Dante’s Inferno Canto XXXIV

Betrayal is the moral failing at the heart of Dante’s Canto XXXIV. The beast that devours these sinners has three heads and continuously torments the damned. I found the use of Judas, Brutus and Cassius interesting because it allowed me to see this highest sin in two different lights. Judas betrayed Jesus and both Brutus and Cassius plotted against Julius Caesar. Is Dante saving this final depth of hell for those who betray God and country? These three individuals are still known and reviled millennia after their deaths. Religion played a vital part in the social structure of the middle ages. In a poem about the cost of wickedness and the importance of living a good life, loyalty to god and the church would be an important component of avoiding eternal damnation.

While what we have studied so far has not pointed to a particularly strong sense of nationalism in Italians I still believe that Brutus and Cassius inclusion in this canto represents a severe punishment for their betrayal of the Roman Republic. This act marked the beginning of the empire and ultimately the slow and steady decline of Roman influence and power. Could Dante have chosen these two to reflect on the ultimate sin against Roman power and Italian prestige? After the decline of Rome the entire Italian peninsula had basically been at the whim of more powerful forces from Central Europe.

I found it interesting how much effort was put into describing the great beast in this canto. The creature appears to be a giant with three faces. The amount of detail Dante uses to describe every portion of the monster appears to be designed to illicit fear of this fate by the reader. Committing such sin in the world would only lead to an eternity of pain and suffering at the hands of the beast. More important to me was the reference to the beast as the emperor of the kingdom who had one lifted his brow against his maker. I believe that this indicates that the beast is Satan, who in Christianity is an angel cast out of Heaven. Only Satan is worthy of punishing the most sinister of sinners. And so each day Judas, Brutus, Cassius and all others who have betrayed mankind are ripped apart and devoured by Satan.

The Global Village

In June of 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. gave the keynote address at the graduation of Oberlin College in Ohio. The broad theme of the address, like many of Dr. King’s speeches, was the pursuit of universally accepted civil rights around the world. What was unique about this occasion was the introduction of technological advances into the discussion. As Dr. King put it “What we are facing today is the fact that through our scientific and technological genius we’ve made of this world a neighborhood. And now through our moral and ethical commitment we must make of it a brotherhood”. In a single speech the need for fair and equal treatment in a shrinking world was fully articulated. While Dr. King was primarily referring to the impacts of innovations like air travel and television the advent of the Internet has re-sparked the conversation.

The creation and development of the Internet has been rightly heralded for transforming the lives of billions of people across the planet. It has eliminated the constraints proximity has always placed on our everyday actions. The World Wide Web has taken on the roles of marketplace, public-square and as the vehicle for our most personal communications. This change is not without risk and the most pressing issue may be how the Internet will influence the privacy and communications of its users. This leads us to deeper and more philosophical question; are there universal rights to which all Internet users are entitled? In this new global digital society we are just beginning to understand the importance of understanding the answer. We must also specifically look at how various governments around the world view the Internet. A government that sees their citizens’ online activity as a benefit to society will take very different actions than one which deems unfiltered communication as a threat.

Whenever the approval of various governments is necessary to resolve a problem things get difficult. This is especially true whenever the dispute involves establishing rights for all people. Add to this the near impossible requirement of getting every government in the world to agree and a picture of just how difficult a task enshrining universal online rights really is. While the virtual state that is the World Wide Web makes every user a de facto citizen, we all remain residents of the country we inhabit. Codifying a set of rights and responsibilities online cannot be achieved in the absence of government support. To be truly universal, any agreement must be endorsed and protected by the laws of every nation.

One of the most important by-products of the internet is how it has allowed users throughout the world to interact directly with one another.  This is a dynamic shift creating one large community from what was once many. In the introduction of The offensive Internet: Speech, privacy, and reputation Saul Levmore and Martha C. Nussbaum (2010) describe how the internet has created a village of its many users. It is important to understand how free speech and privacy protections differ between real and digital communities. Levmore and Nussbaum (2010) note that in a true village, personal experiences and social structure protect the inhabitants, however in the online village “Most of us cannot there distinguish fidelity from fraud” (p.1). On the World Wide Web, it would appear we all need the protection of an established set of norms by which all participants abide.

