In the digital economy, the data asset must be protected

The path forward in today’s volatile economic environment is unclear. Rising powers are gaining traction in the global economy, while crushing debt and political paralyses continue to plague the western world. With our economic outlook in question, and the fruits of globalization fueling the growth of emerging nations, the world faces the possibility of different global futures.

This was the topic of discussion at the Atlantic Council’s Global Trends 2030 Conference. US strategy for a “post-Western world” was the talk among global policymakers, business executives and technology experts.

The panel I participated in, “Emerging technologies that will change our future,” evoked similar discussion as the Transatlantic Legislators’ Dialogue Conference where I spoke last month. Although the audience was different, my message was the same: Progressive legislation is needed to protect the positive uses of our newest and most powerful asset class – data.

Similar to the printing press in the 1400s, technology continues to revolutionize the way people connect with one another. Digital media is the modern example. Instant global communication (think Twitter and YouTube) has transformed the world in many ways. Elections have been won. Dictators have been toppled. And reputations have been made and, in fact, destroyed.

The invention of the printing press contributed to the need for the First Amendment to the US Constitution that was adopted to effectively govern the use of such technology. This legislative framework gave the news media strong regulatory support, and as a result, enabled the technology to reap its full benefits.

Just as the printing press can be used to spread gospel or propaganda, modern information networks and the technologies they support can be harnessed for good or for evil. The same networks that help organize movements for freedom also enable terrorists to incite violence against the innocent.

My argument is that governance similar to that bred by the printing press is needed for digital assets. The world’s data supply is multiplying by the day, through countless emails, page views, credit card transactions and more. In many ways, information has never been freer. At the same time we must also remember that technology is not a windfall. These same tools are also exploited to undermine human progress and put our nation at risk, so we must govern our digital assets accordingly.

Essentially, we must view technology and the resulting data as the asset it is. Progressive multilateral legislation is needed to protect the positive uses of this asset – the good – while minimizing the negative – the evil. By doing so we can help protect our nation and secure our economic future.

To see the full report, “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds,” click here (.pdf).

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