Cyberattacks are also becoming more frequent, raising new questions about the nature of warfare. When is a kinetic response to an electronic incursion justified? How do the rules of conflict have to be rewritten? Imagine, moreover, the day after a cyberattack shuts down a subway system or befuddles an air-traffic control network. In a country like the United States, it is easy to imagine legislators taking the floor and demanding legislation that will make the Patriot Act look like it was written by the ACLU.
In the Big Data era, every company is a data company, and therefore has data assets and liabilities that it might never have assessed. Accountancies have no good or standard way of assessing, say, the value of the data an auto manufacturer may gather from the telemetry from vehicles it manufactures or that of the data on transactions tracked by a credit-card company on a balance sheet. Regulators hardly know how to deal with such cases. And individuals know, think, and understand even less about how they will be affected.
Simultaneously, countries are starting to ask whether they can or should tolerate a big, free Internet that is a home to free speech and instant networks, a breeder of mass movements and a place for transactions that escape taxation. They also are questioning whether they wish to abide by international norms. The new trend is toward what might be called cyber-sovereignty or cyber-nationalism, breaking the world into separate, differently governed Internets.
We're not even sure of the right questions to ask. For example, it seems likely that data flows might become more important to national economies than capital flows today or in the near future. How do we assess them? How do we measure the information assets of a nation, the Gross Knowledge Product?
We speak easily of "basic rights" like freedom of the press. But they took hundreds of years to evolve. "The press" is a Renaissance-era technology, with Gutenberg's famous moveable type technology making its debut in 1450. The idea that restrictions on the press should be significantly limited didn't really win adoption in the English-speaking world until almost 250 years later. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted in 1791. And the issues associated with the rights and values questions posed by this new universally interconnected, data-dependent, data-interdependent world are many quantum levels of complexity past those tied to a free press. Further, while developments are moving at lightning pace, we are only just now starting to ask: What are the basic rights and responsibilities of citizens, consumers, businesses, and governments in this new era?
Not only are we piecing together regulations and laws without benefit of the answers, but we run the risk of massive violations of what should be basic rights, of economic calamities, and even of wars if we miscalculate. Citizen by citizen, company by company, nation by nation and collectively as a planet it is a time for urgent introspection and an effort to establish common standards. The cost of not doing so will be forgoing the universal benefits -- from education, politics, economics, and social growth -- that being part of this first global network might bring.