Riding with Rawls: The Ethical Policy-Making Framework that Helps the Law Catch Up with Technology, Makes Social Media Fair and Balances National Security with Privacy

32 Pages Posted: 16 Mar 2018 Last revised: 14 Aug 2018

See all articles by Morten Bay

Morten Bay

UCLA Dept. of Information Studies

Date Written: August 14, 2018

Abstract

This paper explores public technology policies through the lens of political philosopher John Rawls’ theory of justice as fairness. Using a Rawlsian lens to analyze national policies in cases pertaining to technology-related policies in the U.S., China and to a lesser extent, Russia, the author shows how utilitarian approaches to regulation of social media and other technologies may create unfair and unethical conditions. In two cases where national security concerns motivate surveillance and censorship of social media and personal, electronic devices in both the U.S. and China, it is shown that the technology policies in question enable infringements upon individuals’ rights to privacy, freedom of expression and access to information. The specific policies are thus shown to be in direct conflict with Rawlsian ethics, as is the paternalism revealed by the strategy used to communicate them to the public. The author uses Rawls’ criticism of utilitarianism to show how these rights violations may at least partially be a result of policies borne out of a utilitarian approach, and that using Rawlsian deontology as an alternative framework may lead to more just and fair policy alternatives. The same approach is then applied to a third case, the conflict between the speed of technological development and the slower process of regulating and constructing policies for technology. The Rawlsian approach is once again shown as a viable alternative to the dominant utilitarianism, and it is argued that the price of a slower pace of technological development may be worth paying for a more just and fair interplay between technology and society.

Keywords: Technology ethics, fairness, justice, Rawls, utilitarianism, deontology

Suggested Citation

Bay, Morten, Riding with Rawls: The Ethical Policy-Making Framework that Helps the Law Catch Up with Technology, Makes Social Media Fair and Balances National Security with Privacy (August 14, 2018). TPRC 46: The 46th Research Conference on Communication, Information and Internet Policy . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3141604

Morten Bay (Contact Author)

UCLA Dept. of Information Studies ( email )

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