a recent UNESCO report on “Renewing the Knowledge Societies Vision for
Sustainable Development” (Mansell and Trembley, 2013) that updates a
one “Towards Knowledge Societies” (Bindé and others, 2005),
professor of New Media and the Internet at the London School of
Gaëtan Tremblay, professor at the École des médias
at the Université du Québec,
2005 much has changed. This is acknowledged in recent reports on the
of information and knowledge in society. ICTs, especially mobile phones
digital information as well as the content of the media, are becoming
accessible to the world’s population. But the rapid and uneven
digital technologies and greater access to digital information has not
eradicated the danger that knowledge societies which respect human
are consistent with peace and sustainable development are being
persist inequality and social injustice.” (Mansell and Tremblay, 2013,
the term ‘knowledge societies’ to the one of ‘information societies’ was for UNESCO not just a formality but arose
from the awareness of a complex societal process taking place beyond
technological infrastructure to which the term ‘information society’
referred.  The conceptual difference between information understood
as “signals measured
in bits” (Mansell and Tremblay, 2013, p. 5) and their interpretation
knowledge is built, has social and political consequences. A knowledge
cannot be reduced to the creation of a technological infrastructure but
learning processes ingrained in specific cultural contexts aiming at
inclusive societies based on equality of opportunity as well as on a
between a commercial and community oriented perspectives (Mansell and
2013, p. 5-6).
what we can call the commercial model knowledge is seen from a
perspective oriented towards productivity, commercialization and
with a tendency to limit the access for instance via intellectual
rights. In contrast, the community model is based on the principle of
of expression as a fundamental right of democratic life from which the
the public access to knowledge is seen as a common good. The ecologist
Garret Hardin (1915-2003) coined the term “tragedy of the commons” by
that the “tragedy” results from an excessive and negative use of a
in this case of information and communication (Wikipedia, 2013). The
model, however, does not necessarily leads into what Michael Heller,
at the Columbia Law School, calls the “tragedy of anti-commons”, i.e.,
of blocking creativity via intellectual property measures that limit
excessively the access to knowledge (Mansell and Tremblay, 2013, p.14).
theoretical and political challenge is how to go beyond a mere
between these two models.
and Tremblay take a critical stance with regard to the vision of a
knowledge society that would be achieved by leapfrogging generations of
information and communication technologies leaving aside options and
that is to say, social, economic and cultural dimensions that build the
everyday life of the people. An example of unilateral visions are the
discussions about the culture of the book as endangered by the internet
polemical when printing and digital technologies are merely opposed.
example is the use of smart phones to which I will refer later.
is not by chance that the term ‘knowledge and information societies’ is
used in plural in these UNESCO reports. Present and future
developments should not be understood as a kind of intermediate stage
real goal of ‘the’ information and knowledge society is achieved,
that Mansell and Tremblay consider as “not possible or desirable.”
Tremblay, 2013, p. 11) The plural form is a mark of human freedom. It
open individual and collective options about possible forms of good
particularly concerning the production, distribution, access and use of
information and knowledge. Such forms of life are basic conditions for
democracy, freedom, environmental protection, respect for the plurality
opinions and cultures, economic prosperity based on rules of fair play
equality of opportunities.
study of information and knowledge societies from the perspective of
options of ‘good life’ (Greek: eu zen) is of an ethical nature. The
principles that are at stake in every human society as well as the
reflection on them do not take place in some kind of intra-psychic
isolated from a so-called external world or from a dialogue with others
shared world. Individual and societal choices generate changes in
customs, to which the Greek term ethos (literally: character) and the
term mores (customs) point to.
the following, I deal first briefly with the concepts of ethics in
information ethics in particular, explaining the difference between
practical philosophy and morality or the customs and behavioural rules
given society. I describe the task of information ethics as a
emancipatory theory and point to its critical role as problematization
morality. I also explain how this problematization is related to
traditions of oral, printed and digital communication. The second part
with some ethical issues of information and knowledge societies
changes introduced by the ‘cyberworld’ in the library field and
issue to the ways in which digital tools such as the smart phone change
everyday life of the people, expanding their choices but also creating
forms of mutual disrespect such as ‘phubbing’. In the last part I
present debate on global surveillance by referring to open letters and
declarations from different social groups.
