CommunicationsDebatesLab NotesLiving between the linesNotes

Democracy in the Age of Digital Regulation

Many start our digital age with the invention of the computer. The device materializes Alan Turing’s concept of universal machine capable of executing any finite sequence of unambiguous instructions on any data.

Such “universal” capability has political implications each time some digital application supports human interactions.

We know that with words we can compose a near-infinite number of legislative texts from the most emancipating to the most subjugating. The very same is possible with digital devices. We can think up countless algorithms, standards and designs to manage relations between human and legal persons.

Thus, any set of design, data and programming for such purpose involves decisions of social, ethical and political nature.

And once imparted to machines, digital rules and instructions are automatically implemented with remarkable efficiency. Definitely more than legislative texts, regulations and contracts which can easily remain symbolic, gathering dust on shelves.

From the intimate…

Recently, U.K. and U.S. health authorities approved commercial pilots of wireless microchip pills. Those tablets transmit the time we take them or live results of the medical tests they carry out.

We can imagine beneficial uses: helping patients to manage multiple medications, or physicians to fine-tune diagnostics and prescriptions.

Conversely, we can envision contentious scenarios: doctors trailing patients who adjust medication on their own; or insurers suspending coverage for non-compliance to prescriptions.

Who then decides which automatic interactions between whom are permitted or prohibited through such devices? We the patients, with or without our physicians? Health professional corporations through standardized protocols? Pharmaceutical companies? The digital device’s manufacturers? The government agency approving their commercialization? Public or private insurers reimbursing their costs? Our elected representatives through legislation?

It is the highly adaptable effectual communications offered by digital devices that unavoidably opens such unfamiliar questions and issues.

To the global…

Internet has become a key societal infrastructure. However, Edward Snowden’s revelations proved how much it facilitates mass surveillance.

Yet, it is possible to redesign the Internet with default end-to-end encryption and “onion” rerouting of our communications and uses. Such features would still allow targeted surveillance of suspected individuals or organizations. But they would make mass surveillance of entire populations economically impracticable.

But again, who decides? Is it, for instance, the few thousand self-appointed members of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), an international group with no legal status, nor formal membership procedure? If so, where are we, billions of Internet users, in those deliberations that directly concern us all?

We barely are even spectators of these decisions since such arcane stories often escape mass media’s attention.

Indeed, democratic governance of digital infrastructures such as the Internet remains to be devised.

To everywhere

Digital applications work best in integrated standardized settings.

Thus, future “smart” pills’ standards set in U.S. and U.K. could impose themselves as global medical norms.

As much as India’s controversial biometric standards for identification of its 1.3 billion citizens could become worldwide citizens/customers relationships management norms.

We already saw how cottage start-ups such as Google and Facebook rapidly got their undisclosed algorithms to custom-filter contents and relationships of the billions of users we are.

Soon, manufacturers might well leave us no choice but to use “smart” light bulbs that automatically link up to the Internet and our digital appliances and devices. Exactly as we recently discovered that some “smart” TV sets were built to spy on us.

As the “Internet of Everything” emerges, social norms under technical guises will be imposed upon us. Or not. It depends on who decide among all the possibilities offered by technology.

The new legislators

Currently, such digital decision making is increasingly exercised by technocrats, engineers and entrepreneurs outside traditional democratic institutions. All the more easily since they use formal languages incomprehensible by most citizens, processes largely imperceptible by human senses and standards applicable across jurisdictions.

I was a direct witness of one troubling instance: the development of the Quebec Health Record (QHR). Over a decade, the provincial government conducted several public consultations which confirmed a consensus on the long-standing principle of patients’ consent over communication of their medical information. Except that once QHR’s deployment begun, it became obvious that the device did not allow workable exercise of this right.

Hence in 2012, the adoption of a bill abolishing consent when information goes through QHR. It’s now all or nothing: either all care facilities and professionals have access to all your QHR contents; or nobody has.

They were existing or conceivable health records systems that maintain, even enhance, patients’ control over such communications. Unfortunately, once a large infrastructure such as QHR is in place, overhaul becomes quite expensive.

Recently, the Quebec Minister of Health admitted that the 1.6 billion dollars system is a failure, even from a strictly clinical standpoint, and that fixing it would cost at least another billion.

Design, standards and algorithms picked years before by a handful of technocrats, once embedded in costly circuitries and systems can force an entire society to give up on an undisputed fundamental right or principle. Or even on basic public service efficiency.

The democratic challenge

In order that democracy does not wane, but reinforces itself through the digitization of human interactions, we must collectively:

  • learn torecognize whichIT innovationsinvolve some exerciseofsocial power;
  • compel their designersto document such features in understandable and verifiable ways; and
  • democratizetheinnovation processes by deliberating them, eitherinexisting democratic venues or in new, often transnational, ones to be developed.

This requires:

  • better understandingby populations of the social and political dimensionsof IT;
  • internationally networked citizenry from local to global levels;
  • publicly availableexpertise on key technologies and issues; and
  • preferencefor open sources technologies permitting :
    • examination of which social interactions they actually permit,require orprohibit; as well as
    • their modification to democraticallydefined – and changing – needs.

Digitization of our societies has barely begun. Being able to decide about their future among all the many possible ones requires us to renew our democratic culture, practices and institutions.

Lab NotesNotesReading Notes

Reading Note: Capabilities as information system assessment criteria

I am used to consider criteria such as human rights, exercises of power, effects on one or many lives, as well as informatics and society implications for doing social assessment of interpersonal information systems.

After hearing a lecture from Martha Nussbaum, I consider that it would be useful to also include consideration of capabilities. That would not provide brand new criteria, but certainly an additional angle to look at them.