In this new environment basic accepted freedoms face the same perils as in the physical world. But it is important to understand that the freedom of expression and the expectation of privacy most commonly discussed are in many ways Western traditions. Most freedom of speech discussions revolve around the established American definitions of speech as defined by the Supreme Court. As for privacy, this too is an ideal that is not universally accepted throughout the world. And this fact demonstrates the most important facet of the new virtual village; that its inhabitants are still subject to the laws of the nation they reside. If a company or individual in country X obstruct the online activities of a person in country Y what is the recourse? We must work to establish online freedoms acceptable to all nations in order to have an effective set of rules for Internet behavior.

So how do we bridge the gap between tenets accepted by many societies and a globally accepted framework? We must first establish whether we are truly entitled to any privileges online based on Western ideas of civil liberty. Jenifer Winters (2013), an Associate Professor of Networked Policy in the School of Communications at the University of Hawaii,  explores whether internet access is a basic right in her piece Is internet access a human right?. She begins by linking information and communication technology development with global human rights efforts and then defining what basic freedoms technological advancements endanger (35). Winters places the concept of internet access as a human right in the context of the historical movement toward increased individual rights (36-38). She also traces the lineage of the basic right to communicate back several centuries (36). While Winters concludes that individuals must be able to express themselves and state opinions, several countries do not put as much stock in such notions. By tracing the evolution of civil and human rights, Winters inadvertently establishes that while the internet adds a new dimension to the discussion it does not create a seismic shift in the debate.

Freedom of expression is only part of the debate; privacy is also an important point of contention.  As the Polish human rights lawyer Zuzanna Warso (2013) sees it, “The amount of everyday activity that until recently took place away from the computer but is now transferred online, legitimizes the need for the law to reflect the variety of online behaviors” (p.492). Put simply we are performing many more tasks online that traditionally took place in person. As the percentage of people online increases more and more personal information is made available to 3rd parties without our overt consent. The capturing of this digital exhaust is one of the most frightening aspects of the Internet. Online participants can never be fully aware of who is tracking their activity and for what purpose that information will eventually be used.

While Warso and her colleagues have a legitimate argument, it has not yet generated the groundswell of support necessary to promote rapid change. The total volume of communication and financial activity we now perform online should mandate universal protections. The road to a universally accepted standard to protect the anonymity of online activity may be hastened by the increasing volume of data breaches around the world. Without a comprehensive agreement it is entirely possible that the Internet will stagnate. For all of the improvements the web has provided in our quality of life we still need to feel safe using it.

Many online privacy advocates are calling for the right to be forgotten, which allows for individuals to opt for having their digital footprints erased. Warso believes the European laws have a narrow view of online privacy that does not take social networks into account. The very nature of social networks leaves information about many aspects of individual’s lives to be harvested by the companies running these sites. While it may be easy to suggest people actively acknowledge and accept the information being gathered, the true scope of what is being captured is astounding. And because of this activity the private sector join governments in limiting online rights. The good news is that some steps are being taken to understand and address issues tied to privacy on the web. Western Europe is at the forefront of grappling with concerns over what personal freedom and privacy on the Internet entail.

In April of this year the Freedom Online Coalition met is Estonia to discuss the basic human rights most impacted by the Internet. The fact that over 60 countries participated demonstrates just how important protecting people’s rights online has become. Federico Guerrini’s (2014) Forbes article, A guide to human rights of internet users launched today in Estonia, summarizes the most important aspects of the conference. The major accomplishment is that a framework of rights had been adopted by the European council member states earlier in the year, which outlines basic freedoms web users should enjoy. Guerrini explains that “The Guide focuses on the human rights on which the internet has most impact: access and non-discrimination, freedom of expression and information, freedom of assembly, association and participation, privacy and data protection, education and literacy, protection of children and young people, and the right to effective remedies for violations of human rights” (2014).

The fact that only 60 of the 196 countries in the world participated highlights the challenges of reaching a consensus on universal online rights. Many of the freedoms discussed at the conference are not protected by many countries in their citizen’s everyday lives. Even in countries that do offer these protections standards and enforcement levels vary greatly. It is unlikely to envision any universally enforced liberties in a world with such diversity of interpreting what freedoms individuals are permitted to have.

Europe has certainly taken the lead in the area of online governance. But for all the leadership Europe has shown in the movement toward establishing universal online rights, the conference has shown some important obstacles that must be overcome. Long standing political rivalries are already threatening to derail any meaningful gains. It is difficult to imagine a globally acceptable charter if consensus cannot be reached by the most engaged nations. Every nation must begin to view establishing online freedoms as a victory for its citizens.

