Given that anyone can connect and instantly share ideas electronically, protecting individuals’ digital (Internet) privacy has become a complicated matter. Governments are debating legislation, and online consumers are endlessly changing privacy settings on their preferred online platforms. Meanwhile, in an effort to collect user data that can be turned into dollars, companies are working on ways to get around Internet privacy mechanisms.
You and your classmates are United States legislators—specifically, members of the House Committee for Science, Space and Technology. Based on the concerns of your constituents, you will debate and then draft legislation to address the growing concern regarding digital privacy. The legislation should include rules online companies must follow, as well as penalties for non-compliance.
Note to Teacher: Students should have access to large paper (a flipchart) or blackboard/whiteboard, chalk or markers, devices with Internet access and word processing capabilities, and a printer.
The class acts as the entire committee, with the teacher serving as the chair. The teacher will lead the discussion, ensuring that each “congressman/woman” gets an opportunity to speak. Designate a secretary either through appointment by the chair, a committee vote or a call for volunteers. The secretary’s job will be to record on a blackboard, whiteboard or flip chart the debate’s highlights as well as the current state of the draft legislation. Once the committee agrees upon the bill, the secretary will provide the chair with the formal draft, signed by all the committee members.
Step 1 – Students gather facts and persuasive evidence from the online articles below. A good starting point for exploring various types of digital privacy violations is Your Secrets Are Online. Take notes and write down ideas. (For greater efficiency, break students into groups and have each group read and digest one of the nine articles.)
Step 2 – The chair calls the committee to order and selects one or more “sponsoring” legislators who will “raise a bill” regarding protection of consumers’ online privacy. The legislator(s) raising the bill should indicate reasons the proposed law is needed (problems the law will solve).
Step 3 – The secretary records the group’s initial ideas for the bill on a blackboard, whiteboard or flip chart.
Step 4 – With the chair as a moderator, the committee adds provisions to the bill, removes others and debates the shape the bill is taking. The moderator should ensure that the bill’s provisions are reasonable and not too numerous. Encourage committee members to support their ideas with information collected from the online articles in the resources area of this WebQuest (below). They can respond to other members’ comments by agreeing, disagreeing or providing additional reasons and evidence.
The chair should ensure that the committee considers all sides of the argument and that all members participate in the discussion. If there appears to be a lack of a “Devil’s Advocate,” the chair can offer alternate views to spark debate. For example, if the committee appears to be in agreement that companies should not be allowed to use content posted to a social media outlet, the chair could argue that users published this content in a public space. Creating a law that bans the use of public information therefore could be interpreted as unconstitutional.
Step 5 – The sponsor(s), secretary and possibly additional assistants draft the bill, using a computer with word processing. To better facilitate the participation and input of all committee members, have students type the draft bill into an online Wiki, where it can be edited by all (the chair should moderate this activity as well). Those who disapprove of any of the bill’s provisions should explain in writing and suggest revisions.
Step 6 – After appropriate debate, the committee votes on the rough draft of the bill. If the committee approves the bill, the secretary will provide the chair with a written copy signed by all committee members. If the rough draft is not approved, it will go back for further debate.
Your Secrets Are Online
Google Works Around iOS to Track iPhone Users
Web Firms to Adopt ‘Do Not Track’ Button
Tech Giants Agree to App Privacy Rules
Personal Data Reappears on Sites
Facebook Retreats on Privacy
Feds Shift Tracking Defense
Using Credit Cards to Track Web Ads
Microsoft Quashed Effort to Boost Online Privacy
Your grade will reflect:
Quality/civility of the debate (25 percent)
Quality of research (25 percent)
Quality of the final bill (25 percent)
Participation (25 percent)