Monday, August 12, 2013

Second Amendment for gadgets

Many americans proudly carry a gun and enjoy the right to bear arms. This right is based on the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and while it has been and still is controversial, it is accepted as part of rights every citizen of United State has (or should have).

Enter the third millennium. Personal electronic devices - gadgets - are everywhere, and not oly in the western world. They are used to make phone calls, receive and send emails, update Facebook statuses, send photos, listen to music, process (send and receive) payments, do airline check-ins and so on. This use may be impolite, improper or even illegal in some cases, but most of it augments our connectivity and communication in the society and enables many things that would otherwise be impossible.

In the post-9/11 craze (or security theatre) gadgets are seen as suspicious. Certain digital wrist watch model makes you a terrorist suspect. Cinemas tell you to switch your gadgets off for no purpose (ok ok, they want you not to disturb others and also not to take video of the movie, but the first can be accomplished by putting the phone to silent mode and latter can be accomplished by not doing it). In many public spaces there are signs telling you that you must not take photos (even though based on the law you can). Police officers seem to have a problem with recording devices, as there are so many stories of them telling citizens to stop recording what they say.

Gadgets, as electronic devices, should be turned off for takeoff and landing of an airplane and there are limits for their use. At the same time, they don't kill people and taking photos of governmental buildings and recording what a police officer says are not criminal or improper actions. They could even be self-defence - the right to which Americans hold so dear.

Perhaps there should be a "second amendment" for gadgets as well? It would define, for example, that everyone have the right to own and carry gadgets everywhere without fear of inspection or limitations, except for in separately defined situations where misuse could violate privacy or cause danger to others (hospitals, airplanes).

It would also limit or at least make clear what authorities can do with mobile devices. For example, can they remotely interfere with their operation, like disable certain features? Are the contents of a mobile device subject to search at the border? Is the owner required to let authorities inspect the contents (and give access to encrypted mass storage)? What is the definition of "property" in the case of the contents of mobile devices?

On the other hand, the concept of gadgets is relatively new, and in ten years the situation might be different. But in the meantime, the world still has trouble relating to them and authorities and lawyers debate on what the legal status of the devices and their use is, and what rights the owner (and carrier) has or has not over them. A more general law of digital property and "digital rights" is clearly needed.

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