It is crucial to fully understand why certain countries do not support the same model of what constitutes civil rights. This is significant because societies will continue to advocate for online freedoms that mirror the ones they understand and enjoy now. The values most valued by individuals are as varied as the many countries they reside in. While Americans may bristle at the idea of having web content blocked, it is an everyday occurrence in China. With the most people online in the world, China’s opposing view in terms of online rights is important to take into account. Hara Hvistendahl (2014) explains a recent study designed to help understand state censorship of the internet in China. The study found that in China Internet censorship is not based on the fear of allowing citizens to criticize the government. Instead the goal seems heavily geared toward preventing civil unrest and demonstrations. Promoting a peaceful society is the primary of all governments and China sees censorship as a tool to accomplish this.  In this case we can understand the utility the Chinese authorities see in limiting some forms of speech online even if we disagree with them.

It is intriguing that posts critical of the government and even individual leaders are often not censored in China, where as Russia has a very different take on the power of the Internet. Federico Guerrini (2014) provides a great example of the growing fears about Russia’s online strategy. He reports that in the opening remark of the Freedom Online Coalition conference, the Foreign Minister of Estonia chastised Russia for its use of online propaganda to stoke anger in the Ukraine. The cost paid for freedom of expression was the spread of misinformation and there is little agreement as to where the line limiting free speech online should be drawn. While this trade-off may be acceptable to us, others see freedom of speech as a license to control the conversation with deception.

Even in the United States, a country with the progressive and longstanding traditions protecting individual rights and privacy, the digital age deepened existing fissures in how we interpret the Bill of Rights. Shannon E. Martin (1995) contends that government control of information control in the Internet age highlights the opposing schools of thought between the legislative and executive branches (p.114-116). The difference is both philosophical and important; Congress views personal freedoms as natural rights while the executive branch sees them in terms of utility. Because the President is charged with both administering laws and protecting the wellbeing of the country he must take into account what is lost and gained by controlling the gathering and flow of online information. We as individuals and the Congress may have the luxury of seeing online rights as absolute, but the executive branch is not permitted such high minded thinking.

This may help explain the uproar over the secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden. In hind-sight it seems ridiculous to believe that the government was not participating in the surveillance of its citizens, but our natural rights mindset blinded us that reality. Martin explains that since the Constitution expresses what Congress cannot do to limit personal freedoms, while not mentioning the branch of the government who actually execute the laws is a dangerous mix. He notes that in this environment interpretations of our online rights are left “In the hands of a relatively small number of federal bureaucrats more interested in the success of government actions that in the preservation of government’s principles and ideals” (115).

The shift from online freedom and privacy being seen as universal by our Congress when creating laws and being viewed in terms of utility when the executive branch executes the laws is important to understand when trying to decipher where America really stands on this subject. Because the interpretation and administration of these laws influences both our domestic and foreign policy, utility has become the guide for deciding if and when America participates in blocking content and online surveillance. Madeline Carr (2013) believes the balance between freedom and security online are now placed in the context of the State Departments 21st century statecraft doctrine (p.629). America supports the use of Twitter to speak directly to the citizens of our adversaries while actively working to limit these governments from communicating their ideas to the western world (p.630-632). Unfortunately, when online rights move from a universal truth to a foreign policy initiative the entire movement for online rights is set back. Groups who earnestly believe in the universal nature of online rights must now contend with resistance from naysayers who believe they are puppets of the American government.

What may be more concerning is that the lens of utility is now creeping into how Congress views protecting people’s right to communicate online. A perfect example of this may be the proposed legislation known as the Global Online Freedom Act. The bill would add unfettered internet access to how our country evaluates other nation’s human rights record. It is disheartening when one realizes that no provisions are made for assessing whether American’s have unrestricted access to any sites they wish to visit. As Madeline Carr points out, the American government has taken great steps to limit our access to Iranian news programs (p.632). This only reinforces many nations concern that online rights are only a front for an American attempt to control what people can access online.

While the bill has not garnered the support necessary to become law, it does outline some important actions the U.S. government can take to protect online freedoms around the world. Dr. Ian Brown (2013), the associate director of Oxford University’s Cyber Security Center, addresses the purpose of the proposed U.S. legislation. The bill would require corporations to self-report when private user information is provided to foreign governments (p.153). The participation of the private sector is critical to understanding when governments are requesting information to track their citizens. Having evidence verifying a nation is attempting to use the Internet as a surveillance tool will allow the U.S. to put export restrictions on technology that could be used to censor or track users on the web.

