privacy

Freedom Not Fear: the Open Rights Group photo-action

Come and join the Open Rights Group this Saturday (11th Oct 2008) as we stage a photo-action in Parliament Square with our friends No2ID . Our action is part of the international Freedom Not Fear day against the total retention of telecommunication data and other instruments of surveillance.

If you can't make it on the day, don't worry; you can still contribute. We need as many people as possible to take photos of stuff that embodies the database state, and the UK’s world-famous surveillance society. Here are instructions for sending us your photos. If you’d like to join the action, email info [AT] openrightsgroup.org and let us know.

The power of the Freedom Not Fear concept comes from linking opposition to technical measures, like blanket surveillance and filtering of internet communications (EU Telecoms-Package) and blanket logging of communications and locations (data retention), to a positive vision of a free and open society.

And the growing reach and scale of the day of action is impressive; one of the organizers emailed me yesterday to say that "in Berlin, things are shaping up really well. We have more than a hundred organizations that call for the demonstration, most of the 100 buses from all over Germany are booked out, there will be a club night afterwards with prominent DJs, films, keysigning parties etc. I am really blown away how this all has developed from a vague idea into an international action. In the Netherlands, they even have three demonstrations (Amsterdam, The Hague and Rottterdam). And we had inquiries from places as remote as Sri Lanka about how to join FnF."

BISH! to copyright term extension and BASH! to e-voting

Today is ORG day, when we celebrate the digital rights startup that answered the question "Where's the British EFF?". The Open Rights Group was founded in December 2005 by a Pledgebank pledge from 1000 members to 'create a standing order of 5 pounds per month to support an organisation that will campaign for digital rights in the UKâ€'. Since then, the organisation has been punching above its weight; it's been BISH! to copyright term extension and BASH! to e-voting as ORG packs pounds of facts in to its interventions, and as a newly minted board member of ORG I'm looking forward to another action-packed year! In a time when threats to privacy and attempts at censorship are spreading, I believe it's vital to have a group like ORG with "a remit to cover any issue where digital technologies affect civil liberties, consumer rights or human rights". So show your support for ORG (and note that any donations or membership payments will be doubled by the generous match funding of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust).

We need a Freedom of Expression League Table for Web 2.0

FREE EXPRESSION IN WEB 2.0

This is a call for a Freedom of Expression league table for Myspace, Youtube and other Web 2.0 spaces. Privacy International has shown the way with their Privacy Ranking of Internet Service Companies, which lists the best and the worst privacy practices across the full spectrum of social networking, email & search sites. But with the emergence of web 2.0 sites as spaces for civic dialogue there's a critical need to test their commitment to free expression and the exchange of ideas.

UDHR VERSUS TOS

The problem lies in the radical difference between the ideals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the realities of the Terms of Service agreements we sign up to when using online services. Article 19 of the UDHR says "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers", whereas a service like YouTube will assert the right for the company to remove content that it considers to be 'inappropriate'.

PSEUDO-PUBLIC SPACES

Despite the way that MySpace and YouTube are marketed as communities they are actually corporate spaces. As I pointed out in my post on social networking and social change: "Like shopping malls, they are pseudo-public spaces where our presence is tolerated as long as we are not interfering with the creation of (advertising) value for the owners". Of course, the role of commerical companies is to make a profit, and they also have legal liabilities to content with around issues like copyright. But the debate around the role of internet companies in China has shown that it's not OK for these powerful corporates to ignore the human rights consequences of their commercial decisions.

PRIVACY INTERNATIONAL

In my opinion, the Privacy International report gives us a great model for how to tackle these issues. Their analysis employs a methodology comprising around twenty core parameters and was compiled using data derived from public sources (newspaper articles, blog entries, submissions to government inquiries, privacy policies etc), information provided by present and former company staff, technical analysis and interviews with company representatives. Although they say that "we have been surprised by the number of social networking sites which are taking some of these issues quite seriously" it's notable that "not one of the ranked organizations achieved a 'green' status" (where green means privacy-friendly and privacy enhancing).

privacy rankings

RACE TO THE BOTTOM

Although it's fascinating to read the detail of the differences between, say, Bebo and Hi5, i think the most worrying aspect of their report is the overall trend of a 'race to the bottom' in corporate surveillance of customers. In their Key Findings they report The current frenzy to capture ad space revenue through the exploitation of new technologies and tools will result in one of the greatest privacy challenges in recent decades. The Internet appears to be shifting as a whole toward this aim, and the opportunity to create market differentiators based on responsible privacy may diminish unless those avenues are explored immediately.

