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CHAPTER I - Introduction

The advent of new online platforms and tools has transformed the world in many positive ways. Technological advances have revolutionized the ways people communicate, engage in commerce, access and consume news, and interact with the broader world. But it is increasingly clear that those benefits come with potential costs, many of which are difficult to measure and even harder to mitigate. Misuse of personal information, manipulation of online platforms to influence elections and uneven access to digital opportunities are just a few examples of the problems that can occur. Increasingly, government officials are looking at ways to address these problems, only to find that they lack both the tools and technical expertise to regulate wisely, meaningfully and efficiently.

Decades ago, a world with computers processing vast amounts of information was the stuff of science fiction. Today, it is a reality. The volume and quality of data collected by devices and online platforms is staggering, and the practice is only going to accelerate in the future. What one person views as acceptable collection of data, another may deem a breach of privacy. And with the rise of artificial intelligence, data can be used and manipulated in ways that lead to unanticipated consequences. The question is whether these developments will threaten citizens’ way of life and the fundamental principles upon which the U.S. was founded.

Policymakers wrestle with who is the cop on the beat in the digital world. Whose job is it to protect individuals or society at large from harms that arise out of the grey space between prevailing laws and regulations? Existing U.S. institutions such as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) may need more resources and additional expertise to investigate and take action to mitigate all the challenges that arise in the online world. The attempt by states and local officials to step into the void are subject to preemption at the federal level. Further, most technology companies operate globally and therefore are subject to varying laws abroad.

Today, more than ever, policymakers need to consider how to manage the digital ecosystem across local, state, federal and international jurisdictions. What steps are appropriate to assure that U.S. core values remain intact during this rapid digital transformation?

 
 
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