It is understandable to view the Global Online Freedom Act and America’s push for greater Internet freedoms with suspicion. This is especially true in light of the recent revelations about America tracking its citizen’s online footprints. Because the proposed legislation does not speak to who will judge if America is using advanced technology to continue monitoring its citizens, there is little incentive for other nations to avoid the same methods. What is really needed is for America to pass legislation aimed at articulating and protecting a set of rights for Internet users. This online Bill of Rights may be what is necessary to spur international cooperation. Without tangible and progressive action by the American government, the aspiration for comprehensive online freedoms will remain just out of our grasp.

Because the basic concepts inspiring calls for greater online freedoms is rooted in traditional theories of civil and human rights, the conversation must be rooted in them as well. This is not to say that the pursuit of greater online freedoms and privacy are without merit, it is merely meant to frame those concerns in the larger discussion. One cannot reasonably expect to defend liberties in a virtual society that are left unprotected in the real world. Advocates for a Magna Carta like document, protecting our online activity, will be better served by focusing their efforts on protecting civil rights in general. In that way online rights will be enforced by default.

Citations

Brown, I. (2013). The global online freedom act. The Georgetown Journal on International Affairs, 14(1), 153.

Carr, M. (2013). Internet freedom, human rights and power. Australian Journal of International Affairs, 67(5), 621-637. doi: 10.1080/10357718.2013.817525

Guerrini, F. (2014, April 29). A guide to human rights of internet users launched today in Estonia. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/federicoguerrini/2014/04/29/a-guide-to-human-rights-of-internet-users-launched-today-in-estonia/

Hvistendahl, M. (2014). Study exposes chinese censors’ deepest fears. Science, 345(6199), 859-860. doi: 10.1126/science.345.6199.859

King, M. L., Jr. (1965, June). Commencement address. Speech presented at 1965 Oberlin College Commencement in Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH.

Levmore, S., & Nussbaum, M. C. (2010). Introduction. In The offensive Internet: Speech, privacy, and reputation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Martin, S. E. (1995). Federal information control in a technological age. In Bits, bytes, and big brother: Federal information control in the technological age (pp. 111-116). Westport, CT: Praeger.

Warso, Z. (2013). There’s more to it than data protection – fundamental rights, privacy and the personal/household exemption in the digital age. Computer Law and Security Review, 29(5), 491-500. doi: 10.1016/j.clsr.2013.07.002

Winter, J. S. (2013). Is internet access a human right? Linking information and communication technology development with global human rights efforts. Global Studies Journal, 5(3), 35-48.

More Data, More Problems

In the wake of the revelations about NSA data gathering, it is more important than ever to fully understand the total amount of information gathered on each of us as we utilize the internet. While the NSA is a government agency whose purpose has always been surveillance, many in the private sector are now capturing increasing amounts of data on almost everyone’s online activity. The benefits and dangers of this new data driven world are the subject on the book Big Data. The authors, Viktor Mayer- Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier (2013), are uniquely qualified to offer readers keen insights into an age where almost everything about our lives is captured and stored for future use. Schönberger is a professor of Internet governance at Oxford University and Cukier has been a data and technology editor for the Economist and the Wall Street Journal.

Big Data does an excellent job showing how understanding the power of data correlation can improve our everyday lives. One example mentioned many times throughout the text is how Google was able to accurately track the spread of the flu faster than the CDC by using the search terms individuals use in their search engine. Utilizing massive amounts of information for the public good seems like a no-brainer in terms of the proper use of our collective data signature. But as with all things there is a trade-off, Google and similar enterprises are for profit companies and we must increasingly rely on their conduct to be ethical. Ian Bogost questions whether this is really the case in his article What is Evil to Google? (2013). Bogost explains that Google’s corporate slogan of ‘Don’t be Evil’ holds a very different meaning than we would believe. For Google evil is seen as an engineering impediment as opposed to a moral failing. In this environment people’s individual rights play second fiddle to the implementation of specific projects.

While it is easy to see the threat such data mining poses, Schönberger and Cukier work to ensure readers understand the many benefits of gathering and utilizing data. The authors remind us that “The value of data is what one can gain from all the possible ways it can be employed” (p.104). In their zeal to show the many advantages big data has for society the authors have overlooked the most important point. Gathering information on individuals for financial gain must involve the consent of the very people providing the information. To offer this consent people generally want to know what purposes the information will be used. Keiron O’Hara (2013) exposes the challenge this creates when he asks “Could citizens meaningfully consent to their data being used without any idea how it will be use or what it will be mashed together with?”