PRIVATISED CENSORSHIP

I fear that the same threats exist to legitimate free expression in the Web 2.0 spaces, where commercial imperatives could drive companies to summarily remove 'objectionable' content, especially if they are pressured to do so by governments or other powerful corporations. This could also throttle the use of these spaces for any campaigning, which is a trend led by the users themselves (see for example the innovative uses of YouTube & MySpace for human rights work and social organising ). The recent Open Net Initiative conference on global internet filtering highlighted the growing privatisation of censorship; as the BBC's Bill Thompson says "Perhaps it's time for the Open Net Initiative to have a look at filtering policies at Facebook, Bebo and MySpace as well as Burma, Iran and Saudi Arabia".

USERS FIGHT BACK?

In the longer run, the anwer may come from angry users who expect to be able to freely express themselves in the social spaces that they helped to create. After all, it's the users who add the valaue and revenue potential to these sites via their content and participation, yet no user has ever received a dividend from the hundreds of millions of dollars that are paid for YouTube or MySpace. But for there to be mass pressure in favour of internet rights, we need to raise the free expression issues in the way that Privacy International is doing for privacy and data protection. As P.I. also point out, the critical issue is not what's on paper but what the company's actual (privacy) practices. Who's going to lead the way on this for Freedom of Expression?

P.S. CORPORATE COMPLICITY

In my opinion, it's no coincidence that the title of the Privacy International report ('A Race to the Bottom') is the same term used by Human Rights Watch in their report on Corporate Complicity in Chinese Internet Censorship. The overt political censorship of the Chinese authorities and the invisible loss of privacy and fair expression in the commerical enviromnent of the West are two sides of the same coin. Defending the internet against one implies defending against the other, especially as the same corporations are often the critical actors in both.

eCampaigning for Internet Freedom

Those of us using the internet in campaigns to change some social or environmental policy call ourselves ecampaigners. But ecampaigning is based on internet freedoms which are under serious and increasing threat. Whether the dimension of freedom is technical, such as the end-to-end principle, or legal, such as the absence of state blog regulation, we can't assume it'll continue to exist. And web 2.0 (a.k.a. the social web) could accelerate the dangers to internet freedoms. It's possible that ecampaigning will become completely neutered, so that we won't be able to anything controversial, we won't be able reach half the world's population, and in any case people won't want to get involved.

privacy invasion

One of the most serious threats is privacy invasion. There's a reason why Google acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion - they want to learn all about our habits so they can target more effective advertising at us. Yahoo (proud owner of Flickr and Delicious) says it wants social networks to define its business - they don't just want to know about us, they also want to know about our friends. The National Security Agency in the USA has set its sights on the datamining of social networking websites for intelligence gathering. With the advent of web 2.0 we are seeing the emergence of the panoptic gaze of web 2.0 and infrastructures of dataveillance. As well as violating our individual privacy the web-enabled data aggregation can lead to “social sorting†beyond the consumer realm, allowing authorities to reinforce social differences and enact discrimination. (Ironically, this is a dark reflection of audience segmenting, which is a key technique for effective ecampaigning).

filtering

Many ecampaigners assume that the internet is still a global space, but it's actually in danger of becoming a set of censored national enclosures. Back in 2002 only 3 countries regularly filtered & blocked content (China, Iran & Saudi Arabia), but according to the Open Net Initiative it's now up to 25, and the scope of the blocking is growing, as in the recent blockings of YouTube. (The human rights impact of YouTube will be the subject of a future post here). States and corporations are inseparable partners in the business of internet filtering - as Alexandra Samuel says

In the digital era, the infrastructure for policy enforcement is often digital - and the creators of that infrastructure are generally private companies. That makes state security inseparable from corporate security; the ability to enforce policy compliance extends only to the extent that your technology is hack-proof. This creates a complicated relationship of policy interdependence among countries: consider, for example, the fact that China's firewalls - the infrastructure for its information controls, and the target of much hacktivism - run on routers from US-based Cisco.

