The Legal Perils of Technological Development

Law has been slow to adapt to the rapid advancements in technology with serious consequences in every domain in which technology is integrated. Society has not been able to respond to the explosion in technological development, effectively deferring decisions on what is ethical when it comes to technologies like social media. Without legal constraints which place meaningful limitations on the manner in which technology can be used, unjust events are bound to transpire.

Wadhwa provides the following example (for article click here). Although laws prohibit lenders from refusing loans to persons on the basis of race, gender and sexuality, (as this constitutes discrimination) they are able to refuse loans to those whom a computer algorithm judges to be socially undesirable. It is quite possible that with respect to the optimization function these algorithms are given, biases against a particular subset of the population may be propagated.

In tandem with an increase in terrorist activity, the tension between privacy and government surveillance has become notable in recent years. Unfortunately, there is limited legal protection for citizens whose metadata is being analyzed and stored by government agencies. As the article discussing Snowden makes evident, government surveillance without oversight is very dangerous, resulting in what many consider to be a grievous breach of privacy. Furthermore, without the actions of Snowden, it is quite conceivable that the majority of the population would be unaware of aggressive data collection practices of the NSA.

Technology is continually developing, and future advances will make more data about ourselves readily available. Who will have ownership of that data, and what laws will dictate how that information is to be obtained, distributed, and protected. Remarkably, in many States, it is still unclear who retains ownership of an individuals’ DNA information. Without serious consideration and immediate action, technological developments will continue to provide an increasing number of loopholes through which the rights of an individual can be violated.

A digital world certainly has its advantages, however, the adoption of such technologies is not without its drawbacks. And it is unfortunate that most individuals do not take the consequences into consideration before digitizing their lives, as they are unaware of the potential risks. As a result, the sacrifice of persons like Snowden was essential, generating enough public attention to at least start the conversation around these matters. But it will take more than conversation to properly address the legal issues which plague our digital world. Personally, I didn’t give much thought to the implicit discrimination that an algorithm can propagate, as it tries to optimize economic profits without consideration for human cost. These are serious issues, much deserving of future conversation, and hopefully political attention, and legal remedies.

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