I. ON ETHICS AND INFORMATION ETHICS
as a philosophical discipline achieves a culmination in the Western
after a complex evolution in the so-called Presocratics as well as in
the Sophists, and the Stoa to mention just a few ‘schools’ of thought –
Aristotle’s practical philosophy (philosophia
praktiké) that includes ethics (ethiké)
as a reflection on the moulding or ‘in-forming’ the individual
character (ethos), 
i.e. everything related with the rules
of good life (eu
zen) within the family (oikos),
and politics (politiké) as a
the rules of the city-state (polis).
Later on, the term ‘ethics’ has been
and continues being used in daily life ambiguously, meaning either the
themselves (ethos) and the
reflection on such customs. In
the academic context
the term ethics has this second meaning in terms of a critical
norms and values underlying the life of societies, i.e., their ethos or
what can also be called the moral life or morality.
difference between ethics or practical philosophy and morality or
customs and values is crucial because it allows us to problematize a
implicit or explicit morality that includes, as Michel Foucault
(Foucault, 1988 and 1999), all possible forms of self-conception as a
in a society. Ethics as a historical and methodical reflexion has its
mainly in the university but also in other educational and research
a reflection can be done not only in general but also with regard to
contexts like the one dealing with norms and values at stake in
knowledge societies. Information ethics, as this reflection is being
called , can be even more specified as dealing for instance with
ethical issues of the
Internet (cyberethics; information ethics in a narrower sense), in
science (computer ethics), in the biological and medical sciences
(bioinformation ethics), in the mass media (media ethics) in the
information science field (library ethics, information ethics in a
i.e. not restricted to the digital medium), in the business field
information ethics) etc.
can be a descriptive or an emancipatory theory. As a descriptive theory
the power structures influencing informational attitudes and traditions
different cultures and epochs. As an emancipatory theory it develops
of moral attitudes and traditions in the information field at an
collective level. It includes normative aspects. Information ethics
and evaluates the development of moral values in the information field,
creation of new power structures in the information field, information
hidden contradictions and intentionalities in information theories and
practices, the development of ethical conflicts in the information
a critical reflection on information moralities, information ethics is
something that aims at imposing from the outside a kind of system or
do’s and dont’s, i.e., as a code of moral duties and prohibitions but
precisely with the problematization of such norms and values laid down
or explicitly in moral or legal codes. This is also the reason why
should not be confused with moral exhortation towards society (or
general or specific groups in particular. In the last case we have to
codified morality and not necessarily with issues professional ethics
critical reflection on such codes. Although moral or ‘ethical’ codes
important and useful, they present or re-present general norms or
that have to be interpreted with regard to a specific situation and can
problematized as such. This does not diminish the practical importance
exhortations with regard, for instance, to professional responsibility.
task of ethical thinking is not necessarily oriented or even reduced to
Similarly, laws have to be debated socially and politically – a process
that is influenced but not determined by academic thinking. Of course
reflection does not substitute moral consciousness. The decision about
option should be preferred remains open to preconditions and
partly unknown or unforeseeable for limited human freedom and human
order not to be fundamentalist, morality understood as customary
and values needs ethical reflection in everyday life as well as in its
form in a similar way as law needs to be interpreted and applied, for
in courts, but also theoretically problematized in jurisprudence. All
to be considered also with regard to cultural traditions that influence
other through a long history. Political science as well as
ethics or practical philosophy are based, in order to be productive and
creative, on sustainable processes of reflection within their own
well as within process that can be called ‘translation’, i.e., relating
theories and concepts with their objects such as present social
including the legal and political reality of a society. Disconnecting
from practice(s) leads, also in this field, to a deterioration of both
and in the
case of social life to situations where violence, disorder and the
dogmatism and ideology reign.
ethics understood as a problematization of norms and values on which
communicational processes are based has a long tradition whose origins
in the Western tradition, to, for instance, the Platonic criticism of
regard to oral speech (logos).
culminate in the past century with
the critical discourse about the “Gutenberg Galaxy” (McLuhan) and the
by authors such as Marshall McLuhan, Walter Ong and Vilém
Flusser. In a book
that was very influential in the middle of the eighties because having
questioned the rationalist paradigm in computer science from the
hermeneutics, philosophy of language and constructivism, the authors,
Winograd, professor of computer science at Stanford University and
Flores, a Chilean civil engineer and minister under President Salvador
say it in a clear way when they deal with the task of computer
well as to professionals in the field of information and communication,
stressing that their task is at the same time a technical and an
In the preface to their book “Understanding Computers and Cognition. A
Foundation for Design” they write:
new technologies develop within the
background of a tacit understanding of human nature and human work. The
technology in turn leads to fundamental changes in what we do, and
in what it is to be human. We encounter the deep questions of design
recognize that in designing tools we are designing ways of being.”