This profitable partnership to fence off the internet leads to a kind of real-time revisionism and has received justifiable condemnation .

censorship

Many people were shocked to learn of the censorship and imprisonment of Egyptian blogger Karim Amer who was sentenced to four years in prison for defaming both the president and Islam. This unfortunate blogger wasn't a hardcore human rights activist - his blog also includes film reviews and other personal minutae. He was, however, outspoken and even offensive - which he has every right to be under international law. His jailing may prove the general point that when social media seems to be making a social difference, repression will surely follow. And in the participative spaces of web 2.0, censorship can come in many forms. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights might value free expression but the same thing can't be said of YouTube's Terms of Service, which leaves content vulnerable to vague allegations of being 'objectionable' or 'inappropriate'. What becomes of freedom of expression in the pseudo-public spaces of the online monopolies?

copyright

Another threat to internet freedoms is the aggressive expansion of copyright and so-called Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). Although these issues are beyond the ken of many traditional rights organisations they can have a direct impact on ecampaigning. Corporates have already responded aggressively to the use of their logos in online campaigns, although happily there have been robust defences by organisations like Greenpeace. Web sites can also be subject to take-downs through legislation such as the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which can become a form of legalised harassment and disruption against campaigning web sites. In the future, the Digital Rights Management technology that'll be built in to the very heart of our hardware could be spying on the fact that we've been watching a certain campaigning video on our PC. All this flies in the face of the traditional protections that copyright offered to parody and fair comment, let alone the concept that mixing and mashing is the emergent free speech of our times .

net neutrality

And finally, but perhaps fundamentally, we've all grown used to the idea that bloggers can compete with the CNN for the internet audience, and there are many examples where this has led to some kind of media or social impact. This won't be the case on Internet 2, the 'next-generation' high-speed internet which is specced out as a tightly controlled and locked-down environment, removing any of the bugs/features that gave the internet its freedom.

why should we campaign for Internet Freedom?

It's very worrying that most ecampaigners are ignoring these threats to the environment that they depend on. Of course, they're all busy doing online campaigns for the core mission of their organizations, whether it's environmental, human rights or whatever. But key techniques like blogging, social networking and global campaigning are already being impacted by reductions in internet freedoms, and this is reason enough for ecampaigners as a profession to be collectively involved in campaigning against those threats. But there's a deeper imperative as well, arising from the nature of the information society, which is the fact that the internet itself is becoming an actor in many of these core missions. For example, the internet is not just a tool for communicating about human rights, it is itself a terrain for human rights struggle. Many development organizations see access to the internet and open knowledge as a key element of economic & social development. And, as Rolf Kleef pointed out, even environmental agendas may interpenetrate the internet via the Aarhus convention (which grants the public rights regarding access to information and public participation and access to justice in environmental matters). But many established organisations don't yet get it, and the danger is they'll only realise when it's too late.

on what basis should we campaign?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the legal frameworks drawn from it provide a plethora of policy tools to defend internet freedoms, ranging from Article 19's right to seek, receive and impart information freely, to Article 12's defence of privacy and even Article 20's right to freedom of assembly. Most governments are already signed up to the UDHR and (more or less) to the international treaties that flow from it. On the copyright side we can pursue the openings of Creative Commons and the work done at WIPO by organisations such as CPTech (for example the right for developing countries to manufacture local versions of AIDS drugs)

who should campaign?

In my humble opinion, all ecampaigners and the NGOs they work for should contribute to a broad coalition campaign to preserve internet freedoms. It is not safe to assume that the battle can be left to the usual suspects, whether that's digital freedom groups such as the EFF or traditional human rights organizations (whose grasp of digital issues can be pretty weak), because the issues are too broad for any one organisation to cover. In the UK it would be logical to look to existing coalitions such as the Global New Media Group, which emerged from the new media campaigning of Make Poverty History. An alternative hub could be something like the Open Rights Group , which is committed to defending civil liberties in the digital
world and was itself born out of a kind of ecampaign (a pledge on MySociety's Pledgebank). Whatever form the campaign takes it can take advantage of the way the internet itself supports emergent foms of collaborative innovation.

how should we campaign?