For all the accolades data correlation has received it is not without risks. These risks to individuals and society must be carefully weighed in order to reap the maximum benefits possible. Schönberger and Cukier have educated us all to what we have to gain; now we must weigh that against what we have to lose.

Citations

Bogost, I. (2013, October 15). What is ‘evil’ to Google? The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/10/what-is-evil-to-google/280573/

Mayer-Schönberger, V., & Cukier, K. (2013). Big data: A revolution that will transform how we live, work, and think. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

O’Hara, K. (2013). Are we getting privacy the wrong way round? IEEE Internet Computing, 17(4), 89-92. doi: 10.1109/MIC.2013.62

Collaboration is Innovation

The internet age has effectively changed the scope and degree to which people collaborate. The dynamic shift has impacted long established ideas in the areas of scholarship and business. Clay Shirkey explains how the Internet has disrupted the way we all interact with one another, in his interview by Michael Chui. Shirkey compares this change to the impact of previous advancements in communication such as the printing press, radio and television. He then goes on to discuss how the digital age has transformed business models. Shirkey constantly refers back to these advancements as being disruptive, but uses the term without the common negative connotation associated with the word. It is easy to find yourself agreeing with Shirkey’s underlying principle.

What is more groundbreaking may be Shirkey’s assessment on how the latest disruption, caused by the internet, is impacting business. New companies have become more nimble via improved collaboration, especially in their ability to pivot away from bad ideas. This is especially important in the modern business environment because as Shirkey puts it “New companies don’t take the profits of the old companies; they make the profits of the old companies go away”. Companies that are able to adjust quickly survive and those that do not can see their entire revenue streams disappear in an instant. Teamwork and collaboration out trump individual subject matter experts every time. I believe it is worth noting that companies with the ability to work effectively in teams have traditionally been more successful, even before the internet.

Hollis Phelps offers his insights into the collaborative nature of the internet and how it clashes with traditionally accepted ideas about research in scholarship. Phelps uses the allegations of plagiarism against Slavoj Žižek, one of his favorite writers, to explain why he believes scholarship needs to adjust to the collaborative nature of the modern world. Žižek was accused of plagiarizing another writer in one of his works. He apologized and suggested that he had received the critique used in the piece from a colleague that had not informed him the work was not original. Phelps contends that in the modern era no individual does research without collaborating, but scholarship is slow to catch up. In many ways proper citation seems to answer the problem experienced by Žižek, but it does not address the deeper concern. Phelp’s concern is that modern education uses citations not just as a way to recognize those whose work one builds on, but also to promote the idea of the super academic. This concept codifies their belief that only specific individuals are capable of adding constructively to a conversation.

Phelps, and I for that matter, recognizes the need for revised rules in terms of academic writing. The purpose is not to advocate for stealing others work, but rather to accept that all work is collaborative. If a professor does not feel the need to admit the contribution of the graduate students and others whose efforts are necessary to create an academic paper, then everyone should be given leeway with where they start in the conversation. As long as the ideas one places on the table are accurate and build on the existing conversation, maybe it is not really necessary to give credit to all those who spoke before you.

Citations

Phelps, H. (2014, July 17). Žižek, plagiarism and the lowering of expectations. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2014/07/17/%C5%BEi%C5%BEek-plagiarism-and-lowering-expectations-essay.

Shirkey, C. (2014, March). The disruptive power of collaboration: An interview with Clay Shirky [Interview by M. Chui]. Retrieved from http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/high_tech_telecoms_internet/The_disruptive_power_of_collaboration_An_interview_with_Clay_Shirky?cid=other-eml-alt-mip-mck-oth-1403

Freedom in the Internet Age – Literary Review

One of the most exciting, and dangerous, characteristics of the internet is its ability to connect individuals from communities around the world.  The World Wide Web is an arena where individuals contend with oversight from private companies and governments during almost every online interaction. As increasing numbers of people globally connect online it is important to establish what rights and safeguards they are entitled to. Many advocates for online freedom and governments around the world are attempting to reach an agreement on what online freedoms should be guaranteed.

