it to help us, but the bad, bad people whose identities we will never know.
Technologies that facilitate online anonymity, such as bulletproof hosting, anonymizing networks, and anonymous payments systems, offer a particular challenge: balancing their use for positive social impact against their potential misuse by those who perpetrate illicit activities.
Is this not true? Is it wrong to expect balance, to demand honesty and integrity from the digital world just as we do in the physical world? The argument has enormous appeal, especially to the vast majority of people who would have never been capable of using a computer had Bill Gates not invented Windows and forced people to use DOS.
The internet is foreboding and scary to most. It seems as if it’s the perfect digital underworld, leaving us at the mercy of criminals hiding behind “anonymizing networks” so we can never find them. This report will resonate with many, even though its sweet words can’t conceal its true significance, that it is a fundamental attack on what little privacy remains in the name of making the digital world as safe and happy a place as the physical one.
At Coyote, there was a post not long ago entitled, The Road to Totalitarianism is Paved with Good Intentions. Who doesn’t want to protect children? Who doesn’t wish the criminals, liars,
marketeers, and psychos couldn’t be stopped? And so they can, but you will have to pay a price to make the digital world as perfect as the real one.