The capabilities approach” is “an outcome-oriented view that seeks to determine what basic principles, and adequate measure thereof, would fulfill a life of human dignity.” (Wikipedia, “Martha Nussbaum“, August 5, 2014)

Nussbaum identifies 10 core capabilities that, in her eyes, should be supported by all democracies:

  1. Life. Being able to live to the end of a human life of normal length; not dying prematurely, or before one’s life is so reduced as to be not worth living.
  2. Bodily Health. Being able to have good health, including reproductive health; to be adequately nourished; to have adequate shelter.
  3. Bodily Integrity. Being able to move freely from place to place; to be secure against violent assault, including sexual assault and domestic violence; having opportunities for sexual satisfaction and for choice in matters of reproduction.
  4. Senses, Imagination, and Thought. Being able to use the senses, to imagine, think, and reason—and to do these things in a “truly human” way, a way informed and cultivated by an adequate education, including, but by no means limited to, literacy and basic mathematical and scientific training. Being able to use imagination and thought in connection with experiencing and producing works and events of one’s own choice, religious, literary, musical, and so forth. Being able to use one’s mind in ways protected by guarantees of freedom of expression with respect to both political and artistic speech, and freedom of religious exercise. Being able to have pleasurable experiences and to avoid non-beneficial pain.
  5. Emotions. Being able to have attachments to things and people outside ourselves; to love those who love and care for us, to grieve at their absence; in general, to love, to grieve, to experience longing, gratitude, and justified anger. Not having one’s emotional development blighted by fear and anxiety. (Supporting this capability means supporting forms of human association that can be shown to be crucial in their development.)
  6. Practical Reason. Being able to form a conception of the good and to engage in critical reflection about the planning of one’s life. (This entails protection for the liberty of conscience and religious observance.)
  7. Affiliation.
    1. Being able to live with and toward others, to recognize and show concern for other humans, to engage in various forms of social interaction; to be able to imagine the situation of another. (Protecting this capability means protecting institutions that constitute and nourish such forms of affiliation, and also protecting the freedom of assembly and political speech.)
    2. Having the social bases of self-respect and non-humiliation; being able to be treated as a dignified being whose worth is equal to that of others. This entails provisions of non-discrimination on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, caste, religion, national origin and species.
  8. Other Species. Being able to live with concern for and in relation to animals, plants, and the world of nature.
  9. Play. Being able to laugh, to play, to enjoy recreational activities.
  10. Control over one’s Environment.
    1. Political. Being able to participate effectively in political choices that govern one’s life; having the right of political participation, protections of free speech and association.
    2. Material. Being able to hold property (both land and movable goods), and having property rights on an equal basis with others; having the right to seek employment on an equal basis with others; having the freedom from unwarranted search and seizure. In work, being able to work as a human, exercising practical reason and entering into meaningful relationships of mutual recognition with other workers.”

(Wikipedia, “Capability approach“, August 5, 2014)

This list of core capabilities is non exhaustive. Indeed, it can be enlarged.

For instance, outside welfare economics, one can add other capabilities that are pertinent to interpersonal information system, such as « privacy » as defined by Rohan Samarajiva as “the capability to implicitly or explicitly negotiate boundary conditions of social relations. This definition includes control of outflow of information that may be of strategic or aesthetic value to the person and control of inflow of information, including initiation of contact.” (Rohan Samarajiva,”Privacy in Electronic Public Space: Emerging Issues”, Canadian Journal of Communication, North America, 19, Jan. 1994. Available at: <http://cjc-online.ca/index.php/journal/article/view/796/702>).

A capability standpoint also reveals that such information inflow and outflow are far from exhausting this basic definition. Some “interflow” should also be considered: how, for example, intermediaries such as the Facebooks or Googles screen how one can be in contact with other or not, and how they could engage or not once contact is made.

As well, a capability standpoint can include an informational variation on the Practical Reason core capabilities. That is the capabilities to get, produce, process information to serve one’s own personal or collective goal.

ExperimentsInformation & LawLab NotesNotesReflections

Abandoning the concept (and illustration) of “information collection” for that of “production”

In its original 1990 version, the theory of interpersonal information processes refers to collection as one of information’s logical phases. The term collection is borrowed from protection of personal information law, which itself borrowed it from the lexicon of public and private bureaucracies. However, the word collection (action to pick a pre-existing object) masks the presence of a production of new informational artifacts. The result is that several implications are veiled, particularly those related to the intellectual property of the new information objects and to their pragmatic dimension.

The question then is: should collection really be considered as a logical phase of information? Or is it the chosen term that is inadequate? (more…)

Research

Since January 2013, I started a new research project. A big project that will monopolize most of my energy in the coming years. And on the developments of which I will report on this site.

Its title is Beyond “Privacy”: General Theory of Interpersonal Information Processes.

This project’s aims it to equip actors, practitioners and researchers with tools for identifying and resolving issues and legal issues, social and ethical issues raised by the interpersonal information applications and systems that are increasingly present in our lives.

At this stage, I’m still setting up the project whose objectives are summarized below.

See you soon.

Objectives

1. to test the concepts and propositions of the original version (1990) of the legal theory of interpersonal information processes, including:

  • the intra-theoretical consistency of its concepts, definitions and propositions;
  • its trans-theoretical consistency with the Portrait of Interpersonal Information Processes visual modelling;
  • the empirical applicability of its statements to the analysis of interpersonal information handlings;
  • the empirical adequacy of its statements to reveal the legal, social and ethical implications of interpersonal information handlings;
  • its inter-theoretical correspondence with other models and approaches used by practitioners for analyzing information systems;
  • its inter-theoretical correspondence with other theories dealing with the same objects that have been developed in law, philosophy, anthropology, linguistics, computer science, information management, IT & Society Studies.