One of the most important by-products of the internet is how it has allowed users throughout the world to interact directly with one another.  In the introduction of The offensive Internet: Speech, privacy, and reputation Saul Levmore and Martha C. Nussbaum (2010) describe how the internet has created a village of its many users. It is important to understand how free speech and privacy protections differ between real and digital communities. Levmore and Nussbaum (2010) note that in a true village, personal experiences and social structure protect the inhabitants, however in the online village “Most of us cannot there distinguish fidelity from fraud” (p.1). In this new environment basic accepted freedoms face the same perils as in the physical world. The freedom of speech discussions revolve around established American definitions of speech as defined by the Supreme Court. Online privacy is also examined as they pertain to four distinct categories. Seclusion, intimacy, secrecy and autonomy require new solutions to continue in the digital age (Levmore and Nussbaum, 2010,  p.11).

The very nature of the internet creates areas of conflicting interests and spheres of influence. In his essay Netizenship, Security and Freedom, Abdul Paliwala (2013) takes a comprehensive look at an online landscape that he likens to an empire controlled by nation states and powerful companies. He categorizes most internet users as unaware or unprepared to resist having their online activities monitored and controlled by these groups. Paliwala highlights the idea that in cyberspace interactions make territorial boundaries increasingly immaterial (p.106). This fact underscores the fact that protecting rights online currently falls to a combination of governments, organizations, companies and individuals. International trepidation about the dominant role America currently plays in governing how the internet is managed makes reaching a consensus even more difficult (p.110).

Jennifer Winters (2013) explores whether internet access is a basic right in her piece Is internet access a human right?. She begins by linking information and communication technology development with global human rights efforts and defining what basic freedoms technological advancements endanger (35). Winters places the concept of internet access as a human right in the context of the historical movement toward increased individual rights (36-38). She traces the lineage of the basic right to communicate back several centuries (36). The article explores the link between the internet and the need for individuals to be able to express themselves and state opinions. By tracing the evolution of civil and human rights, Winters establishes that while the internet adds a new dimension to the discussion it does not create a seismic shift in the debate.

Efforts have been made to reach an international consensus on what rights individuals online are entitled to and how to ensure those rights are protected. In the Forbes article A guide to human rights of internet users launched today in Estonia, Federico Guerrini (2014) covers the Freedom Online Coalition conference held in April 2014.  Guerrini explains how over 60 countries were represented in a forum that primarily focused on the basic human rights most impacted by the internet. A Guide to Human Rights for Internet Users was adopted by the European council member states earlier in the year. The guide outlines the basic freedoms web users should enjoy. Guerrini notes that in the opening remark the Foreign Minister of Estonia chastised Russia for its use of online propaganda to stoke anger in the Ukraine. The cost paid for Freedom of expression was the spread of misinformation.

Citations

Guerrini, F. (2014, April 29). A guide to human rights of internet users launched today in Estonia. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/federicoguerrini/2014/04/29/a-guide-to-human-rights-of-internet-users-launched-today-in-estonia/

Levmore, S., & Nussbaum, M. C. (2010). Introduction. In The offensive Internet: Speech, privacy, and reputation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Paliwala, A. (2013). Netizenship, security and freedom. International Review of Law, Computers & Technology, 27(1-2), 104-123. doi: 10.1080/13600869.2013.764139

Winter, J. S. (2013). Is internet access a human right? Linking information and communication technology development with global human rights efforts. Global Studies Journal, 5(3), 35-48.

Big Data: N=Surveillance

For all of the heralded benefits big data has, and will, present to society little attention is being given to discussions about its limitations and detriments. Tim Harford gives serious consideration to the limitations of big data in his article Big Data: Are we making a Big Mistake?. Harford points out that for all the benefits big data can produce it is not a replacement for current statistical analysis efforts. Big data has proven to be a powerful tool for spotting trends and hidden amounts of data. But the lack of focus on causation and increased likelihood of false correlation are huge hurdles that should not be dismissed. The risks connected to trusting data analysis in the absence of context are too high. It not nearly enough to know the pattern by which a disease spreads if we cannot derive why it is spreading that way. The data’s voice may tell us what is happening, but why it is happening is equally important.

Because big data is inescapably tied to the gathering of individual people’s digital footprints a spirited discussions must be held on the ethical standards by which that data will be handled. Ian Bogost takes aim at Goggle’s corporate philosophy of ‘Do No Evil’ in his editorial What is ‘Evil’to Google?. The connotation that Goggle gives to the term evil is very different than the words normal use according to Bogost. Goggle sees evil in terms of not doing anything that would cause undue harm to a project in the future. This is alarming because on its face the motto would appear to suggest Google has a corporate policy that favors the proper use of individual’s information before all else. The laze fare definition is cause for concern because of the large amounts of information Goggle, and other companies, have gathered on each of us. The lack of an established code of conduct with respect to how our digital exhaust is treated leaves each of us open to discrimination and profiling in the future.

