The National Science Foundation (NSF) is the core agency that funds our nation’s basic research, which is the lifeblood of our science and technology development that fuel our national security and economic future. For many decades, the U.S. has led the world in science and technology as a nation that supported scientists and was prideful of their accomplishments. We benefited from national policies that supported a robust S&T environment that valued basic research. U.S. leadership in S&T should not be taken for granted.
The FY2017 budget request announced by the NSF on Monday shows less than a 2% growth in discretionary spending with nearly half for “Agency Operations and Award Management,” which may be necessary, but leaves little increase for true research funding. By allocating such a small amount to S&T, we shortchange our future and fail to inspire our scientists to imagine and innovate.
We support the NSF Director Córdova’s vision to invest in basic research in all fields of science and engineering to advance the American science and technology enterprise, developing the workforce, and advancing areas that are vital to a clean energy economy. We believe that Congress should increase the proposed budget in a way that gives the NSF the ability to assure scientists and engineers of our Nation’s commitment to science and technology leadership.
“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” -Max Planck
As our decision makers are put into powerful positions and then live longer, how will the younger generations make their voices heard and ensure that new ideas are implemented? Dr. Aubrey De Grey, a British scientist, believes that the first person to live to 150 years old has already been born. While that may or may not be true, human lifespan has been increasing steadily and a great deal of research is being done on ways to increase lifespan and the quality of life in those years. However, our current system of governance and business was established when life expectancy was much lower. In fact, a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that it takes the death of prominent scientists before new directions in a field can take hold. Did our forefathers expect a lifetime position in the Supreme Court to last 40 years? As we continue to expand our lifespans through genetic engineering and new advances in medical treatments, we must consider the impact this will have on continuing to advance forward with new ideas that are put forth by the younger and less jaded members of our society.
Yesterday was National Data Privacy Day. With that in mind, I’m curious as to what data privacy will mean, in a world of enhanced neurotechnologies. Let me paint a picture for you. Imagine we have the ability to read people’s memories. Someone is suspected of a murder and police bring that person in for questioning. There’s circumstantial evidence against this suspect, but enough that would give cause for a warrant to search their house. Would this give the police a right to search the suspect’s memories?
There are lots of implications from this one question. For starters, it could greatly streamline the interrogation and trial process. Just bring a bunch of people in and scan their brains. What need is there for a jury, if you have the evidence of the person’s own memories? However, such an activity (reading someone’s memories) is also an invasion of privacy on a whole new level, and I’m not sure the ends (a direct way to discovering the truth of events) justify the means. After all, we currently give criminal suspects some recourse from divulging information; we have the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.
Now let’s change the picture slightly. Let’s say we can’t read memories directly from the brain, but that this suspect uses a memory chip that plugs into their brain and stores the raw information of their memories (audio, visual, sensory, etc.) for them. If you’d like, you can assume they were injured when they were younger in a way that impaired their brain’s ability to record memories, so the implant helps them with this disability. The crucial question: do the authorities have the right to look at what’s on that memory chip? It still feels like a huge invasion of privacy, but not as much as directly looking into someone’s brain.
Pretty soon, we will have neural enhancements that directly and continuously interface with people’s brains. This will probably begin with technologies designed to assist the disabled, but eventually it will spread to the mainstream. When that happens, the data within these technologies should be protected by privacy laws. The police cannot search your phone without a warrant, they shouldn’t be able to search a more private piece of technology without one either.
Just as there are limits on free speech, there should be limits on our right to the privacy of our data. Police can search personal items such as cellphones and email records when they have a warrant to do so, and neural memory enhancement technology would fall under that category. Advancements in neurotechnology will change what data we have access to, but it should not change our right to privacy over that data.
Ninety-one percent of Americans feel like they have lost control over how their personal information is collected and used by companies, according to a <a href="http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/01/20/the-state-of-privacy-in-america/">recent Pew Research Center survey</a>. One of the United States most important values is that we have a right to privacy, and in the Digital Age this right is being eroded. Our forefathers understood the need to protect the privacy of citizens and enshrined these beliefs in the Bill of Rights to address their absence in the U.S. Constitution. The 1<sup>st</sup>, 3<sup>rd</sup>, 4<sup>th</sup>, 5<sup>th</sup> and 14<sup>th</sup> amendments all contain language that implies the privacy of U.S. citizens is protected. We define what privacy means by the rules and protections we create. The improvements in data collection and storage by companies such as Google and Facebook, combined with the emergence of Big Data analytics, have created new ways to circumvent old rules that were designed to protect what we value as private.
The amount of digital information being produced by citizens is increasing exponentially year after year. This information, our data, is being collected and stored by 3<sup>rd</sup> party data companies like Axciom who then apply Big Data analytics in order to reveal our digital identities. The companies collect data from our actions on the web, from the digital technologies we cannot live without, from information we routinely give away, and from our spending habits. We have allowed Big Data companies access to all of this information because we appear to get something in return (search engine services, e-mail, social media, coupons, etc.). We are not being compensated for the true value of our data, which companies have no problem using to learn intimate details about our lives: the type of information we are only comfortable sharing with those closest to us, our private information.
Today is <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_Privacy_Day">Data Privacy Day</a> and I cannot think of a better time to draw attention to this issue so we can start a serious discussion about upgrading our privacy laws and rules. <a href="http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/01/20/the-state-of-privacy-in-america/">Sixty-eight percent of Americans apparently feel this way too</a> and would support action to create stronger policies that will protect people’s privacy in the digital age. What more evidence do we need to realize it is time to create new policies that govern the flow of data in accordance with the values of society?
Let’s get with the times and upgrade our privacy laws and regulations.
The Internet has become a platform of societal intercourse: an information repository, communication tool, commercial-space, and a location for self-brand promotion. Yet unlike in the past, information on societal intercourse is no longer ephemeral, the digital ones and zeros produced from these interactions are permanent, creating a digital fingerprint of each individual user in cyberspace. On their own, personalized bits of data are not particularly useful, and only appear to provide relatively esoteric indicators of a particular individual. Big data analytics, however, correlates flows of data and provides insights derived from behavior science. This information generated about individuals allows corporations and government entities to predict and model human behavior.
Personal big data can be a societal boon, helping to facilitate healthier living, smarter cities, and increasing web simplification through personalization. However there is a darker underbelly to the accumulation of this information. Personal data (clicks, keystrokes, purchases, etc.) are being used to create hundreds of inaccessible consumer scores, ranking individuals on the basis of their perceived health risk, lists of occupational merit, and potential propensity to commit fraud. Moreover, as recent leaks of celebrity photos illustrate, Internet privacy is no longer a guarantee. Information that is meant to remain in the private sphere is slowly leaking into the public sphere, challenging previously conceived notions of civil liberty. In order to curb the tide of cyber intrusions, the individual right to erase data must be enacted.
The European Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that citizens had the “right to be forgotten” — they ruled in favor of citizen right’s to privacy. As today is Data Privacy Day, perhaps it is time for the US to stand up and create their own variant of this law, a uniquely American law that allows American citizens the right to erase data— the right to ensure their privacy.
CReST Proposed Language:
“Any person has the right to erase personal data that they identify as a breach of their privacy. Data erasure may be requested to and arbitrated by the search engine that publishes the data online. If erasure is justified then the search engine must erase any links or copies of that personal data in a timely manner. The search engine is responsible for the removal of authorized 3rd party publication of said data.”