2. to verify the realization of the predictions of the 1990 theory about the coevolution of law and process interpersonal information;

3. to produce from the results of the two previous objectives:

  • a new trans-disciplinary version of the theory of interpersonal information processes, and
  • a corresponding update the Portrait of Interpersonal Information Processes visual modelling;

4. to develop additional analytical tools or manuals that could help researchers, practitioners and stakeholders to make use of the theory and the visual modeling.

1990 Theory

Here are the three texts founding the original version (1990) of the theory of interpersonal information processes (that was amended at numerous times afteward) :

Pierrot Péladeau, «Esquisse d’une théorie juridique des procès d’information relatifs aux personnes», (1989) 34 McGill Law Journal 952

Pierrot Péladeau, «L’informatique ordinatrice du droit et du procès d’information relative aux  personnes», (1989) 1 Technologies de l’information et société 35

Pierrot Péladeau, «The Informational Privacy Challenge: The Technological Rule of Law», dans R. I. Cholewinski (dir.), Human Rights in Canada: Into the 1900s and Beyond, Ottawa, Human Rights Research and Education Centre – University of Ottawa, 1990, p. 93

"Beyond Privacy" ProjectExperimentsInformation & LawLab NotesNotes

My New Major Research Project

Since January 2013, I started a new research project. A big project that will monopolize most of my energy in the coming years. And on the developments of which I will report on this site.

Its title is Beyond “Privacy”: General Theory of Interpersonal Information Processes.

This project’s aims it to equip actors, practitioners and researchers with tools for identifying and resolving issues and legal issues, social and ethical issues raised by the interpersonal information applications and systems that are increasingly present in our lives.

At this stage, I’m still setting up the project whose objectives are summarized below.

See you soon.

 

Objectives

1. to test the concepts and propositions of the original version (1990) of the legal theory of interpersonal information processes, including:

  • the intra-theoretical consistency of its concepts, definitions and propositions;
  • its trans-theoretical consistency with the Portrait of Interpersonal Information Processes visual modelling;
  • the empirical applicability of its statements to the analysis of interpersonal information handlings;
  • the empirical adequacy of its statements to reveal the legal, social and ethical implications of interpersonal information handlings;
  • its inter-theoretical correspondence with other models and approaches used by practitioners for analyzing information systems;
  • its inter-theoretical correspondence with other theories dealing with the same objects that have been developed in law, philosophy, anthropology, linguistics, computer science, information management, IT & Society Studies.

2. to verify the realization of the predictions of the 1990 theory about the coevolution of law and process interpersonal information;

3. to produce from the results of the two previous objectives:

  • a new trans-disciplinary version of the theory of interpersonal information processes, and
  • a corresponding update the Portrait of Interpersonal Information Processes visual modelling;

4. to develop additional analytical tools or manuals that could help researchers, practitioners and stakeholders to make use of the theory and the visual modeling.

"Beyond Privacy" ProjectCommunicationsLab NotesLiving between the linesNotes

“Beyond Privacy” Project: Chapter on the Material Reality of Information

Provisional book cover: Title :

This post is about the “Beyond Privacy” Project: LIVING BETWEEN THE LINES information society through our personal information.

As this is an open work-in-progress book drafting project,

please do not hesitate to comment!

Every input is precious to help improve it.

Chapter from Part One: Alignment: Objects Called “Information”

Material Strength

 

Digital information items are objects of which we entrust the handling to machines. Often microscopic, such information objects and handlings then can become invisible to us.

Many have claimed that we are witnessing a dematerialization of human activities.

Dematerialization of the economy? It is true that increasing shares of production and commerce consume less matter and energy. One share consists of “intellectual” services: marketing, research and development, consulting, training. Another share deals with digital products which may be transported electronically.

Dematerialization of money? Of finance? Or of information in general? Also true. Everywhere, paper is being replaced by powerful electronic media.

Unfortunately, many are those who thought that it was literal dematerialization. Complete disappearance of matter. Such dematerialization would imply that information items are immaterial entities. The huge Internet infrastructure would be a sort of intangible cloud. Some cyberspace would be developing in some parallel universe whose properties fall outside those of the physical world. State legislation would be practically unenforceable there. Information flows would be insensitive to national borders. Any ambition to control these flows would prove illusory. (more…)

"Beyond Privacy" ProjectCommunicationsLab NotesLiving between the linesNotes

“Beyond Privacy” Project: Chapter Defining “Information” by Using a Slinky

Provisional book cover: Title :

This post is about the “Beyond Privacy” Project: LIVING BETWEEN THE LINES information society through our personal information.

As this is an open work-in-progress book drafting project,

please do not hesitate to comment!

Every input is precious to help improve it.

Chapter form Part One: Alignment: Objects Called “Information”

High Definition

 

The word “information” is part of our everyday language. But it means too many different things. A careful exploration demands that we first settle on a common definition.

Falling Slinky: Experiment showing that bottom end of a Slinky in free fall will float until the above coils come to it

Literally, to inform means “to give a form” to something. This was the sense of its 2000 years old Latin ancestor, informare. It was also used to say “to get an idea of” something or someone. (more…)

"Beyond Privacy" ProjectCommunicationsLab NotesLiving between the linesNotes

“Beyond Privacy” Project: The Prologue (on the education that our kids deserve)

Provisional book cover: Title :

This post is about the “Beyond Privacy” Project: LIVING BETWEEN THE LINES information society through our personal information.

As this is an open work-in-progress book drafting project,

please do not hesitate to comment!

Every input is precious to help improve it.

Prologue

Life Lines

 

Let us imagine Sarah, a teenager who muses about how numerous information items link her to others. Shouldn’t we offer ourselves and our kids such an education?

 

My births

My foetal life was a pampered one. My mother closely watched over it. Both she and I enjoyed the support of caring relatives as well as of modern medicine. Thus long before my birth, my mother’s medical records already had stored up about me more than a hundred lines of text. Notes about observations, test results, diagnostic findings, prescriptions and medical procedures. Not to mention the thousands of lines of ultrasound images. Images of me which my Mom proudly displayed on her social networks’ pages. Sites that also displayed hundreds of lines of encouragements and advices from the people she meets there as well as from her obstetrician.

