Digital space presents complex legal and ethical questions

Written by on July 6, 2016 in Guest Blog with 0 Comments

Anonymous videoAccording to the news, hackers were able to steal digital currency Ether tokens (on the Ethereum platform) equivalent of more than $50 million in June. The Ethereum community has solutions to freeze and return stolen tokens. The hacker group Anonymous has conducted cyber attacks against terrorist organizations. Technology companies like Facebook and Apple want to protect their users against governments as well.

All these examples raise new complex legal and ethical questions regarding who has authority, legal and ethical rights to rule in global digital communities. And now AI (artificial intelligence) is emerging, we have even more complex questions.

Traditionally it is authorities and the courts of a country that have the highest power to decide between right and wrong and then also trigger actions based on that. But when we have, for example, a global digital currency that is not really authorized or regulated by any government, the situation can be very different. The service and currency tokens are distributed to a network of thousands of computers around the world and it is managed by its own community. Can the community have the right to decide about right and wrong and then execute actions based on it, e.g. return tokens to someone from whom they were allegedly stolen.

Digital vigilantes?

Some hacker groups have taken actions that many people can feel are ethically right, for example, to carry out cyber attacks on terrorist organizations. The problem is that those actions are not based on any local or international, therefore ‘legitimate’ decisions. In that way one can see they are a threat to traditional international laws and institutions, even if they could be ethically right. At the same time, one can argue, no traditional legal system or institution works effectively in this global cyber space.

Apple refused to open iPhone encryption in the San Bernardino terrorist investigation. US authorities were finally able to use a third party to open messages in the phone. Facebook and Microsoft have announced that they inform users if a government organization tries to compromise their privacy. These things are also seen as a positive policy from the companies to protect their customers and users. At the same time one can argue they help protect criminals. Then we have a question about whether these companies have more power and capability to control justice than governments and courts.

Ethical questions around AI

AI raises its own ethical questions. Already ‘an old discussion’ is how a self-driving car should behave, if it must, for example, choose to smash into a bus, or drive over a person who is walking on a pavement. The military is already now active to use semi-automatic and automatic systems to make decisions, when things can happen so rapidly that a human being cannot handle decisions. We remember the War Games movie from as long ago as the 1980’s. These are real ethical – and hard – decisions about life and death. And we can also ask whether a machine or a tired human being makes better decisions.

The examples above are quite varied, but all of them are about new legal and ethical issues in the digital space. They are typically global, not in a territory of a country like traditional justice systems. And they are managed by international companies, loose Internet communities or even by machines. These issues are already a reality, but will be much bigger issues in five to 10 years time. If governments really try to limit activities in cyber space, they can damage innovation and development, or they are just tilting at windmills, like British government that planned to forbid encryption on the Internet to fight against terrorist. It is not an option to stop the development. But it is like the Wild West, governments and legal systems haven’t yet a proper control, and sometimes it is fighting between good and bad boys, and then local communities try to establish common rules and hire a sheriff.

Digitization and global networks can have much bigger impact on life and business than globalization in international trade and international trade treaties that people are now worried in many countries. Often this discussion has been left only to cyber security experts and some governmental agencies. These are significant legal and ethical questions that have impact on every human being and his and her rights, privacy and liabilities. These questions need open and public discussion and democratic decisions. The complexity is that these often require global rules and understanding of technology.

This article first appeared at TelecomAsia.net.

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About the Author

About the Author: Jouko Ahvenainen is a serial-entrepreneur and Co-Founder of Grow VC Group, a holding entity including over 10 companies, a pioneer in digital finance, fintech and data analytics solutions. Jouko started his work with digital finance and fintech models in 2008 and listed world-class influencer. He participated in changing US finance regulation, getting the Senate and President to allow JOBS Act and has worked with EU and Asian finance regulation. .

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