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The importance of developing a ‘digital constitution’

Kenny MacIver & Rae Ritchie— November 2019

As the first internet generation, the responsibility falls on us to set in stone the online rights of users for centuries to come, says Andreas Ekström.

• Fujitsu Forum Munich 2019 keynote speaker •

To emphasize the importance of our times — and the responsibility we have to future generations— Andreas Ekström, award-winning keynote speaker and author, is calling for the ‘a digital constitution’ that will set in stone the rights of every online user.

“We’re privileged to be the first digital professional generation. We’re the founding fathers and mothers of the internet and that comes with some serious responsibilities.

“Ideally we should be building digital environments (companies and societies) that will allow us to look in the mirror when we are retiring and say, ‘I did good for my company but I also did do good for the global internet, and so for the democracy of the world.’”

The fundamental decisions Ekström wants us to make — around things like net neutrality and the universal availability of the internet – will mean that in 100 or 200 years time historians will be able to say, we do it like this today because they made the right decisions and defined the fundamentals the in the early 21st century, he says.

“We should have done this earlier. And there were some attempts made by the internet’s founding fathers who had some good ideas and laid out a set of ground rules about what the internet should be. But those were very activistic, very idealistic, very university-centric. But the internet is not like it was then anymore.”

“We have to understand that we’re in a new place now and it's a truly global situation, which means that so many different cultures, religions, political views, need to be negotiated into a common playing field [for the internet], where we say, ‘This is what we can do.’” And that sounds pretty difficult.

He cites the challenge of accommodating the right of free expression across different counties and cultures. “Freedom of speech is going to be different in the United States versus China versus Russia versus India. We are going to have to have an internet of different cultures. But if we the people don’t do that, then the freedoms we've known on the internet are going to be taken away.”

“You’re going to see not only the ‘walled garden’ of China but of every nation. It’s not an internet as a beautiful ocean, it’s an internet of puddles — and I just don’t want that.”
The rights of man

The question, then, is what goes into a digital constitution.

Ekström suggests the elements should not be fixed. “We can say, ‘These are the rules that need to apply.’ But then when something inevitably changes it become obsolete. So we need to continuously have the discussion around what’s in the constitution.”

But he singles out one fundamental: “If I’m going to say one thing that we should write into our laws around the world, it’s net neutrality. Just the basic principle that says, broadband providers have to allow all traffic equally [on their networks].” Without net neutrality many start-ups will never get access to customers and even democracy is threatened.

“We have an election coming up in the States. What if we don’t have net neutrality anymore? Then for a certain amount of money, traffic can be prioritized to Fox News and made really slow to CNN and the New York Times. Historically, you needed an army for that sort of informational repression. In a world without net neutrality written into the law, all you need is a pile of cash.”

That’s not an internet Ekström is willing to accept. And he encourages everyone who cares about future generations to make sure that they understand issues such as net neutrality and to act accordingly and hold their politicians responsible.

• Photography by Jonatan Fernstrom

First published
November 2019
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About: Andreas Ekström
An author, keynote speaker and commentator on the digital revolution, Andreas Ekström serves as a partner on all things digital to business and public service leaders. His passion is to educate for digital equality and to understand the companies and behaviors that have become the culturally, technologically and commercially drivers of digital change at all levels of society.

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