One échography, one relationships network: figure showing that fetus Sarah's echography links her to her mother, and the latter to her doctor and hospital on one side, and through social media, the mother to her family, friends, colleages and contacts

Barely out of the womb, the confirmation of my vital signs resulted in the opening of my very own medical record. I must admit that, for a time, it was identified by the bland first name of… “Baby”. Still, it was through the creation of this file that I finally became a “patient” in my own right, even after months of medical follow up.

My noisy and exhausting delivery was quickly followed by another birth. A more subtle but decisive one: that of a new citizen. It took place by writing of a few lines on a form for vital statistics registration. A seemingly minor gesture. But this act immediately made me the bearer of many legal rights and benefits – and later of obligations – among this society where accidents of history and genetics made me entered life.

And from “Baby”, I officially became “Sarah”.

(more…)

CommunicationsDebatesLab NotesLiving between the linesNotes

Public conversation: Autonomy, Surveillance and Democracy: Who will benefit from the digital traces generated by our every move?

On Thursday, October 6, 2011 (7 to 9 pm), I will be the guest of an University of the Streets Café‘s conversation moderated by Sophie Ambrosi on the theme: Autonomy, Surveillance and Democracy: Who will benefit from the digital traces generated by our every move?

Computers, automatic tellers, phones and other electronic gadgets. Today, our relations with our close ones, other people and organizations go through machines processing thousands of information items about us. These texts, sounds and images become communications, transactions, records, decisions. They can be transformed into statistics and knowledge about individuals, groups and societies, even about the nature of the human animals (e.g., conditions of their health). Knowledge that can base decisions, trivial or major. The information society is necessarily a surveillance society. So what kinds of surveillance are reprehensible in a free and democratic society? And which ones are desirable? Under what conditions?

The conversation will take place at Café l’Artère, 7000, Avenue du Parc (near Jean-Talon) in Montreal. Everyone is invited and admission is free. The event is organized by the Institute for Community Development, Concordia University.

CommunicationsDebatesLab NotesLiving between the linesNotesObservationsReflections

For a Comprehensive Citizen Appropriation of Information and its Technologies

Written adaptation of a lecture given at a dinner for the 10th anniversary of Communautique on January 26, 2010 in Montreal.

Video of the conference (in French)

tablette cuneiformeI was asked to address the importance that information and communications technologies have taken over the last decade and will have in the foreseeable future. This from the point of view of citizens. I will do this exercise through the use of the concept of social appropriation, which is the process by which people integrate innovations into their lives to empower themselves, adapting and even hijacking them from their initial control or purposes to fit their needs and interests.

History shows that literacy can be a necessary condition for democracy. However, the fact that population is highly literate does not necessarily mean that it will live in a free and democratic society. Many well educated populations have lived at one time or another, under authoritarian or dictatorial, even totalitarian regime.

Similarly, one could argue that the fact that a population knows how to use technical devices does not mean that it control how technologies organize the relationships between citizens. Access to tools and skill development are necessary but not sufficient conditions for such mastery.

Let’s illustrate this assertion with some examples of devices currently deployed.

Body scanners
Earlier this January, the Federal Transport Minister, John Baird, announced the acquisition and installation of 44 body scanners in Canadian airports with a price tag of a quarter of a million piece. Let’s put aside for a moment the legitimate debates about the effectiveness, real or symbolic, of these devices or about their potential health harmfulness. In less than two months, we, Canadian citizens, will have the freedom to choose: either to be patted down with hands or to be patted down with eyes.

But is this the only choice offered by information technologies and digital imaging?

A colleague forwarded me the press file of all articles published following the announcement. There is hardly anyone who mentioned the fact that this purchase had been ordered without bidding, nor that we could have acquire software, to avoid full naked exposure: either by only signaling dubious spots or by projecting the exact image of the surface of the body of the person on a standard dummy (using morphing technique). The result of such an acquisition would have offered a very different choice between: either to be patted down with hands, or, simply to let electronically detection of the presence of objects on us.

Different types of body scanners

Apparently, no Member of Parliament has spoken of these alternatives. No journalist. No organization of citizens, consumers or human rights advocacy. Not even the official comment of the Commissioner of Canada’s privacy.

Maybe Minister Baird himself is unaware of the existence of these alternatives!

Yet as good digital citizens, many of us know how to use a digital camera and image processing software, how to find the minister’s press release on the Web, how to see his press briefing on our computer or telephone, and how to discuss that news in blogs or on Twitter. We do know technology!

Smart bank cards
Second example: Since 2008, Canadian financial institutions deploy their smart banking cards. No minister or MP, no consumer association or other organization of civil society, no media has provoked public debate on the model of payment system that could be supported by the addition of a microprocessor in customers, debit and credit cards.

Yet, since the invention of the so-called “smart” microprocessor card, hundreds of different ways to use it were devised. The range of available applications for banking goes from very talkative systems about every action taken by the user to other ultra-quiet ones, producing as little personal information as the use of paper money.

Different designs of smart banking cards

However, there can be only one system configuration, which de facto legislates the relationships between consumers, merchants and financial institutions.

We had choices! For example, between allowing banks to produce but very little information or, conversely, permit them to produce a lot, but by forcing them to share this valuable source of knowledge about in real time evolution of our economy.

For example, the government of Ms. Dominique Vien (Quebec’s Minister of Government Services, also a speaker at this luncheon meeting) must make difficult decisions about whether the State should keep its foot on the accelerator pedal of the economy, release that pedal a bit or rather put it on the brakes. However, several of the figures available to the government often can only describe a situation that is already four months old! That complicates decision making. Even more so because due to the same delays in production of information, we will be not able to know what have been the effects of today’s decisions before many months.