and Flores, 1986, p. xi)
about the nature of creativity and innovation is something particularly
relevant for an entrepreneur as far as he is aware that such changes
on the awareness of implicit beliefs that are the implicit or explicit
of our self-understanding. The design of a new tool can unveil a new
being-in-the-world and, correspondingly, a transformation of cultural
traditions as well as of norms and values (Spinosa, Flores and Dreyfus,
smart phones, Google Glass and autonomous vehicles are recent examples
intertwining between the cyberworld and the physical world (Capurro,
Nagel, 2013). In the digital age we look at the physical world from a
perspective that echoes Plato’s distinction between the sensible world
intelligible world, the main difference being that we have to do today
technological instead of a theological distinction. Through Plato
vice versa) taught us to see the physical world and ourselves from a
perspective. Inventors and entrepreneurs such as Tim Berners-Lee, Bill
Sergey Brin, Larry Page or Steve Jobs, to mention just a few, unveiled
world in which new forms of individual and social identities as well as
possibilities of local and global citizenship arise (Capurro, 2013).
to Lawrence Lessig, founder of the Center for Internet and Society at
University and of the Center for Ethics at Harvard University, the
the digital revolution is not only regulated by the codes of the
law and morality but by the ones of digital technology as well (Lessig,
is a similarity between the impact of the digital code in social
for instance, engineers who built the bridges in the 19th century in
Island having a social impact as far as the bus traffic was restrained
it the access to the beaches for people depending on public
(Lessig, 1999, p. 92). Engineering and ethics were (and are) no less
intertwined with ethical reflection as they are (or should be) computer
and information and communication science today.
II. ETHICAL ISSUES OF INFORMATION AND KNOWLEDGE
and communication professionals have dealt for centuries with the task
social regulation not only as they created systems and instruments for
classification, storage and retrieval of knowledge based on different
particularly the book since the invention of the printing press but
they together with architects and engineers built the libraries
became architectural codes that materialized in different forms all
social, economic and moral codes that ruled societies with different
(M. Foucault) of inclusion and exclusion.
the middle of the last century libraries have undergone a
hybrid systems combining the physical and the digital world. The
has also a physical basis but as digital it builds an own world. The
transformation of libraries into hybrid systems has created forms of
the cyberworld and the physical world such as:
the digital to the physical: a digital program can facilitate the
access (also via a robot) to a physical object, like the book.
the physical to the digital: like in modern reading rooms where readers
private or library computers for their work.
the digital to the digital: through digital searches in texts, images,
these changes do not just refer to issues of space but of time as well.
librarian no less than the archivist and all information and
live within a spatio-temporal framework. We just need to take a trivial
on how long it takes to catalogue a book, put it into a shelf, search
find it, and give it to the user. The same can be said about the
spatio-temporal framework of the user, the time she spends in the
searching in a catalogue, waiting until a book is handled to her etc.
changes that take place on such spatio-temporal conditions when digital
technology is implemented on both sides. .
special property of the new digital
regime is the primacy given to the
present which is based on the modern linear conception of time as a
‘now’. The spatio-temporal framework of the cyberworld is not only
based on the
primacy of the present but installs it at the same time as a moral,
social rule. The ‘now’ becomes an imperative or a social value on which
immediate access to information and knowledge is based no less than the
organization of global communication, dislocated from a specific place
people are physically located. This new kind of moral imperative impels
to be accessible ourselves all the time and in every place to digital
We live in what I call message societies. 
