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Towards an Online Bill of Rights

There are a lot of things happening in the online sphere, but effective self-governance is not one of them. This chapter asserts that there is a need for an online 'Bill of Rights' and reflects on how this might be made possible for netizens. Critical areas under discussion in the Onlife manifesto include concepts such as hyper-history, the lack of mediation in the online sphere, the erosion of privacy, a loss of context, distributed epistemic responsibility and even the right to digital euthanasia. A central theme in the Onlife Manifesto is the way the 'virtual' and 'real' are now woven together into an enmeshed life experience. Yet, the way in which individual rights are understood and asserted vis-à-vis the online sphere remains remarkably unarticulated. How can we continue as humans if a key part of our daily experience takes place overlapping into a sphere in which our rights are not articulated and— even more importantly—protected? Yet, even though we have arrived at what Ess has called in a discussion of the Onlife Manifesto a “critical moment” for policy intervention regarding our digital future, it would seem paradoxically that the online sphere itself lacks this capability to inspire or create policy to protect online citizens. This chapter addresses the issue of online awareness of internet rights and policy on three levels. First, it reflects on why there is a lack of effective self-governance and policy direction in the online sphere. This calls for an explanation of how people perceive the norms of the online sphere—and how some utopian perceptions may cloud judgments about the increasingly asymmetric power relationships among online users, internet-service providers and the state. Secondly, the chapter mines some of key points raised in the Onlife project, as well as those identified in other calls for online rights, to suggest a list of six fundamental online rights to demand: the right to privacy, the right to own your own data, the right to a personal life, the right to avoid being forced offline for safety, the ability to switch off when needed as well as public spaces for civic debate online. Finally, this chapter discusses the difficult issue of translating crowd-sourced discussion into actual policy. It is not surprising that new technologies call for new governance, but as the internet has changed people, technology and their affordances simultaneously at great speed, the linked issues of self-awareness and self-governance in the online sphere are critical. How can we possibly unlock the potential of self-aware, online governance? The answer may lay in a greater effort by state Leviathans such as the European Commission. Overall, it is more useful to stop dreaming of cyber-utopias and start creating cyber-preserves of free exchange.

 
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