Digital technologies are now deeply and inextricably embedded across the entire sphere of human activities. People no longer think of the online world as only virtual, in the sense of it ‘not being real’. On the contrary, they view digital services and applications as an essential part of their lives and as carriers of great benefits as well as significant threats.
Along with providing immense opportunities for citizens who respect the Rule of Law, the global digital environment also provides a new space for criminals, terrorists and others with malicious intent. Child pornography, hate speech, incitement to violence, piracy of intellectual property, fraud and money laundering have migrated online, and attacks on networks and information infrastructures proliferate. Consequently, cybercrime and cybersecurity have become major concerns.
The global digital space has evolved largely according to the maxim that, at least in theory, “people should enjoy the same autonomy, rights and freedoms online as they do offline”. Nevertheless, arbitrary restrictions on access to the Internet and digital media, and unbounded attempts by government or companies to monitor our online activities often interfere with fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression and information, freedom of association, and the protection of our privacy.
How do we maintain the freedoms and as well benefit from the abundant opportunities that the digital ecosystem brings – to express ourselves, to be creative as professionals as well as responsible citizens, to share our opinions freely – while also building into the same digital space adequate safeguards against attacks that intend to harm? How, in short, can we reconcile liberty, security and ethical behaviour in the digital world? The Digital Enlightenment Forum (DigEnlight) takes the firm position that the new regulatory and legal safeguards required in our digital world should continue to be developed within a framework that integrates in the process the new dimension of “digital ethics”.
In the last three years such issues have been the focus of intense debate within DigEnlight. This has included the Forum 2015 held in Kilkenny in March 2015; Workshops on Cyber Security for Europe (Brussels, May 2014); Security, Surveillance and Civil Liberties in Cyber Space (Brussels, November 2015); and Digital Ethics (Brussels, March 2016); and conferences on the Internet of Things (Brussels, November 2015); and Trusted Data Management in Health Care (Amsterdam, June 2016) also dealing with related topics. Reports from all of these are available on the DigEnlight website: http://digitalenlightenment.org.
This White Book attempts to draw together these various strands emanating from diverse viewing angles, as well as differing “schools of thought”.
It constitutes, we believe, a meaningful contribution to the on-going efforts.