There’s been a lot of talk about crafting a “Technology Bill of Rights” lately, and all of it centers around bestowing users of software and hardware with ‘rights’ related to that technology (pardon the redundancy). There’s a giant sized problem with this idea: All of these ‘rights’ infringe upon the people that are selling this technology.
To understand why this is a bad idea, we first must understand the term ‘Bill of Rights’ and its origin.
The Bill of Rights is the common name given to the first ten Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. These rights were written down in an attempt to garner more votes for ratification. The argument for them was that without them, the government would have free reign to limit free speech and due process, and property rights. The argument against them centers around the idea that these rights are not bestowed by any man, so they cannot be taken away by any man. They are properties of Natural Law. I have them because I was created, and in order to fulfill my purpose as a Human being, these are things that must be granted. Notice that none of the rights that I am granted infringe on anyone else. My right to Due Process does not harm you; and my right to Free Speech does not limit your right to the same. I have the right to bear arms because it is necessary to protect myself and my property from individual or collective tyranny.
The Problem with The “Technology Bill of Rights”
This “Technology Bill of Rights” does not operate in the same regard. It ‘grants’ rights that otherwise do not exist according to Natural Law, and in doing so it infringes upon the private property rights of others.
Article 1. Any individual shall be able to choose anonymity when posting to Internet sites – This ‘article’ infringes upon private property owners. It uses coercion and force (rule of law) to tell someone what they can or cannot do with their property — the very antithesis of liberty.
Article 2. No network provider may constrain or restrict access to the Internet in any way, shape, or form other than agreed-upon access speeds – This ‘article’ (once again) infringes upon private property owners and businesses. It forces them to swallow costs and not cater to the needs of their customers. Let’s say, for instance, that a particular Internet Service Provider (ISP) wanted to restrict access to all Adult material as its selling point (to become the premier ‘family oriented’ ISP); this article would prevent them from doing that. To say that I must allow access to morally objectionable material on my access point takes away my property rights. Outside of that, it is tantamount to interference in the market, which is never good for customers, and most certainly has unintended consequences.
Article 3. No individual shall be held liable for effects of malware or malicious code unknowingly run on a personal computer – This article doesn’t belong in any bill of rights. There are already laws governing destroying others’ property (which this most certainly qualifies as), and all it takes is common sense to realize that the government’s actions bordered on idiocy (when doesn’t it?). If anything, this is an instance where two things should have happened: 1) Jury Nullification should have been explained to the jurors and 2) Prosecutorial misconduct and over-reach should always be pursued.
Article 4. A company that produces and sells closed source software for use on computers shall be responsible for the security of that product, and a user has a right to seek damages in the event of a failure to secure their product – This is an attempt to legally offer redress for vulnerabilities found in Software. For as long as software is made by humans (in the same way that bridges are), there will always be failures. Knowing about vulnerabilities and not patching them is different than not knowing about vulnerabilities. This article does not differentiate between the two, and thus doesn’t pass muster.
Article 5. Any software or hardware used to conduct or support laws and public policy shall be open-source – The author of this article takes a good idea and turns it on its head. A better idea would be to reduce government to the point where this isn’t needed. I agree that citizens ought to have a right to confront source code if it is used to charge them with a crime; but to extend that to all software used by government? No thanks.
Article 6. Any media content legally purchased by an individual shall be available for private use on any device, at any time – This article once again limits a businesses right to limit how its property is being used. Notwithstanding the idiotic business decision behind Digital Rights Management (DRM), it is the right of those producing these products to determine how they are used. It’s an utterly stupid decision on the part of businesses, but it is a decision that is buoyed by the free market. When it’s more profitable for companies not to use DRM, then they’ll stop using DRM, or they won’t be able to compete as readily. Stardock has already dropped DRM, and others are following suit.
Missing the Point
Other so-called ‘Technology bill of Rights’ don’t fare so well either from a ‘free society’ perspective. More to the point, they operate within a faulty framework: That Congress is allowed to craft laws outside of its Constitutional limits — which is exactly why people are clamoring for these changes. There’s a simple answer to all of this: get government out of these issues. de-regulate and stop the utility protectionism that surrounds the cable and phone companies. Elect Congressional leaders not based on what they can do for your particular class; but rather how compatible their ideas are with a constitutional republic.
The bottom line is that while this ‘Bill of Rights’ may seem like a good idea; it has a whole host of issues that are incompatible with a free society. You cannot make one group more free at the expense of another group. That’s not freedom; that’s tyranny of the majority. We call that democracy.