portable time materialized in watches
that were invented in the 15th and 16th
century but became popular in early 19th century enters now into a new
based on communication devices like cell phones. The spatio-temporal
materialized in a technological invention changes the life of people at
and archives were for centuries, material systems of the cultural
societies becoming now accessible through the digital network via
computers, laptops, tablets, smart phones etc. that makes possible an
and ubiquitous access to the knowledge physically stored in libraries
archives as far as it is digitalized. Such tools transform users into
of texts, images and sounds. All this takes place in the context of a
globalized world and allows individual and collective memory to get
transformed through social interplay. We are now, as far as we are not
for different reasons from this process, in the middle of a new
framework. Our actions in the cyberworld are subject to digital codes
influence also our life in the physical world in such a way that who
has only a
limited access to the cyberworld experiences such limits negatively in
daily life. The UNESCO reports I already mentioned deal explicitly with
issue of the so-called digital divide. But it is also true that who
works within the new spatio-temporal framework created by digital
experiences often all kinds of physical and psychological problems of
still lack a systematic study (Capurro, 2013a).
cyberworld hybridizes with cultures and different individual and social
living. We are at the beginning of an interdisciplinary and
reflection dealing with digital information and communication from the
perspectives of practical philosophy, political science, sociology,
jurisprudence and cultural anthropology (Capurro 2008). This
should learn how to evaluate the gains and losses of different social
interplays in information and knowledge societies, particularly
is excluded from what benefits and what are the negatives and positives
with a lot of possibilities in-between, of appropriation of such
or, what is more common, of becoming appropriated by them. Every human
interplay is based on strategies of revealing and concealing who we are
only about personal data but more fundamentally about ourselves as
through different forms of objectivising in the cyberworld:
homogenous, linear space-time axis of the cyberworld shines back onto
conception of liberty, by freeing it of its abyssal dimensions that can
bridged only by trust within reciprocal interchanges. This is the
imaginable danger for privacy since it turns self and world into
temporo-spatial and computational dimensions in which the ethical
between who and what eventually disappear.” (Capurro, Eldred, Nagel,
human interplay, whether digital or not, is based on strategies of
unveiling not only our personal data but our selves. This interplay
which we recognize each other as who we are does not take place between
isolated and worldless individuals as was imagined by Descartes and
modernity. Human interplay relies on an original plurality of finite
selves sharing a common world. This allows each one of us to play her
in relationship with others to whom they are open and able to recognize
other as such. This social consciousness of being free sharing a common
means also being responsible towards oneself and the others reflecting
questioning who we, as individuals and societies, are and what we can
do, on what reasons and for what purposes, with regard to themselves
common world. Being responsible means being able to give a answer and
historical process or co-create a new one. The awareness of these
particularly strong during European Enlightenment but there are other
developments in other epochs and cultures too.
recent European history the atrocities of World War II play a
for the ethical answer manifested in the Universal Declaration of Human
This is a concrete fundament of human rights that is paradoxically
in a different way, namely historically and empirically, as
religious theories or a naturalistic anthropology usually do.
believe that our generation and our epoch being confronted with the
of a digitally globalized world is particularly aware of the future of
earth and non-human living beings. We need a Universal Declaration of
Rights of Non-human Beings and Nature. Moral codes as well as written
a constant process of reflection and problematization in order to be
new possible ways of being-in-the-world as far as our present
practical foundations are either not enough or unable to find solutions
social and ecological problems we have to deal with. This is a similar
situation as the one of the sciences when they face the issue of
paradigm that determines and fixates a special way of interpreting
social phenomena. An ethical reflection must be able to question
ways of understanding ourselves. Such questioning arises often through
scientific discoveries and technological inventions no less than from
and cultural products. The world after Picasso is different from the
before him. The same can be said from the possibility of wearing with
personal digital library using Amazon Kindle or the possibilities given
use of a smart phone.
is a smart phone? At first sight, it looks like a marvellous tool that
us to have the internet in our pocket. But take, for instance, the
issue of phubbing,
a neologism coming from ‘phone’ and ‘snub’. Phubbing is “the act of
someone in a social setting by looking at your phone instead of paying
does not feel mostly unease when being
together persons start using their
smart phones snubbing the physical presence of others? This is not just
question of bourgeois etiquette but it is a phenomenon that has to do
mutual recognition at the crossing of two worlds, the physical and the
with changing forms of mutual respect or disrespect in the social
well as with different forms of addiction to a tool of communication
often a tool of incommunication in a face-to-face context.