Big data by definition holds that the benefits of gathering large volumes of information on people outweigh the very premise of personal privacy. In the essay Are We Getting Privacy the Wrong Way Round?, Kieron O’Hara takes a deeper look at privacy in the digital age. Contrary to the belief that people willing forgo privacy for the benefits of social networking espoused by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, O’Hara contends that people are unaware of the dangers associated with the gathering of data about them. He frames the debate as being about privacy as a benefit for all society versus the individual. This is a new take that attempts to challenge big data in terms of the privacy risk outweighing the benefits to individual users. I believe this new evaluation of privacy needs to be further defined, but O’Hara may be on to something.

Big data may very well be here to stay, but I believe the debate on its impact on individuals is ongoing. We must understand the future cost to individuals before fully weighing the utility it adds to society. Only then can we be sure big data is worthy of all the hype.

Citations

Bogost, I. (2013, October 15). What is ‘evil’ to Google? The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/10/what-is-evil-to-google/280573/

Harford, T. (2014, March 28). Dig data: Are we making a big mistake? Financial Times. Retrieved from http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/21a6e7d8-b479-11e3-a09a-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2ziUgQIoH

O’Hara, K. (2013). Are we getting privacy the wrong way round? IEEE Internet Computing, 17(4), 89-92. doi: 10.1109/MIC.2013.62

Annotated Bibliography for Research on Online Freedoms

Annotated Bibliography

Brown, I. (2013). The global online freedom act. The Georgetown Journal on International Affairs, 14(1), 153.

Ian Brown addresses the purpose of the proposed U.S. legislation known as the Global Online Freedom Act in the article. He points to the internet’s emerging role in political debate internationally as the primary purpose of the bill. The bill would add unfettered internet access to how our country evaluates other nation’s human rights record. The bill would call for corporations to report on private user information provided to foreign governments to track their citizens. It would also put export restrictions on technology that could be used to censor or track users on the web. I found the bill’s purpose to be suspect, especially in light of the recent revelations about America tracking its citizen’s online footprints. I also found it interesting that the bill does nothing to protect those here in our country. I am hoping to use this article to emphasize the idea that internet freedom is supported for utilitarian purposes by governments.

Carr, M. (2013). Internet freedom, human rights and power. Australian Journal of International Affairs, 67(5), 621-637. doi: 10.1080/10357718.2013.817525

Carr’s article evaluates the origins of internet freedom being considered a human and civil right in American foreign policy. The balance between freedom and security online are placed in the context of the State Departments 21st century statecraft doctrine. Several real life scenarios are examined to determine if the promotion of internet freedom was followed because of a universal right or to advance America’s strategic aims. America supports the use of Twitter to speak directly to the citizens of our adversaries while actively working to limit these governments from communicating their ideas to the western world. I believe that by acting in this way we turn the premise of internet based rights into a covert way of projection our international agenda. This article can be used to explain why many nations oppose specific types of internet freedoms. These rights move from a universal truth to a tool of liberal western democracies.

Guerrini, F. (2014, April 29). A guide to human rights of internet users launched today in Estonia. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/federicoguerrini/2014/04/29/a-guide-to-human-rights-of-internet-users-launched-today-in-estonia/

Guerrini’s Forbes article outlines the Freedom Online Coalition conference held in Estonia in April 2014.  He explains how over 60 countries were represented in a forum that primarily focused on the basic human rights most impacted by the internet. A Guide to Human Rights for Internet Users had been adopted by the European council member states earlier in the year that outlined basic freedoms web users should enjoy. Guerrini notes that in the opening remark the Foreign Minister of Estonia chastised Russia for its use of online propaganda to stoke anger in the Ukraine. The cost paid for Freedom of expression was the spread of misinformation. I agree with the articles assessment that the internet has been used by many groups to circumvent as opposed to support human rights. I want to use this article to explore how freedom of expression on the internet can be used as propaganda to shape public opinion.

