The Digital Age is like the Federalist Papers

Remember reading The Federalist Papers in 8th grade civics class? Probably not. Here's a brief review.


The series of papers called The Federalist were published in New York city newspapers under the name of an author named Publius. It was later revealed that it was a single pen-name for three separate authors: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, The Federalist (as it was originally titled) was a defense of the United States Constitution against the New York press and the men who would vote on its passage (of course, no women were allowed to vote). New York had yet to ratify the U.S. Constitution. These three men, unequaled in the persuasive power of their pens, took on the task of writing 85 articles, published in the New York press beginning in 1787. The Anti-Federalists quickly responded, with Governor George Clinton taking on the lead role in the opposition. The Federalist Papers is a treatise unequaled in American rhetorical writings.



I was reminded of The Federalist Papers while reading Ro Khanna's new book, Dignity in a Digital Age: Making Tech Work for All of Us. Who is Ro Khanna? He is the Member of Congress who represents Silicon Valley. My first thought about his book was that the opposition of the Anti-Federalists described in The Federalist Papers sounds exactly like the situation we have in the U.S Congress right now--fierce division. Evidence of this divisiveness was witnessed just last week, when Congress voted 53-47 on the nomination of the next Supreme Court Justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson. She is the first Black woman ever to be appointed to the highest court in our nation. It never would have happened without three brave Republicans crossing party lines.


Dignity in a Digital Age

This book is Khanna's own version of The Federalist Papers for a new-age Digital Constitution. Although in this case, there is no "Digital Constitution" to debate against. Khanna just spells out what is wrong with the current tech generation of billionaires and their faulty business models, you know: founders of Amazon, Facebook, and Google--the behemoths ruling all your private data. When the tech giants are called to appear before the Senate, the Senators are so ignorant, they can't even ask cogent questions. After reading the book, my personal opinion is that Republicans will simply dismiss this book as a "Democrat's Wet Dream". It is packed with billion- and trillion-dollar proposals for righting the ship. Correcting the mistakes we let the digital giants get away with.



Nevertheless, everyone in Congress should read this book. It is packed with radical proposals like affordable health care, affordable child care, Medicare for everyone, and affordable housing as the foundation of the new digital age. Republicans and Democrats alike can learn lessons and perhaps even adopt some of the massive proposals. By contrast, one single war budget ($2.3 trillion spent on Afghanistan so far) would pay for a lot of Khanna's ideas.


Indeed, we need to pay more attention to the digital war being waged against the United States or else we will end up as China's pansies. Having lost control of the Internet, we need to pay close attention to the next digital war: Artificial Intelligence. China is not as advanced as we are right now, but how long will it take them to catch up? Apparently, they build a new university every week. What controls do we need to implement to make certain that A.I. doesn't turn into the next digital nightmare.


Where to start?

Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked Khanna to draft an Internet Bill of Rights. To do this, Khanna reached out to Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the World Wide Web. They reached out to other experts, and propose these

10 basic principles that could become the foundation of federal privacy legislation. He describes them as the basis for online protections for Americans "consistent with our democratic values." Here they are.


The Internet Bill of Rights

  1. OPT-IN CONSENT. This proposal simply states that each online user give his/her explicit consent before their data can be collected, transferred or used. This would reduce unwanted targeting and improper use of their data to get into their personal lives.

  2. KNOWLEDGE OF DATA USE. Most consumers have no idea what happens to their data once it is submitted to an internet platform. Consumers would have the right to know what their content is used for.

  3. DELETING PERSONAL DATA AND ABUSIVE CONTENT. We should have the right to delete personal data from digital platforms and business databases. The European Union (EU) goes as far as allowing residents to be "forgotten". They can petition Google, for example, to delete information others have posted about them.

  4. SECURITY AND NOTIFICATION. We need to have the right to have our data protected, and if there is a breach, we should be notified in a timely manner.

  5. PORTABILITY AND INTEROPERABILITY. "Today's online world is reminiscent of the historical era in television when we had three major broadcast networks," says Khanna. A very select group of individuals living in the Bay Area tell us what can be presented to us, and how. What if we could easily move all of our data to a different site, say a competitor to Facebook?

  6. NET NEUTRALITY. This is the idea that the internet should be equally open to all who want and need to use it. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should not be able to charge more for faster internet speed, block content, or slow down service as a result of increased data use.

  7. DATA MINIMIZATION FOR INTERNET ACCESS. Companies should not be able to collect more data than they need. ISPs such as AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast know that the big money is in data. They are jealous of Amazon, Google, and Facebook.

  8. MULTIPLE PROVIDERS AND PLATFORMS. There should be more ISPs and open platforms. Affordability cannot be overstated. Americans pay almost 2x as much as Europeans for internet access because we have so few ISPs.

  9. PREVENTING UNFAIR DATA DISCRIMINATION. "Artificial Intelligence makes it possible to detect patterns in large quantities of data and make recommendations based on that analysis, However, these capabilities run up against rights and protections that are central to this country's ideals," writes Khanna. This can lead to discrimination in many ways.

  10. FIDUCIARY DUTY. Institutions that hold and manage our data should act in our best interest, and protect our privacy, They hold a position equal to banks, doctors, and lawyers.

There is a lot to absorb in this book. It presents a rather perfect world where data is tightly controlled and people use the internet responsibility. I think the possibility is there, but it is highly unlikely it will be implemented.

However, it doesn't hurt to try, as Khanna persists in pushing these proposals. We should support his efforts to clean up the digital disarray!



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