But the continued production by banks of detailed and real-time information about electronic payments (that you and I pay directly the production through our bank fees), combined with the power of today’s computers could reduce this gap for some key figures to something as short as in weeks, even days!

Yet, this public debate on the democratic choice of the quantity of information generated or not by the electronic payment systems and their possible use for the benefit not only banks but also the entire society has never been place.

But as good digital citizens, we do know how to use an ATM and how to donate to Haiti by Web transactions or by text message. We do know technology!
Which social appropriation?
This brings us back to the topic of social appropriation. Generally, we define “appropriation” as the process by which an individuals and groups incorporate an innovation in their practice and adapt it, even hijack it to fit their needs.

For 10 years, Communautique, its partners and many other organizations work for the appropriation of digital tools by citizens. They work and campaign to ensure universal access to Internet and computer. They train in the use of software, the Web, social networks and collaborative tools.

Social appropriation of tools is not enough

However, we must recognize that training in the use of tools is not enough since digital devices increasingly insinuate themselves in any object. Even in our pills …

Pills with microchip
Pharmaceutical companies are testing the use of tablets with imbedded microchip. In one experiment, the device sends a text message reminder to patients on their cell phone if they do not follow properly the doctor’s prescription.

Such a device could be configured to link patients, physicians and pharmacists in a hundred of different ways. For example, to verify if we do take our medicines. To automatically ask for new doses of our medicines to be delivered to us when our bottles are emptying. Even to call an ambulance, if we have swallowed the whole bottle at once.

The question is obviously about: who will decide on a configuration rather than another? Thus, to determine how will the relationships between patients, doctors and pharmacists be organized. And why not other relationships including also pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies and the world of biomedical research.

Did not we have our say? Especially if these devices are gradually being forced into the lives of us all?

Citizen appropriation
Democracy requires that appropriation by citizens goes beyond the mere handling of tools designed by others. It requires that citizens and the components of civil society can contribute to the development of tools that compel some organization of interpersonal relationships. Democracy requires a real possibility to participate in choices affecting the organization of these interactions.

This involves not only knowledge about tools and their handling, but also (as for the scanners, bank cards and pills examples), knowledge of different information that can be produced or not and the various ways they can be used or not.

Comprehensive appropriation of information and its technologies

So, real citizen appropriation must apply to as much to information and interpersonal relationships as to the computerized tools.

Let us step further. Not only would such an appropriation would be necessary to ensure some democratic nature to the information society, but it is also necessary to the very success of the computerization of its activities!

Already, online businesses can make substantial profits and government services online be meaningful only if the largest possible number of citizens have access to the internet and knows how to use them with confidence.

Ensuring adequacy of applications
Indeed, the success of many computer products and services will also increasingly depend on the ability of citizens to discuss information, tools and interpersonal relationships. In a research I conducted on online government services, I exchanged a lot with designers about what could make a system to be dysfunctional, thus engulfing citizens in some Kafkaesque bureaucratic purgatory rather than help them. My aim obviously was to understand, conversely, how to ensure that computerized service works well. The conclusion is summarized in this diagram that lists the factors to be considered.

Pragmatics of information in computerized interaction

I cannot discuss here with you all these factors in detail. Suffice to state for now that, in practice, it is required not only that the organization understands very well all the dimensions of its own processes (which is already a demanding job), but it must also understand as well why and how different people – users or consumers – use differently its service. How certain categories of people appropriate themselves the service differently for what different purposes. Conversely, it is also important that citizens understand well what the ends of the service and the information they exchange with the organization so they get the results they want and provide the right useful information for this purpose.

First, a very small example. In an application as simple as a change of address service, I asked the designer: “What address the Régie d’Assurance-maladie (Medicare Board) holds on the citizens insured? The designer replied: “Clearly, the address of domicile.” This is indeed what the law says, but I rose: “Are you sure?” The designer then starts to laugh: “Actually, we have no idea.” And from there, we explored all the cases where the citizen has delivered an address other than that of their domicile: such as students who give their parents’ address as a mailing address knowing that they might often change place of residence.

Whatever laws, forms and data models, it remains that the citizens are the ones who decide whether in the “address” box, they give a home address, mailing address, an address for service or otherwise.

Now, among the range of effective means to know and understand the uses, expectations, needs and constraints of citizens is public consultation. Who better than the citizens themselves or organizations who work daily with them may indicate their different uses and understandings of a particular service?

My second example is in the the very large and complex end of the spectrum. It is the huge project for computerization of medical records that, in the foreseeable future, will cost well over a billion dollars in Quebec, beyond five billion in Canada. We have already lost tens of millions of our taxes in inadequate solutions. And in the current situation, we will still lose tens of millions more along the way. And one of the causes of these inadequacies is precisely a lack of digital literacy in our society.

Senior government officials told me they can barely match the strategic vision with the real practical needs in the field. Yet meanwhile, we develop and we implement technical solutions. The approach is ultimately a costly process of trials and errors. Often I was asked the question: “It’s clear that he should consult directly with patients and the public, but how do we do that? Already among us, professionals who work daily on this, it is difficult for us to share a common understanding of the systems.”

The democratic challenge
To develop of our ability to discuss complicated technical devices among ourselves is indeed a significant cultural challenge. A challenge that must imperatively be met. Because otherwise we will face much more serious inefficiencies in number, importance and increasing costs (just think about the dramatic deterioration experienced in the customer services of several large companies, for example). Indeed, democracy itself is at risk if we progressively abandon the decisions about the organization of relationships between citizens to engineers, technocrats or lowest bidding suppliers. Decisions more often taken abroad because of the universalization of technical products or standards to ensure international interoperability of systems.