THE ETHICAL CHALLENGE OF GLOBAL
is here ethically at stake? At first sight, it is just about new tools
way we use them for good or for bad. But, as we already saw, a tool is
a tool but something that can transform our lives and our selves.
about this way of changing the social game means thinking about such
transformation, i.e., how far does it imply a change of moral,
political and technical codes? Who are we who change? And who is
this ‘we’? What is implied in this new spatio-temporal framework made
by a digital tool? An ethical reflection deals with the transformation
apparently obvious issue into something problematic such as asking
‘who’, her interests, the kinds of legitimization given or not (and by
the interests at stake and, more generally, the new rules of fair or
in the digital era. In other words, we ask for the meaning of freedom
individual and social responsibilities in our time. A smart phone gives
the one hand, at the personal level a lot of freedom of communication
exchange of information. But, on the other hand, within the context of
cyberworld and together with other digital devices it is a tool for
and digital control and surveillance at a global level as the massive
surveillance of the National Security Agence (NSA) as well as of other
(democratic and non democratic) state and private organizations clearly
societal groups have reacted with open letters and declarations that
2013 AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and
Yahoo wrote the following letter to the
and the Congress of the United States on “Global Government
Open Letter to Washington.
Mr. President and Members of Congress,
understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But
summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government
surveillance practices worldwide. The balance in many countries has
far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual —
that are enshrined in our Constitution. This undermines the freedoms we
cherish. It’s time for a change. For our part, we are focused on
data secure — deploying the latest encryption technology to prevent
unauthorized surveillance on our networks and by pushing back on
requests to ensure that they are legal and reasonable in scope.
urge the US to take the lead and make reforms that ensure that
surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to
transparent and subject to independent oversight. To see the full set
principles we support, visit ReformGovernmentSurveillance.com
AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo” (AOL
is in all likelihood that these companies did not write this letter for
ethical reasons. They fear the lost of trust of their users and with it
very real foundation of their business and reputation.
a process lead by Privacy International, Access, and the Electronic
Foundation and co-signed by over three hundred and sixty organizations
more than seventy countries, in accordance with the UN “Report of the
Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of
and expression, Frank La Rue” (UN 2013) “International Principles on
Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance” were
quote the Preamble (final version July 10, 2013):
is a fundamental human right, and is central to the maintenance of
societies. It is essential to human dignity and it reinforces other
such as freedom of expression and information, and freedom of
is recognised under international human rights law. Activities that
the right to privacy, including communications surveillance, can only
justified when they are prescribed by law, they are necessary to
legitimate aim, and are proportionate to the aim pursued.
public adoption of the Internet, well-established legal principles and
logistical burdens inherent in monitoring communications created limits
State communications surveillance. In recent decades, those logistical
to surveillance have decreased and the application of legal principles
technological contexts has become unclear. The explosion of digital
communications content and information about communications, or
"communications metadata" -- information about an individual’s
communications or use of electronic devices -- the falling cost of
mining large sets of data, and the provision of personal content
party service providers make State surveillance possible at an
scale. Meanwhile, conceptualisations of existing human rights law
kept up with the modern and changing communications surveillance
of the State, the ability of the State to combine and organize
gained from different surveillance techniques, or the increased
the information available to be accessed.
frequency with which States are seeking access to both communications
and communications metadata is rising dramatically, without adequate
scrutiny. When accessed and analysed, communications metadata may
profile of an individual's life, including medical conditions,
religious viewpoints, associations, interactions and interests,
much detail as, or even greater detail than would be discernible from
content of communications. Despite the vast potential for
an individual’s life and the chilling effect on political and other
associations, legislative and policy instruments often afford
metadata a lower level of protection and do not place sufficient
on how they can be subsequently used by agencies, including how they
data-mined, shared, and retained.
order for States to actually meet their international human rights
in relation to communications surveillance, they must comply with the
principles set out below. These principles apply to surveillance
within a State or extraterritorially. The principles also apply
the purpose for the surveillance – law enforcement, national security
other regulatory purpose. They also apply both to the State’s
respect and fulfil individuals’ rights, and also to the obligation to
individuals’ rights from abuse by non-State actors, including corporate
entities. The private sector bears equal responsibility for
human rights, particularly given the key role it plays in designing,
and disseminating technologies; enabling and providing communications;
where required - cooperating with State surveillance activities.
