In the UK today, there is an unquestioned belief in the fundamental right to safety. It is built into the legal framework, and thus the culture of our nation, that every citizen has the inalienable right to be protected from physical violence.
Now, some 200+ years later, a citizen can face security threats that emanate in the online realm. As technology rolls on at a supersonic rate and becomes further integrated into our daily lives, the argument can be made that the average citizen is more likely to be hacked than face physical violence in their lifetime.
Yet despite these new cyber threats, there is currently no agreed upon framework about a citizen’s right to be safe online.
A society will only function if people have the guaranteed right to safety. This has been true in every period of history.
In primitive societies, tribes were organized to keep members safe from predators or enemies. In the Middle Ages, lords and vassals existed in a feudal system that provided mutual protection. And in modern times, the mission of preserving people’s right to be safe has been embraced by the political and judicial branches of nation states. The single greatest achievement of modern democracy is that the right to security is granted to everyone, and no person’s security is solely reliant on his/her own self-defense.
This is not the case in the digital world.
The Internet as we know it was created just over 20 years ago. In roughly two decades it has transformed our lives to where we now spend an average 6 hours a day online.
But we are far from being safe in this new digital realm.
Cyber criminality now accounts for more than 0.5% of the world’s GDP according to McAfee, and costs the global economy some $445B annually. In the United States 15% of people, roughly 40 million (larger than the population of California) reported having personal information stolen online.
The digital world we operate in is like the American West of the 1800’s, where one’s safety came down to their own abilities and resources. If you had guns and horses, you probably fared better than the immobile and defenseless. In the digital world, if you know about encryption, VPNs or antivirus protection, you probably fare better than your contemporaries.
From a moral standpoint, we cannot accept the fact that one’s safety is correlated to their technical knowledge. The learning curve on how to use a gun in the old west was quite short, but the same can’t be said of technology that can keep one safe online.
With that being the case, the question must be asked of who is going to define and guarantee the right to be safe on the Internet?
According to the Stanford Philosophical Dictionary, a right exists because it is “defined and at least theoretically guaranteed by some legal system, social convention, or ethical theory.”
The Internet is decentralized and is not controlled by any government. Can a government guarantee you the right to be safe in a world they don’t control? Social conventions don’t encourage hacking, but they don’t stop the development of cyber criminality either. And ethical theory is useful, but it alone doesn’t solve the problem…
The answer ? A collective effort!
As often in exciting innovative times, we might have to invent something new. Businesses are more active in shaping the digital world than governments. Perhaps it’s actually their responsibility to guarantee some basic rights to Internet users. Defending people’s right to be safe on the Internet could take the form of a social movement initiated by individuals, corporations or NGOs. Every organization involved in the digital world should feel the pressure to guarantee an equal right to be safe. Through a few simple commitments, everyone should be driving users through the safest tools and behaviors. It doesn’t mean teaching cryptography to everyone, but investing in making safe systems simpler so that they can be used by anyone.
At Dashlane, we proudly see ourselves as pioneers of this movement. We are bringing an ultra-safe identity management solution, using military grade encryption, to 3M+ users. The majority of them don’t know about cryptography, but we make sure it helps them have a safer journey through the digital world and focus on the great projects they are involved in. But it’s a drop in the bucket. There is still a long way to go…