We’re still early in the long process of computerization of societies which will gradually creep into every corner of our lives, including even under our clothes, in our wallets and in our pills. Much of the information handlings in question bear interpersonal relationships while shaping them in detail in a way that will bind all parties. The democratic mastery of this form of effective legislation makes it necessary that all of us – private citizens, community organizations, governments and companies – do develop the idea of appropriation and its practice at a more comprehensive level that encompasses the social dimensions, including the downright political ones, of technical choices.

This is, of course, far more than the challenge of a decade, or even of a generation. This is the challenge posed by a true revolution that will likely extend throughout this century. While a considerable challenge, an exciting one for sure!

CommunicationsLab NotesLiving between the linesNotesObservations

For a Comprehensive Citizen Appropriation of Information and its Technologies: The Video

tablette cuneiformeI did not notice that the video was posted online for already a long time now. It was produced for the captation of my lecture given at Communautique 10th anniversary luncheon held on January 26, 2010 in Montreal. It deals with the importance from the citizens’ standpoint that information and communications technologies took during the last decade and which one will it take in the foreseeable future. An exercise into which I engaged from the concept of social appropriation. Access to that video is now embedded in this site.

The text of the conference will be also be posted here shortly.

Living between the linesNotesObservations

Digital Education: What Culture for Children of the Information Society?

tablette cuneiformeIf all goes well, I will become in a few months grandfather for the first time. A new human being close to me will be born in the digital twenty-first century. What education should children receive in order to decode the informational dimension of the world in which they live and grow? To illustrate, I imagined this monologue told by a teenager girl.

Also in PDF

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LINES

Sarah muses about some of her links to others

My foetal life was a privileged one. Not only has my mother closely watched over it, but both she and I enjoyed support from caring relatives and the formidable means of modern medicine. Thus, long before my birth, my mother’s medical records had store up about me a hundred lines of text of observations, test results, diagnostic findings and decisions. Not to mention the thousands of lines of ultrasound images, which were also placed on the social network page of my mother where she received advices and encouragements from close ones as well as from specialists.

Barely out of the womb, the confirmation of my vital signs allowed the opening of my very own medical record. I must admit that, for some time, it was identified by the bland first name… “Baby”.  Still, it was with the creation of this file that I finally became a “patient” in my own right after months of medical care. (more…)

CommunicationsLab NotesNotes

Now on line: a set of SVG PIP-L icons

I put online a Zip file containing a set of PIP-L icons in SVG format.

Picture of InterPersonal Information Processes Pictographic Language (PIP-L) is a set of royalty-free icons designed specifically for the production of PIP diagrams. We propose to combine the use of PIP-L to illustrate the social dimensions of processes in tandem with the pictographic language PICOL to illustrate its informatics dimensions.

Download PIP-L English Basic SVG Icons (Zip file)PIP-L English Basic SVG Icons (Zip file)

Basic PIP-L pictograms

Basic PIP-L pictograms developped at Communautique by industrial designer Caroline Cyr

The permanent location of the icons sets is on the PIP & PIP-L page.

Learning to Live in Between the Lines: The Program

Notes of a mini-presentation at the 3rd Open Forum “Avenirs en chantiers “ (“Futures in Projects”)

organized by Communautique at the Monument national, Montreal, January 30th, 2009

Good afternoon,

To discuss about this first project, I will refer to a few of the topics addressed at the previous roundtable: money, the generation gap, the value of information, standards and what ordinary citizens can understand.

This project responds to the “Citizenship through technology / Efficient Mode of Legislation / Cyberdemocracy”theme identified during the previous two forums of January 24th and February 25th, 2008. It aims at developing the general public’s culture about the social role of information technology.

Our ignorance about how our social relations are organized by information technology is evident by comparison with our ease to understand one of the most abstracted form of information ever created by mankind: money. We would take ten people at random out here on the street and every one of them would understand what the nature of money is and what power (‘purchasing power’ we say) it represents. They could immediately discuss together the various roles that money can play in the relations between employers and employees, between State and citizens, between spouses, between parents and children, between components of society, and even between countries.

Everyone could discuss these from different angles, including the political one.

Should we not be able to discuss just as easily about all these other types of information, often handled by the same computers that process money, and which play at least as important roles in our lives?

This cultural gap is explained by the fact that money appears into human history more than sixty centuries ago (or 300 generations), but informatics for only sixty years ago (or three generations).

But the intensity, speed and consequences of the present computerization of society require of today’s citizens an accelerated learning process. Because it is today those we already need to ensure some social control over these transformations.

Fortunately, who can understand money, can understand other forms information. Just like who can form an opinion on a bill, can discuss how a computerization project will govern our lives. This information literacy program builds on two foundations:

Learning to Live Between the Lines: The Program: Foundations: Theory

  • on one hand, work that I have developed since the’80s on identification of which elements and dimensions of the physical handling of information are relevant to a legal, social, ethical or political discussion [The three publications marking the start of this search being : “L’informatique ordinatrice du droit et du procès d’information relatif aux personnes” (Informatics as It Programs Law and Personal Information Process), Technologies de l’information et société,1989; 1/3: 35-56; “Esquisse d’une théorie juridique des procès d’information relatifs aux personnes” (Outline of a Legal Theory of Information Processes About Persons), McGill Law Journal 1989; 34: 952-982; and “The Informational Privacy Challenge: The Technological Rule of Law”, in: Human Rights in Canada: Into the 1990s and Beyond, R. I. Cholewinski (publisher), Ottawa: Human Rights Research and Education Centre – University of Ottawa, 1990, 93-116]; and

Learning to Live Between the Lines: The Program: Foundations: Modelization

  • one the other hand, more recent work on how to visually present this physical handling of information in order to facilitate open discussion [The initial work described in “La modélisation visuelle des systèmes d’information en santé pour leur gestion administrative, légale et éthique” (Visual Modeling of Health Information Systems for their Administrative, Legal and Ethical Management) in Grant AM, Fortin JP et Mathieu L (publ.), L’informatique de la santé dans les soins intégrés : connaissances, applications, évaluation. Actes des 9e Journées Francophones d’Informatique Médicale (Informatics in integrated health care: knowledge, applications, assessment. Proceedings of the 9th Francophone Medical Informatics Symposium), Sherbrooke : Société Québécoise d’informatique Biomédicale et de la Santé(SoQibs), 2003, pp. 297-308.

