Of digital rights and digital manifestos

Digitization raises large numbers of questions and forces us to challenge and rethink existing rules. Two of the most recent moves to tackle this have been the Digital Manifesto, published by a group of researchers on, and the digital rights set out by Minister of Justice Heiko Mass in the Die Zeit weekly newspaper. What is it all about?

Minister of Justice Maas feels that digitization is forcing the political world into action. "This means that we must find the answer as soon as possible to a fundamental question: How do we want to live? And we have to act based on that. If politics is to remain relevant, then it can no longer abdicate responsibility for shaping the digitization process, both in Germany and internationally," he wrote in December 2015 in a guest article for Die Zeit, in which he also formulated 13 arguments, or rights as he called them, with the specific aim of starting to shape the process immediately.

These include the right of the individual to retain control of his or her personal data and the right to be forgotten, and also underline the importance of copyright. Maas states that freedom of speech online cannot permit violations of the dignity of others, and puts forward the idea that every individual has a right to an analog world; no one should suffer discrimination because he or she does not use digital services. You can read his arguments here (in German).

The nine academics and lawyers (Dirk Helbing, Bruno S. Frey, Gerd Gigerenzer, Ernst Hafen, Yvonne Hofstetter, Jeroen van den Hoven, Roberto Zicari, Andrej Zwitter and Michael Hagner) who published their Digital Manifesto in November 2015 took an even broader approach. In their opinion, the ongoing digitization process poses a threat to democracy if left unchecked. They therefore go beyond digital rights and call for a social contract "that sees citizens and customers not as obstacles or marketable resources, but rather as partners" and consider that the political sphere has a duty to set out a suitable regulatory framework for this.

Specifically, for example, they demand that every citizen receive a copy of the data collected about him or her and that the unauthorized use of data be a punishable offense. They consider the effects of personalized Internet searches and propose that search and recommendation algorithms should not be prescribed by the provider, but instead that the user should be able to select and configure these. Their manifesto also tackles topics such as new education concepts, digital assistants (as a prerequisite to help master increasing complexity and diversity) and a "Wikipedia of cultures." You can read the Digital Manifesto here (in German).

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