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Our lagging laws: making new laws is a slow process. Technology moves too fast to care.

LAWS FORBID LENDERS FROM discriminating on the basis of race, gender, and sexuality. Yet lenders can refuse to give a loan to people if their Facebook friends have bad payment histories, if their work histories on LinkedIn don't match their bios on Facebook, or if a computer algorithm judges them to be socially undesirable.

Such regulatory gaps exist because laws haven't kept up with technology. And the gaps are getting wider.

Technology now touches practically everyone, everywhere. Changes of a magnitude that once took centuries now happen in decades, sometimes in years. Not long ago, Facebook was a dorm-room dating site, mobile phones were for the ultrarich, drones were multimillion-dollar war machines, and supercomputers were for secret government research. Today, hobbyists build drones, and poor villagers in India access Facebook accounts on smartphones more powerful than the Cray 2 supercomputer, which in 1985 cost $17.5 million and weighed 2,500 kilograms.

We haven't come to grips with what is ethical in relation to technologies such as social media, let alone with what the laws should be. Consider the question of privacy. There is a public outcry today about surveillance by the National Security Agency, but the breadth of that surveillance pales in comparison with the data that Google, Apple, Facebook, and legions of app developers are collecting. Our smartphones track our movements and habits. Our Web searches reveal our thoughts. Where do we draw the line on what is legal--and ethical?

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 prohibits the use of genetic information in health insurance and employment. But it provides no protection from discrimination in long-term-care, disability, and life insurance. There are no laws to stop companies from using genomic data in the same way that lending companies and employers use social-media data. We will have similar debates about self-driving cars, drones, and robots.

As a society, we need to be mindful that powerful innovation now occurs too quickly for existing ethical frameworks and laws. This means questioning, rethinking, and reffaming those values, as a culture, at an accelerated speed. And it means creating a legal system that can keep pace with a new era of techno-socioeconomic transformation.

Vivek Wadhwa is a fellow at Stanford University's Arthur and Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance.

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Title Annotation:INTERNET
Comment:Our lagging laws: making new laws is a slow process.
Author:Wadhwa, Vivek
Publication:MIT Technology Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2014
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