Learning to Live Between the Lines: The Program: Notions for Citizens

The development work for a documentary movie project(funded by the Société de développement des entreprises culturelles – SODEC, but which has not yet been filmed) permit me to identify some twenty basic notions of informatics and social sciences needed by citizens to understand their information society. [Since 2007, these notions are, one by one, discussed in monthly radio column presented during the Citoyen numérique (Digital Citizen) weekly show on Radio-Montréal] In 2008, Communautique has successfully tested the communication of these concepts in adult education sessions with people, either with low levels of literacy, or unfamiliar with the use of computers (with a grant from the Canadian Council on Learning). Among the findings, it appears that these notions that can be introduced in a fifty minutes documentary require at least a dozen hours to be fully integrated by participants to a training session. Ideally, however, these notions should fit naturally into already existing education and communication activities. Hence the preparation of a training session program for instructors as well as the development of educational material, including video vignettes.

Learning to Live Between the Lines: The Program: Notions for Key ActorsIf generalized basic understanding of the social dimension of information is essential, it is not enough to ensure democratization of the computerization of society. Applied knowledge and advanced skills should also be developed.

Hence, for example, this project to train patients and their advocacy organizations to understand electronic patient records systems, to learn how to use them and, most importantly, to influence their development.

Learning to Live Between the Lines: The Program: Bridging Notions for Professionals

Hence also the need to also develop advanced training programs for the different parties involved in the design of computerization projects meant to handle interpersonal relationships. Because it must be said that the human and social aspects of these projects still are poorly accounted for as well as there are clear deficiencies in the training and the methods of various categories of professionals involved as well as of the representatives of involved citizens.

Learning to Live Between the Lines: The Program: Overview

The computerization of society demands us to learn, individually and collectively, how to live in between the lines of forms, files and statistics, the lines of codes and programs, the lines of transmission for information. Hence the name “Learning to live in between the lines” given to this program.

Communautique and its partnering organizations contribute to this program. I intend to devote to it most of my work for the next decade. We will need synergies and complicity for its development, for its dissemination as well as its integration as part of popular civic culture.

It is therefore an invitation to join this cultural venture, and even participate into the project itself.

Thank you.

Field RemarksLab NotesNotesReflectionsWhat's new

Illustrations to Sell the Idea of a Device Versus to Explain its Operation

This morning I attended a meeting in the context of the development of explanatory material aiming the general public about an elaborate interpersonal information system that intensively handle personally identifiable information about individuals.

The designers first concluded that before explaining the operation of the system, it was first necessary to defend its existence and relevance. Clearly, from what has been presented, such a goal does not call the same use of image than an explanation of its operation.radio wireless tower

The explanation of how a system works requires the use of illustrations relating to information and their handling that stick strictly to the processes’ reality (as PIP can do). By contrast, explanation of the purpose of the system can proceed by evocation of a need to address or through practical scenarios. In other words, modes of illustration are then closer to those allegories and metaphors commonly used by consumer advertising and business communication. (more…)

Picture of Interpersonal Information Processes (PIP) for Social, Legal and Ethical Analysis and Communication

Toward PDF versionPicture of Interpersonal Information Processes (PIP) for Social, Legal and Ethical Analysis and Communication: Communication to the Legal IT Conference 4.0 – Law + Information Technologies, Young Bar Association of Montreal, Montreal, April 26 and 27, 2010

Abstract

Presentation of a few experiences and of the process that led to the development of a method for the modeling of information processes that has been proven successful for achieving two complementary purposes, namely: to analyze, assess and manage the legal, social and ethical issues raise by interpersonal information or transaction systems; and to facilitate communication between the actors of such a given system or transaction, including its users with low writing or computer literacy. Picture of Interpersonal Information Processes (PIP) allows a systematic identification of legal norms and of other norms (such as technical standards, software rules, etc.) that apply or not to the legal or de facto roles played by these persons; the information produced and handled; the handlings performed on such information; the legal or de facto interpersonal relationships established between the people across the handlings, and the decisions or actions taken through these handlings or resulting from them. By establishing these elements, PIP provides jurists with a solid foundation for their legal analysis and communication and a possible broader examination of social and ethical issues involved. The use of visual representations is a means, to explain interpersonal information or transaction systems and their legal implications to the citizens who self-administer them while in Canada, 48% of adults have difficulty reading a simple text or are still unfamiliar with computers.

Complete text with illustrations:  HTML Version –  PDF Version

Picture of Interpersonal Information Processes (PIP) for Social, Legal and Ethical Analysis and Communication

Communication to the Legal IT Conference 4.0 – Law + Information Technologies

Montreal, April 26 and 27, 2010
Young Bar Association of Montreal

Pierrot Péladeau

Visiting Researcher Communautique
Member of the Ethics and Ageing Laboratory of the Centre recherche de l’Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal
Associate Researcher at CEFRIO
Specialist in social assessment of interpersonal information systems

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Link to PDF version

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1. Introduction

Even though it was scheduled in the “Technology Showcase” section of the conference’s program, this presentation does not tackle some application software, even less a commercial product. It deals rather with the development of a method whose instructions and tools are meant to be openly and freely available.

This presentation has two objectives.