Almost all ecampaigning is some kind of advocacy - pressuring someone like a government official or corporate CEO to make a decision or change a decision. For sure, we need active campaigning for internet freedom, so we need to follow the tried and test methods of developing an influencing strategy & identifying target audiences. But there's also the really interesting possibility of using hacktivism, in the form of the policy circumvention defined in Hacktivism & The Future of Political Participation :

Policy circumvention is here defined as legal noncompliance that: a) is a strategic political response to a specific policy, law, regulation or court decision b) focuses on nullifying the effect of a policy, law, regulation, or court decision, and c) creates some non-excludable benefits (though there may be additional, excludable benefits of non-compliance).

Rather than waiting for a bad law to be changed, policy circumvention routes around it - a tactic that goes back to the original nature of the internet!

hacktivism

A good example of hacktivism in practice is the Citizen Lab's Psiphon tool. Psiphon is a censorship circumvention solution that allows users to access blocked sites in countries where the Internet is censored. A really nice aspect of Psiphon is the social side of the tool - rather than being a public tool it operates through networks of trust between people in censored and un-censored locations, which also makes it difficult for the authorities to detect or block. Another exemplar of hacktivism is The Onion Router a.k.a. Tor which provides a network of virtual tunnels that allows people and groups to improve their privacy and security on the Internet. Tools like these act directly to negate the threats of filtering, censorship and privacy invasion. Note that policy circumvention is not the same as law-breaking; in fact, using these tools enables people to directly enact their rights under international law. Moreover, research suggests that policy circumvention is an additional pressure for policy change because it undermines the credibility of the policies themselves. It may be that policy circumvention and hacktivism will have a bigger part to play in all the ecampaigning of the future. To quote Alexandra Samuel again:

in an information economy, policy circumvention will be an expanding sphere of political activity. The domains that are most vulnerable to policy circumvention are domains that are dependent on information: information distribution, and information control. In an information age, more and more economic and social activity unfolds in these domains. That means that more and more of the state's activity, and its policy responsibilities, will unfold in domains that are vulnerable to policy circumvention by hacktivists.

Certainly there are people like Ron Deibert of the Psiphon project who are focusing on the need to develop this field of work to “ensure that protecting freedom of speech online is embedded within the research agendaâ€. Perhaps the need to defend internet freedoms gives ecampaigners an urgent incentive to pioneer this new form of campaigning.

Cyberpunk meets UNDP

"Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts...A graphical representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the non-space of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding..." --William Gibson, Neuromancer
Wouldn't that be an amazing way to experience the data from the UNDP; the statistics of life and mortality, the tangents of development and disarray marked out as peaks and fjords that our avatars could fly through? The data, in fact, that Gapminder has visualised so vividly in 2D. So why not an engine that imports stats like those into Second Life, where they can be experienced in the way that William Gibson originally imagined? It seems like one step towards this is on the cards, judging by blog posts like 3D import tools for Second Life , although this still focuses on importing static 3D objects like buildings, cars and so on. Where are the pure data import tools?

And this begs the bigger question; why is Second Life a 3D representation of real-world objects at all? I know there are lots of reasons why this makes SL an interesting place with a lot of social potential. And it's actually the not-quite-real aspect that gives SL a lot of its buzz. But still, it's a virtual re-creation of our world, not the Gibsonian data-space.

cyberspace

Second Life is more like Neal Stephenson's Metaverse; an immersive virtual world populated by avatars. Which is cool, but it's not the Net. It doesn't help us visualise the data-space, the nodes and trails of information, including the trails that we leave and the giant repositories that bureaucracies build. Only today I was discussing with freedom of expression and privacy colleagues the urgent need to visualise these threats to online freedoms. I suspect that only when we can fly through an old skool Cyberspace will we get a keen insight in to the enroachment of censorship and corporate data-mining. Let's hope that, by then, it's not too late...

