The Policymaker’s Guide to Respectful Technology in Legislation

Written by Elizabeth Renieris
May 14, 2021

The concept of better privacy practices is not new – we’ve been talking about it since the birth of the internet. But what exactly does “better privacy” mean, and how do we get there?

Policymakers have been working on legislation oriented around privacy for some time. While there have been some steps in the right direction, significant change won’t happen until we broaden the lens. What most people want but don’t have the terms to describe is respectful digital relationships. In the same way there is an unspoken code for respectful behavior in physical-realm relationships, this same type of behavior is just as essential when engaging with an online service or website.

Today, MIT Computational Law Report published a framework for policymakers to understand and advocate for more respectful digital relationships based on the Me2B Alliance vision.

The article, “Rebuilding Respectful Relationships in the Digital Realm,” penned by Elizabeth Renieris, an internationally recognized expert in law, policy and digital privacy, describes the Me2B Alliance’s approach to digital engagement with a focus on the legal and technological foundations necessary to rebuild digital relationships based on an ethos of mutual respect.

Renieris’ paper proceeds in five parts:

1. Digital relationships today and surveillance capitalism. Examines the Me2B Relationship in context, including in the macro-context of a phenomenon known as surveillance capitalism, which distorts and undermines the very ethos of the Me2B Relationship.

2. Today’s failed opt-out paradigm. Outlines the failures of the prevailing “notice and choice” paradigm for digital interactions, including its legal and practical defects, as well as how such defects result from a failure to account for the effects of surveillance capitalism.

3. An alternative path forward. Maps the expectations we have in the physical world onto the digital world, including through new legal foundations and innovative uses of technology to realign expectations and reality.

4. Digital interactions in this new paradigm. Defines interactions according to the relevant Me2B Relationship state.

5. Conclusions and recommends. Identifies next steps for research and exploration by the Alliance.

Policymakers take note: this is where privacy legislation needs to go in order to turn these small steps into leaps in the right direction. The vocabulary and concepts defined in this paper will help to define what is much more complex than “privacy” alone. We urge policymakers to internalize these concepts and start infusing respect into privacy-related legislation.

Read the full article, “Rebuilding Respectful Relationships in the Digital Realm.”

Elizabeth M. Renieris is a data protection and privacy lawyer (CIPP/E, CIPP/US), the Founder & CEO of HACKYLAWYER LLC, a Technology & Human Rights Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, a Fellow at Stanford’s Digital Civil Society Lab, and an Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. Her paper was commissioned by the Me2B Alliance and originally published in the MIT Computational Law Report on May 14, 2021.