the scope of the present Principles is limited to the obligations of
State.“ (Privacy International et al. 2013)
13 Principles are: legality, legitimate aim, necessity, adequacy,
proportionality, competent judicial authority, due process, user
transparency, public oversight, integrity of communications and
safeguards for international cooperation and safeguards against
November 20, 2013 Access, Amnesty International, Electronic Frontier
Foundation, Human Rights Watch, Privacy International sent the
Letter to the UN General Assembly urging the General Assembly to
resolution on “The right to privacy in the digital age”:
Letter to the UN General Assembly: Reject Mass Surveillance
All Member States of the United Nations General Assembly
right to privacy is central to who we are as humans and is enshrined in
Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on
and Political Rights. It protects us from unwarranted intrusions into
lives, allows us to speak freely without fear of retribution, and helps
our personal information, including health records, political
sexual orientation, and familial histories, safe. Indiscriminate mass
surveillance, which tramples individuals’ right to privacy and
social contract we all have with the State, must come to end
is why we welcome efforts at the United Nations to adopt a resolution
right to privacy in the digital age.” Should it be adopted, the
introduced by Brazil and Germany, would be the first major statement by
on privacy in 25 years. A strong resolution would crucially reiterate
importance of protecting privacy and free expression in the face of
technological advancements and encroaching State power. It would also
the strong stance taken by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,
Pillay, and the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and
Frank La Rue, in recent months, as well as the International Principles
Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance, an
supported by 300 organizations from around the world.
negotiations continue on this draft resolution, we are deeply concerned
the countries representing the “Five Eyes” surveillance alliance—the
States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom—have
weaken the resolution at the risk of undercutting their own
commitment to privacy and free expression. In discussion of the
resolution, we urge these countries and the entire General Assembly to
the right to privacy and take into account these basic points:
is intrinsically linked to freedom of expression and many other rights;
mere existence of domestic legislation is not all that is required to
surveillance lawful under international law;
mass surveillance is never legitimate as intrusions on privacy must
genuinely necessary and proportionate;
States conduct extraterritorial surveillance, thereby exerting control
privacy and rights of persons, they have obligations to respect privacy
related rights beyond the limits of their own borders;
is also interfered with even when metadata and other third party
are intercepted and collected.
call upon all States meeting at the UN General Assembly this week to
stand against indiscriminate mass surveillance, interception and data
collection, both at home and abroad, to support the draft resolution
uphold the right of all individuals to use the information and
technologies such as the internet without fear of unwarranted
is a critical moment for the protection of privacy around the world.
Access, Amnesty International, Electronic Frontier Foundation
Rights Watch, Privacy International.”. (EFF and others, 2013)
December 10, 2013, at the International Human Rights Day, 562 authors,
including 5 Nobel Prize laureates (Orhan Pamuk, J.M. Coetzee, Elfride
Günter Grass, Thomas Tranströmer), from over 80 countries
following appeal in defense of civil liberties:
Stand for Democracy in the Digital Age.
recent months, the extent of mass surveillance has become common
a few clicks of the mouse the state can access your mobile device, your
your social networking and Internet searches.
can follow your political leanings and activities and, in partnership
Internet corporations, it collects and stores your data, and thus can
your consumption and behaviour.
basic pillar of democracy is the inviolable integrity of the
integrity extends beyond the physical body. In their thoughts and in
personal environments and communications, all humans have the right to
unobserved and unmolested.
fundamental human right has been rendered null and void through abuse
technological developments by states and corporations for mass
person under surveillance is no longer free; a society under
surveillance is no
longer a democracy.
maintain any validity, our democratic rights must apply in virtual as
Surveillance violates the private sphere and compromises freedom of
Mass surveillance treats every citizen as a potential suspect. It
of our historical triumphs, the presumption of innocence.
Surveillance makes the individual transparent, while the state and the
corporation operate in secret. As we have seen, this power is being
Surveillance is theft. This data is not public property: it belongs to
it is used to predict our behaviour, we are robbed of something else:
principle of free will crucial to democratic liberty.
DEMAND THE RIGHT for all people to determine, as democratic citizens,
extent their personal data may be legally collected, stored and
by whom; to obtain information on where their data is stored and how it
being used; to obtain the deletion of their data if it has been
collected and stored.
CALL ON ALL STATES AND CORPORATIONS to respect these rights.
CALL ON ALL CITIZENS to stand up and defend these rights.
CALL ON THE UNITED NATIONS to acknowledge the central importance of
civil rights in the digital age, and to create an International Bill of
CALL ON GOVERNMENTS to sign and adhere to such a convention.
