In the discussions I had about Digital Ethics in the last year, I feel that in parallel to legal and regulatroy work, there is room for voluntary rules for enterprises that will distinguish themselves from others by subscribing to a number of principles on ethical behaviour in production and on the market. Hereunder I propose what principles that could be and I invite everybody to react on this.

Of course signing a declaration must be underpinned with certain guarantees by independent observers/auditors and a visible label showing the commitment. Moreover the possibility of complaint deposition should be created. Thsi text herunder is only a first step to come to agreement.

The process of globalisation was boosted by the scientific revolution in Europe that led to the discovery of America and other parts of the world. Trade and economic growth combined with scientific progress led to the industrial revolution and the enlightenment period in Europe and North America.  

With the emergence of the Internet and the breath-taking development of IC technologies we have entered into a truly global world which defies the logic of physical connections and national jurisdictions. This undermines the ethical order based on what is sometimes called the ‘social contract’ between the societal power (or nation state) and the citizens in that society.

The Internet crosses frontiers without control and all kind of cross border communities, social networks and groups can and are being formed easily by individuals and organisations (including crime and terrorist networks), without transparent attribution of communication to their sources. This undermines the social contracts in stable societies and with it the national / societal, as well as the individual security and trust. It creates a new arena for national and individual power struggles. International institutions are not (yet?) able to guarantee a global social contract.

 Unfortunately, we must also conclude that social platforms and systems to support large international communities have been developed based on commercial rules and principles instead of ethical and social principles developed in political processes engaging the human stakeholders. The rise of Algorithms, AI, Social Robots, Big Data Analysis and Profiling without ethical consent between stakeholders creates a realistic danger of dehumanization and individual disempowerment (actual loss of the right to choose), and hence the loss of living in dignity and with autonomy.

 Ethical systems are essential social constructs to trust and security in human societies effectively. They are grounded in religions, ideologies and other broadly accepted narratives. Since the 20th century world wars have led to the broadly supported Convention on Human Rights of the UN. This is a very positive development, that need to be sustained and strengthened by international institutions which are trusted and provide essential security for the global individual. It will however still be a long journey to global security and trust based on global common ethical understanding

 The basic principles underlying social contracts are: 1) consent between societal stakeholders; 2) a society based on the rule of law; 3) freedom of organisation; 4) all parties (incl. the state/power) act transparent and auditable, with guarantee to redress by abuse; 5) power should be organised through effective subsidiarity and self-organisation (within the lawinternational ethical order (or social contract) must ensure humankind to flourish in freedom, with dignity and autonomy, in a balanced relation with an ever-evolving technological world.

We therefore subscribe to:

A.    A legal approach at global/international level to develop a global social order with security for people based on internationally accepted human rights. This should give special attention to potential problems created wide use of AI, big data and profiling.

In parallel with such legal approach we subscribe to bottom-up development of soft law and voluntary actions and creation of an ethical narrative for the digital world, based on the following principles for public and private institutions, platforms and (eco)systems, as well as for the services, products and processes delivered through these:


B.    Beneficial: aimed at flourishing of human beings and their communities - requiring ongoing cultivation, treating them as relational autonomies / agents, with attendant rights. Actions must be proportional in providing benefits and value to users, organisations and communities, taking into account risk/benefit analysis

C.    Fair, respectful and Just: as perceived by the reasonable individual/community. Active support of human dignity and virtues, ethical custodianship of systems and data. Ensuring data and algorithm integrity for decision making. Enable compliance with local law and culture.

D.    Transparent, inclusive and autonomy protecting: this should be for public and private platforms and organisations/communities and include the business models used. Decisions made by algorithms and rules established should be explained, and give meaningful empowerment and engagement to individuals.

E.    Accountable, auditable and providing redress of public and private organisations vs individuals and communities of individuals, but also of individuals vs organisations and communities, all proportional to the relation between parties. Honesty about consent and re-use of data. Although anonymity must remain possible in specific situations.

F.     Subsidiarity and Self-organisation: supportive of decision making by all entities (including individuals) at the lowest possible level, within a generally accepted ethical framework and without infringing local law applicable.