Hvistendahl, M. (2014). Study exposes chinese censors’ deepest fears. Science, 345(6199), 859-860. doi: 10.1126/science.345.6199.859

Hara Hvistendahl explains a recent study performed to understand state censorship of the internet in China. I found the premise interesting since understanding a government’s aims while censoring the internet points toward what things they most want to prevent. In China’s case the fear was not criticism of the government, which I would have thought was a priority. Instead the goal seemed heavily geared toward preventing civil unrest and demonstrations. I found it intriguing that posts critical of the government and even individual leaders were often left alone. The study theorized that the Chinese government uses these as a barometer of what things they need to address. The reasoning behind the censorship highlights what is to be gained when ones online activity is truly free. I feel this article highlights the utilitarian concept of online freedom held by many countries.

Levmore, S., & Nussbaum, M. C. (2010). Introduction. In The offensive Internet: Speech, privacy, and reputation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

The unsavory side effects of the digital age are the subject of debate in the introduction and essays of this work. The introduction frames how the internet has created a village of its many users. The authors then describe how free speech and privacy protections differ between real and digital communities. The freedom of speech discussions revolve around established American definitions of speech as defined by the Supreme Court.. While I feel the varying arguments are well intended, they only speak to protections under American laws. I want to use this work for two purposes. The first is to highlight the village like nature of the internet as a starting point for the discussion on universal rights for internet users. The second is to highlight that the presence of American law in these arguments suggests that each nation must make decisions on how best to protect its online citizens.

Martin, S. E. (1995). Federal information control in a technological age. In Bits, bytes, and big brother: Federal information control in the technological age (pp. 111-116). Westport, CT: Praeger.

The chapter I will be using to support my argument discusses how freedom of expression is protected in the Constitution and several subsequent pieces of legislation. It focuses on the reality that the Constitution speaks to what the government will not do in these areas. The role both the legislative branch and executive branch have played in the area of information control is detailed. While the legislature is tasked with promoting individual rights the executive branch has the responsibility to interpreting and administrating the law. I will use this work to discuss the function the executive branch plays in balancing individual freedom of expression with the utility it adds to our society. My goal is to show that the freedom to communicate has never been absolute, even before the digital age. I also feel it demonstrates that each nation handles issues tied to privacy, access to information and freedom of expression individually.

Paliwala, A. (2013). Netizenship, security and freedom. International Review of Law, Computers & Technology, 27(1-2), 104-123. doi: 10.1080/13600869.2013.764139

Abdul Paliwala takes a comprehensive look at an online landscape that he likens to an empire controlled by nation states and powerful companies. He categorizes most internet users as unaware or unprepared to resist having their online activities monitored and controlled by these groups. A growing culture within the online community is fighting for the freedoms of all users. I found this article to be less balanced than I would have liked to see. Paliwala frames almost all activity by these groups as unwarranted and unneeded. I do however; agree with the author’s overall take on how the net is governed. I believe I can use this article to demonstrate that the discussion around online freedoms is ongoing and complex.

Warso, Z. (2013). There’s more to it than data protection – fundamental rights, privacy and the personal/household exemption in the digital age. Computer Law and Security Review, 29(5), 491-500. doi: 10.1016/j.clsr.2013.07.002

In this article Zuzanna Warso takes a look at the development of internet protection laws in Europe and the future of online personal rights. She focuses on the so called right to be forgotten, which allows for individuals to opt for having their digital footprints erased. Warso believes the European laws have a narrow view of online privacy that does not take social networks into account. I agree with her contention that the web now has digital territories that create both public and commercial locals. A new interpretation of what personal and semi-anonymous data we have the right to abstain others from gathering must be determined. The United States needs to be more progressive and lead the way in developing and enforcing new web based user rights. I believe this article highlights the role companies play in creating avenues for online communication. This exposes the public vs. private spheres on the internet.

Winter, J. S. (2013). Is internet access a human right? Linking information and communication technology development with global human rights efforts. Global Studies Journal, 5(3), 35-48.

Jennifer Winters explores whether internet access is a human right and places that question in the historical context of the broader movement toward global rights. She traces the lineage of the basic right to communicate through several centuries. Winters links the internet to the need for individuals to be able to express themselves and state opinions. I agree that in the new arena of online communication basic rights are a must to protect individuals. I found the historical context to which this debate was framed. It highlighted the need to vigilance by society to protect our current level of freedom. This can be used to show that individuals, especially in western society, take a deontological view of internet freedom taking into account only the intent of providing basic protections. This view does not require one to rational the consequences these rights may have on society.