Juli Zeh Germany, Ilija Trojanow Germany, Eva Menasse Germany, Janne
Denmark, Priya Basil UK, Isabel Fargo Cole USA, Josef Haslinger
and others, 2013)
January 2014 a great number of academics from all over the world have
declaration “Academics Against Mass Surveillance” following the
Nico van Eijk, Beate Roessler, Frederik Zuiderveen Borgesius and Manon
from the University of Amsterdam:
Against Mass Surveillance.
summer it was revealed, largely thanks to Edward Snowden, that American
intelligence services are engaging in mass surveillance of hundreds of
agencies monitor people's Internet use, obtain their phone calls, email
Facebook entries, financial details, and much more. Agencies have also
personal information by accessing the internal data flows of firms such
Google and Yahoo. Skype calls are "readily available" for
interception. Agencies have purposefully weakened encryption standards
same techniques that should protect our online banking and our medical
These are just a few examples from recent press reports. In sum: the
under an unprecedented level of surveillance.
has to stop.
right to privacy is a fundamental right. It is protected by
treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political
and the European Convention on Human Rights. Without privacy people
freely express their opinions or seek and receive information.
surveillance turns the presumption of innocence into a presumption of
denies the importance of protecting national security, public safety,
detection of crime. But current secret and unfettered surveillance
fundamental rights and the rule of law, and undermine democracy.
signatories of this declaration call upon nation states to take action.
agencies must be subjected to transparency and accountability. People
free from blanket mass surveillance conducted by intelligence agencies
their own or foreign countries. States must effectively protect
fundamental rights and freedoms, and particularly everyone's privacy.
2014.” (Eijk and others, 2014)
letters and declarations are a clear testimony that when dealing with
of privacy we are dealing with the future of freedom in the digital
ethics should make critically explicit new realities and possibilities
freedom generated by new tools in the physical as well as in the
The cyberworld creates new forms of authenticity as well as of
even annihilation of the human freedom interplay with a lot of
between. It is about empowering citizens to manage better their lives
as about creating structures of local and global social cooperation and
without using such structures as instruments of control and
transform individuals and societies into puppets of state power or of
commercial enterprises that follow paradoxically the paths of 20th
media transforming the early dreams of the internet into a nightmare.
and communication commercial and state monopolists exert a sometimes
sometimes explicit control on individuals by bypassing not only their
i.e., their free decision about concealing and revealing who they are,
legal and political agreements at national and international level. By
they undermine the foundation upon which they are built, namely trust
free players sharing a common world. The Declaration of Principles
December 2003 at the World Summit on the Information Society was a good
weak start compared with today’s urgency of an International Charta of
Rights establishing global rules of fair play for shapes of freedom in
 Mansell and Tremblay, p. 6: “UNESCO’s
move from information to knowledge societies was not a mere change of
means that the challenges are more complex than developing the
infrastructure. It also means that a fundamental challenge is the
to ensure universal access to formal and informal learning processes
 Cf. Platon,
comment (February 3, 2014) by John
Holgate, Director of Library Services at St.
“This is a key area of future
discussion about the spatial-temporal-informational spheres of being
moments of experience. When I visit my public library I am
rate payer, a book borrower, a reader, a computer user, a photocopier,
browser of shelves etc. The edges of the spheres are fluid. The recent
Jonze's film ‚Her’ is a marvellous study in how we float between
and move to and fro from different spatio-temporal-informational
not only cognitively but emotionally and sexually. The real Gyges [a
king whose ring made him invisible as Plato tells in his Republic
II, 359a-360d] of the film is the
invisible OS – Her –
whose reality emerges beyond the merely digital to a community of OS’s
have absorbed ‚human’ characteristics. I’m interested to hear your
the film. ‚Her’ echoes Kubrick’s Hal of 2001 Space Odyssey. The
Digital Nerd of the film – Theodor – is a (moral?) prototype of homo
the ‚hero’ of our age?"
On the concept of message society within a communication
theory that I call angeletics (from
Greek angelia = message) as different
from the theological discipline called angelology. See
Capurro and Holgate, 2011.
Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo
Government Surveillance Reform.
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J. and others (2005): Towards
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R. (2013a). Medicine
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R. (2009). Past,
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Frontier Foundation et al. (2013). Open Letter to
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International, Access, Electronic Frontier Foundation (2013).
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Entrepreneurship, Democratic Action, and the Cultivation of Solidarity.
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Stand for Democracy in the Digital Age
update: May 31, 2017