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The Internet Bill of Rights

Ninety percent of Americans use the internet, but the majority don’t think they are protected when online: Most people believe the government and private companies access their private information. And while the United Nations declared internet access, protection, and enjoyment a human right in 2016, the U.S. Constitution doesn’t cover internet access – at least not yet. 

We surveyed over 1,000 people to determine if Americans desire an internet bill of rights. Continue reading to see if the average internet user agrees with the U.N. and the types of access they want to see protected. 

Americans Want Online Protection

Right versus privilege: One guarantees protection under the law, and the other can be considered a governmental treat. When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis tweeted that voting is a “privilege,” he was quickly corrected. Voting is, in fact, a constitutional right. If the U.S. government similarly deems internet access a right, it could become easier to protect Americans online. 

But let us not get ahead of ourselves: Do Americans consider internet use to be a right? The majority do. Our findings show that more than three-fifths of people thought the internet is a right, which is in line with the U.N. resolution. Democrats were more likely than Independents and Republicans to share this sentiment, although a majority of all political affiliations considered internet access a right. 

Data and internet privacy remains a top priority among Democratic leaders. However, in 2017, President Trump signed a bill repealing an internet privacy rule that allowed users to choose what service providers could do with their data. Perhaps this divided party approach is why more than two-thirds of Democrats and 58% of Independents said internet use is a right, while only 53% of Republicans concurred. 

Make It Official

Nearly 56% of participants in our study believed the U.S. needs an internet bill of rights. This document would govern the rights and usage principles of the internet, which would ideally protect people’s online activity and private information. 

Although more than 66% of Democrats said internet use is a right, only 58.4% wanted an internet bill of rights. And Republicans were more likely to desire one than Independents, with 54.1% voting in favor of an internet bill of rights compared to 52.7% of Independents. The majority of those in their 20s, 30s, and 40s stood in support as well, but 55.8% of people aged 50 and older opposed an internet bill of rights.

According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) 2018 report, Americans lost $2.7 billion as a result of “internet-enabled theft, fraud, and exploitation,” and those aged 50 and older accounted for 42% of internet crimes. So, while older Americans may not overwhelmingly favor an internet bill of rights, it may stand to benefit them the most. 

California Sets the Standard

As previously stated, the majority of Americans believed their online affairs are accessible to companies and the government. The federal government does have laws in place to protect people’s private lives, but they do not apply to data, which means that if Americans want to browse the internet privately, they have to rely on state interference. 

California maintains its reputation as the nation’s lead policy-setter. The Golden State’s strict online privacy law, the Consumer Privacy Act of 2018, gives users control over what companies do with their data and took effect on Jan. 1, 2020. California’s “sweeping” step mirrors Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation rules and reflects how states can step in to protect their residents when the federal government falls short. 

Online Protections

The Bill of Rights includes 10 amendments, each outlining protected freedoms. California Rep. Ro Khanna followed a similar structure when he introduced his 10-point plan for protecting people’s rights on the internet. Following Rep. Khanna’s blueprint, participants in our study were asked to choose up to five rights they would prioritize in an internet bill of rights. 

Roughly 70% of people wished to know when companies are collecting personal data and how it is being used. The Pew Research Center found that 79% of Americans are concerned about the way companies use their data.

California’s Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 was the second most wanted right among survey participants: 48.1% of people desired the right to instruct companies to turn over, correct, or delete their data.

Should information exchange require an opt-in or opt-out consent feature? That question may be one of the most controversial in the data privacy debate because if state law requires internet users to opt in before companies can access their data, tech giants stand to lose money in lawsuits and advertising. Right now, most companies have an opt-out feature, which means companies can collect user data. 

Online Protections, by Political Affiliation

Although Democrats and Alastair Mactaggart seem to be the ones leading the charge in favor of user-friendly data privacy laws, our findings show that people of all political affiliations are in support of the same internet bill of rights.

However, there was nearly a 10 percentage point difference between Republicans and Democrats when it came to social media privacy: Roughly 40% of Republicans desired privacy of social media accounts, compared to 30.9% of Democrats. 

George W. Bush was still president when Jack Dorsey founded Twitter. Barack Obama has become quite popular on the social media platform since the conclusion of his second term. But no president has used Twitter quite like President Donald Trump. Perhaps Trump’s love of tweeting is why Republicans deemed social media privacy more desirable than Democrats and Independents. 

However, Democrats (34.4%) and Republicans (36.9%) joined sides when it came to the opt-in option, but Independents (25.8%) were less likely to desire an opt-in option for the collection of data. 

User-Friendly Internet 

The accepted truth once was that nothing that happens on the internet is private or can be deleted. However, our findings show the majority of Americans believe online privacy is a right and desire to have more control over what companies can do with their data. And they aren’t alone: DuckDuckGo, a search engine, is becoming increasingly popular because it puts people’s privacy first

Currently, California is leading the charge with privacy laws structured to protect everyday people. But while you wait for your state or the federal government to catch up, take control of your privacy today. Consider setting up a virtual private network to keep your browsing history and data – your personal information – private. Visit TheBestVPN.com to read our comparison guides and browse our resources. 

Methodology 

We surveyed 1,005 current internet users about their experiences and opinions on the internet and principles that should govern its use. 

Respondents were 47.6% women and 52.4% men. Additionally, two respondents identified as nonbinary, and one respondent reported identifying as genderqueer. The average age of respondents was 37.9 with a standard deviation of 12.1.

Respondents were asked what rights and principles they would want to be included in a bill of rights-style document governing the use of the internet if it existed. They were instructed to select up to five principles that would be most important. A portion of the answer options we provided came from the “Internet Bill of Rights” by Rep. Ro Khanna, D-CA, released to the public in 2018 for consideration. His document can be viewed here

Respondents were asked to report their current political affiliations. They were given the following options:

  • Democrat
  • Republican
  • Independent
  • Libertarian
  • Green Party
  • Other

In our final visualization of the data, we excluded respondents who reported Libertarian, Green Party, or Other due to low sample sizes in those groups. 

Limitations 

Parts of this project include data that rely on self-reporting. Common issues with self-reported data include exaggeration, selective memory, telescoping, and attribution. 

Fair Use Statement 

Privacy is a major issue as our world continues to be increasingly tech-driven. If someone you know could benefit from the information in this project, you can share it for any noncommercial reuse. We do ask that you link back here so that people can view the project in its entirety and review the methodology. This also gives credit to our contributors for their efforts.

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