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THE NEW DIGITAL AGE-CH 2; The Future of Identity, Citizenship and Reporting

June 29, 2013

By 2025, the world’s virtual population will outnumber the population of Earth because each of us have chosen multiple online methods that have resulted in “vibrant and active communities of interlocking interests that reflect and enrich our world”…the data revolution that empowers us all.

But that same data revolution strips us of much of our control over our personal information in the virtual world causing significant consequences in the physical world.

All that food for thought in the first paragraph of chapter 2… and it immediately  brought to mind a current very contentious and emotional debate as we recognize what we think little about in our own virtual world raises much emotion and controversy as we find evidence of the same thing in our physical world –i.e., PRISM and NSA data capture.  Yes, this is the chapter I referred to on June 9 that scared me to death!

The authors, Schmidt and Cohen, paint a picture of our future where our identities in every day life could be defined by our virtual activities and associations.  Our very documented pasts will impact future prospects; our ability to influence/control how we are perceived will decrease dramatically.  The potential for others to access, share, or manipulate parts of our virtual identities will increase…especially as the use of cloud-based data storage grows.

The authors assure us the technical world is working on this vulnerability-looking for creative ways to mitigate risks through multi-factor authentication and strong encryption methods.  Access to your data may require something you know (e.g. password); something you have (e.g. mobile device) and something you are (e.g. thumbprint).  Our identity online in the future is not likely to be a simple Facebook page, but “a constellation of profiles, from every on-line activity, that will be verified and perhaps even regulated by government.”

As the authors point out, the shift from having one’s identity shaped offline and projected online to an identity that is fashioned online and experienced offline will have implications for citizens, states and companies as we all navigate the emerging digital world.

And then, for the next 50 pages they explore what full connectivity will mean to citizens in the future, how they will react to it and what consequences it will have for dictators and democrats alike.

An era of critical thinking will emerge; commerce, education, healthcare and the judicial system will be more efficient, transparent and inclusive; myths about religion, culture, ethnicity will struggle “amid a sea of newly  informed listeners”; governments will find it more difficult to maneuver; documents cannot be destroyed; history can’t be rewritten; parents will have a new role teaching children privacy and security; classes about each will be taught in schools-right along with sex education; businesses specializing in privacy will proliferate; on line identities will “become such a powerful currency” they will be sold online.

The narrative continues through whistleblower sites, wikileaks, “agents of chaos”, the emerging “Reporting Crisis” as mainstream media face significant challenges and to survive will adjust goals, methods and organizational structures from what we know today; and then the authors leave us hanging as they sum up the issue by telling us the end result remains to be seen.

Through the narrative, I learned “delete” is a figment of our imagination even today for several reasons. “Data remanence” and back- up systems guarantee this is the first “generation of humans to have an indelible record”.  Further, try as we may, new solutions will not keep us private.

After discussion of several additional consequences, the authors maintain that the power of the new information revolution is “for every negative, there will be a counter response that has the potential to be a substantial positive”.  For instance, connectivity enhances state’s power but also constricts the state’s ability to control the news cycle.

Eventually, the authors  offer the reader a series of coping strategies before launching into the closing 7-8 pages of the chapter that cover Police States 2.0, Biometric Data and finally ends with:

“What seem like debates today over security and privacy will broaden to questions of who controls and influences virtual identities and thus the citizens themselves…These changes will spur new behaviors and progressive laws but given the sophistication of the technology involved, in most cases, citizens stand to lose many of the protections they feel and rely upon today.”

As I said on June 8, this chapter scared me but also reinforces what I said then.  The daily “scandals” out of Washington today are irrelevant.  We need to stop, learn, discuss, and set new guidelines in terms of security and privacy issues of the 21st century….and 19th and 20th century attitudes and knowledge will not be the guiding forces that shape this new world we ALREADY ARE IN.

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