Track My Fakes: an idea for social network privacy protection

Here's a possible privacy mashup (in the form of a Gedankenexperiment) that combines a tool and a service to protect users of social networks from automated surveillance and data-profiling.
Firstly, the genuine privacy tool TrackMeNot, which protects web searchers from surveillance by search engines (which we could call "adveillance" - is there such a word?).

It does so not by means of concealment or encryption (i.e. covering one's tracks), but instead, paradoxically, by the opposite strategy: noise and obfuscation...TrackMeNot runs in Firefox as a low-priority background process that periodically issues randomized search-queries to popular search engines, e.g., AOL, Yahoo!, Google, and MSN. It hides users' actual search trails in a cloud of 'ghost' queries, significantly increasing the difficulty of aggregating such data into accurate or identifying user profiles.

Secondly, the a version of the decidedly 'iffy' service Fake Your Space, which
"allows unpopular people on MySpace, Facebook and Consumating to buy hot friends. For just $.99 per month, you can buy a good-looking friend who will leave 2 comments on your profile every week".
That should give the Pentagon's software developers something to scratch their heads about.
fakeyourspacefakeyourspace

my 3 minutes at NESTA Uploading

UPDATE: see this talk on YouTube (tx to Lloyd Davis.) a post of the rough notes from my 3 minute 'provocation' at today's NESTA Uploading Innovation Event.
 

SOCIAL MEDIA FOR CAMPAIGNING

not amnesty's official view

architecture of participation for campaigning amnesty, greenpeace, witness

disruptive innovations, bypassing and displacing

move-on, avaaz, genocide intervention network

post-deferential era people will do it anyway

youtube and human rights; wael abbas; first ever prosecutions of egyptian police for torture

ice cream flash mobs of belarus
 

THE DARK SIDE: SURVEILLANCE AND CONFORMITY

chance social media will lead to conformity privacy invasion

google & yahoo - everything about us and our relationships

privacy backlash

pentagon

you know social media is making a social difference when people start getting arrested for it

blogger kareem amer,

critical comments, protected freedom under int'l law
 

CREATIVITY VERSUS COPYRIGHT

Internet Governance Forum - titanic clash, aggressive IPR & copyright versus Freedom of Expression

make a big difference to what innovation we can do with social media

Joichi Ito - remixing is a new form of freedom of expression
 

SOCIAL MEDIA FOR HUMAN RIGHTS, HUMAN RIGHTS FOR SOCIAL MEDIA

Q. how do we shape policy to optimise social media innovation?

best hope for human rights activism in C21st

not just social media for human rights, but human rights for social media

how to preserve that quality that Jonathan Zittrain calls 'generativity'

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

policy & law: we need more than creative commons code:

psiphon: anonymity - also spread via social networks culture:

providing a safe space for people to network and campaign c.f. hispanic kids in LA using myspace to organize against anti-immigrant legislation

maybe org not doing the campaign, but providing campaigning context provide a safe space for collaborative innovation and say to people: 'be part of the change you want to see'

Surveillance of Social Software

The week after i got back from talking about the potential human rights threats of web2.0. a colleague at work circulated an article by Paul Marks from the New Scientist entitled 'Pentagon sets its sights on social networking websites' which bears out a lot of that threat.
surveillance-bouncerssurveillance-bouncers
It reveals software being developed with NSA support to datamine social networking sites by, perversely, harnessing the semantic web technologies of the W3C. Then email brought in a link to this article by David Freedman: "Why Privacy Won't Matter - Google, Yahoo and Microsoft desperately want to know every last thing about what you do, say and buy. Here's how they'll do it—and why we'll let them ". It does a nice job of highlighting the way that the drive for revenue from targeted advertising is eroding privacy and turning search engines in to Big Brothers. Whereas Google enables it's panopticon by seducing you in to using it's tools for all of your online life, Yahoo is researching social network analysis as a way to target ads at friends and colleagues. Although the general picture it paints is of inevitability, and it's very negative about the compliance of the younger generation (wrongly, in my opinion), it does highlight some developing techniques for prtecting privacy, and more importantly the possibility of a 'privacy backlash' against all this market-led surveillance. For me, the most chilling effect is the potential for self-censorship; as people become aware that their preferences and opinions are tracked they will become "afraid to engage in any behavior that others might find controversial."
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