Is It Time for an Internet Bill of Rights? (infographic)

The last decade has revolutionized the way we engage with the internet, transforming the way we live. In fact, internet use has increased across all demographics. By 2018, 98% of Americans aged 18 to 29 were internet users, followed by 97% of those aged 30 to 49. From 2008 to 2018, internet use among Americans aged 65 and older nearly doubled, from 38% to 66%.

An increase in internet use (and digital accessibility) isn’t without its pain points, though. Perhaps now more than ever, the digital landscape has become a storage locker for some of our most personal and sensitive data. Banking information, addresses, passwords, shopping history, and credit data are just a few things many Americans manage digitally today, and high-profile data breaches don’t exactly make them feel confident that information is safe.

Not only are they already suspicious of how their data is being managed, but also a majority of Americans (roughly 2 in 3) believe it’s impossible to achieve online privacy. In the wake of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, 78% of people have changed their online behavior, but how do people feel about the governance of brands that collect and manage their data?

To find out, The Best VPN surveyed over 1,000 people to understand how Americans feel about an internet bill of rights. Nearly half of Americans believed internet users should have the right to acquire, correct, or delete their personal data from any company, but that isn’t all they’re concerned about.

Is the Internet a Right or a Privilege?

All around the world, internet use continues to increase. And while the United States is no different, there’s a disparity in digital access among income levels, races/ethnicities, and communities. Compared to 92% of Americans living in urban cities, just 78% of residents in rural parts of the country were internet users in 2018.

Despite these discrepancies, nearly 61% of survey respondents believed internet use is a right, not a privilege. Democrats were the most likely political affiliation to believe internet use is a right (67%), followed by 58% of Independents and 53% of Republicans.

Policing the Internet

The Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution established laws protecting the rights and liberties of Americans and endowing them with certain unalienable rights. And while the idea of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness might have been the guiding principles for our founding fathers, they didn’t have the internet in mind when they were drafting these documents.

So, is it time for an internet bill of rights? More than half of Americans believed the U.S. needs laws governing the rights and use principles of the internet. However, over 2 in 5 Americans believed putting laws in place to protect their internet rights is unnecessary.

The need for an internet bill of rights was strongest among younger generations of digital users. Led by 63% of Americans in their 20s, over 57% of those in their 30s and 51% in their 40s indicated the U.S. needs laws for governing the internet.

Despite being the most likely group to be targeted by internet crimes, according to the FBI, people aged 50 and older were the least likely to think policing the internet is necessary.

Republicans were the least likely political affiliation to express the internet as a right rather than a privilege. However, they were still more keen on laws governing internet use than Independent voters. Led by more than 58% of Democrats, 54% of Republicans and nearly 53% of Independents voted for a bill of rights specific to online activity.

In reality, the federal government has instituted laws governing internet use and data collection. There are some legal protections for Americans regarding the way companies are allowed to collect their information and how they’re required to manage that data, including the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and the Privacy Act of 1974.

And while all 50 states have introduced some form of legislation regarding businesses’ responsibilities if the data they’ve collected is ever exposed in a data breach, no state has gone quite as far as California. In 2018, California legislators passed the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), introducing new levels of digital privacy and protection for users. The CCPA went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, and is applicable to all businesses operating in California.

The Internet Protections Americans Want

Almost 70% of internet users wanted to know when companies are collecting their personal data and how it’s being used. Nearly half wanted the ability to acquire, collect, or delete their personal information from companies’ systems. The CCPA is currently the only law in the U.S. that gives consumers this level of control over their data.

Other popular inclusions into a proposed internet bill of rights included the ability to access the internet without providers being able to block or throttle use or create paid prioritization of some users over others (nearly 48%), followed by keeping personal data secure by the companies who collect it (43%).

Less than 32% of Americans wanted social media privacy, followed by even fewer who would request the same legal protections for digital messaging as paper mail (less than 25%), clear and transparent pricing for internet access (almost 22%), and privacy for health and fitness data (15%).

Republicans were more likely to request visibility when companies collect their personal data, as well as an explanation of how it’s used (71%) compared to Democrats (around 69%), while Independents were more interested in having the ability to edit or delete the data companies acquire from them (nearly 53%).

Republicans were also far more interested in social media privacy (about 40%) compared to Democrats (31%) and Independents (27%).

The Digital Age

Internet use may not be the same across the U.S., but it is growing among every demographic. And while major data breaches have made digital privacy concerns a mainstream conversation, Americans may not realize just how exposed their data really is.

While some federal laws regulate the way online data is collected and utilized, states are largely in control of how businesses are responsible for protecting their customers during a breach. In 2018, California passed the most sweeping legislation in U.S. history, allowing users to delete or edit their personal data from the companies who collect it.

However, not all Americans are interested in having this level of control over their data. Roughly 30% of people declined access to edit or delete their data from company databases in a hypothetical internet bill of rights.

Even though they couldn’t agree on exactly what should be in an internet bill of rights, a majority of Americans at least agreed that some version of one is necessary, and many considered the internet a right rather than a privilege. If California legislation is any indication, the U.S. will likely see more stringent laws regarding consumer data in the future.

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