The Rights of Digital Man

As the virtual world expands, so, too, do breaches of trust and misuse of personal data. But we can shape our future cyber-world in a way that keeps our data safe, reestablishes trust online, and welcomes in billions of new participants.

ABU DHABI – We have created an online world whose vastness exceeds our comprehension. As a measure of its magnitude, consider this: In 2012, the new Internet address system, IPv6, created more than 340 trillion trillion trillion (3.4 x 1038) addresses – that is, around 4.8 x 1028 addresses for every person on earth. That should be sufficient to service the five billion devices that currently connect to the internet, and the 22 billion devices forecast to be in use by 2020.

The hard part of the connectivity explosion is not building capacity, but how it should be managed. We must answer profound questions about the way we live. Should everyone be permanently connected to everything? Who owns which data, and how should information be made public? Can and should data use be regulated, and, if so, how? And what role should government, business, and ordinary Internet users play in addressing these issues?

Such questions can no longer be ignored. As the virtual world expands, so, too, do breaches of trust and misuse of personal data. Surveillance has increased public unease – and even paranoia – about state agencies. Private companies that trade in personal data have incited the launch of a “reclaim privacy” movement. As one delegate at a recent World Economic Forum debate, noted: “The more connected we have become, the more privacy we have given up.”

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