Nonprofits bank on trust. Private assets held on behalf of the public good are even said to be "held in trust" - land trusts, charitable trusts, etc.
Over the weekend two providers of encrypted email services, Lavabit and Silent Circle, shut down. What does this have to do with civil society? These email providers shut down because they could no longer provide a secure way for people to communicate in private. Change that to "associate in private" and you have the very essence of civil society. This is the moment for civil society organizations - nonprofits, foundations, voluntary and mutual associations - to seize their place as digital "trusts." They need to establish practices, norms, and, yes, new regulations, by which they will hold our digital assets in trust, will respect and defend individual privacy in the pursuit of shared public goals, and recognize that the distinguishing feature of nonprofits in the 21st century will be how they manage private digital resources on behalf of public goods. Business and government are not doing this - we, as citizens, must.
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