The first objective is to outline experiences and the process that led to the development of a method for the modeling of information processes that has been proven successful for achieving two complementary purposes, namely:

a) to analyze, assess and manage the legal, social and ethical issues raise by interpersonal information or transaction systems, and

b) to facilitate communication between the actors of such a given system or transaction:

• between those involved in its design and operation; and

• with its users, including those with low writing or computer literacy.

The second objective of this presentation is to invite those interested, not only to adopt and adapt this method, but also to participate in a community of practitioners interested in the analysis, evaluation and communication of interpersonal information or transaction systems.

2. Outline of the PIP method

Let’s start with a clarification comment. Clearly, Picture of Interpersonal Information Processes (PIP) is indeed a method that proves useful for the implementation of standards for personal information protection (also designated as “information privacy” standards). It is also valuable for conducting an “assessment of factors relating to privacy” (also known as “privacy impact assessment”).

However, the purposes of PIP go quite broader, i.e. ultimately:

  • to promote the social management of our information and of our digital tools, and
  • facilitate the democratization of information societies

through a more accurate and easily sharable understanding of how our relationships are supported by the handling of specific information.

In practical terms, PIP is a method for social analysis and for communication that may be used, among other things, for legal analysis and communication (as it may also serve similar purposes in other areas such as ethics or information management). When used by jurists, this method permits to take into account, not only the norms specific to the protection of personal information, but all the norms involved in all the interactions between people supported by a specific information handling.

Specifically, PIP facilitates the identification of:

  • any information handling that is supporting some interpersonal interaction

(regardless of whether the information items involved are:

  • personal or not, and if so,
  • related to an identifiable individual [personally identifiable information] or not);
  • all interactions between all those involved in the handling of information

(regardless of whether these persons:

  • are natural or legal, and
  • whatever their status and role with regard to this handling); and finally
  • all the norms involved in the interaction supported by the information handling

(regardless of the purpose of the norms or the source thereof).[1]

Figure 1: Norms applicable to information processes largely exceed those generally associated with protection of personal information

Figure 1: Norms applicable to information processes largely exceed those generally associated with protection of personal information

The wide range of the method explains why we have called it Picture of Interpersonal Information Processes using generic terms like “process” and “interpersonal” to describe its objects. With such a designation, we aim, among other goal, to avoid confusion with concepts specific to the protection of personal information which apply mainly to “records” or “files” (rather than to the entire process as PIP does) and to “personal information” (rather than all the kinds of information involved in an interpersonal relationship).

3. Relevance to jurists

PIP thus provides to jurists an instrument for the social analysis required as a prerequisite to the legal analytical work itself. As for its legal use per se, this method permits to take into account all the norms involved in the interactions between people supported by a manipulation of information. To achieve this, PIP helps in structuring a systematic identification of:

  • which persons (natural and legal) are interacting with which other persons (natural and legal);
  • which handlings of which information on what or whom are producing which results concerning whom;
  • which roles, legal or de facto, these persons are playing in relation to whom, and
  • which actual interpersonal relationships are being established between these persons through an information handling.
Figure 2: Norms applicable to role actually played by actors

Figure 2: Norms applicable to role actually played by actors

Once such context is established, PIP then allows a systematic identification of legal norms and of other norms (such as technical standards, software rules, etc.) that apply or not to:

  • the legal or de facto roles played by these persons;
  • the information produced and handled;
  • the handlings performed on such information;
  • the legal or de facto interpersonal relationships established between the people across the handlings, and
  • the decisions or actions taken through these handlings or resulting from them.

By establishing these elements, PIP provides jurists with a solid foundation for their legal analysis and communication and a possible broader examination of social and ethical issues involved.


4. Why a visual model

In the 1990s, several widespread discourses proclaimed that we were living in an era of dematerialization of human activities and productions. From a strict computational point of view, such statement is flatly wrong. On the contrary, we are in reality witnessing an unprecedented materialization of interpersonal relationships. In fact, digital technologies cause an ever increasing mediatisation of these relationships through physical objects, namely:

  • information items and programs (which physical media, far from having disappeared, have simply moved on to microscopic scales), and
  • machines (always as tangible and increasingly ubiquitous).

In principle, such materialization should greatly facilitate the identification of these interpersonal relationships, their reconstitution and their scrutiny. In principle, it would suffice to follow, step by step, the physical manifestations of the information flows and progress of the processes involved.

In practice, however, we witness the exact opposite: these interpersonal relationships appear increasingly difficult to recognize and to understand. Surprisingly, many organizations are still badly informed of their own processes and sometimes even of which information items they actually handle. And generally, this lack of knowledge is even greater among the individuals who are the very subjects of those information items and processes.

This apparent paradox derives from the fact that:

  • most of the processes occurring within and between machines are beyond the direct perception of the human senses, and
  • knowledge about these processes is often scattered, arcane (if it had been produced to begin with).

The consequences of such misunderstanding can be serious, including in legal terms.

4.1 First example: unawareness of the very existence of information items in the Directron Média case

The most blatant example of unawareness which I witnessed was at the hearing of the case Directron Média inc. c. Inspecteur général des institutions financières.[2] The dispute involved a commercial enterprise who wished to obtain a copy of the Central Enterprises Database (CED) held by Quebec’s Inspector General of Financial Institutions. The hearing lasted two long days. Yet in the end, it appeared that witnesses and lawyers for both sides had all that time depicted and discussed about an information system that was not the one that actually existed.

Contrary to what they presented, the CED did not contain only copies of the information items collected on the regulatory registration form and that were of a public nature under the Companies Information Act (typically individuals A, B, C, D and E are the directors of Company X – an information set that we will refer here as the “company’s record”). In fact, the core of the CED was a relational database that also detained physically (a fact of legal significance here) other information items not listed on that form provided under the Companies Information Act.[3] This database included, inter alia, other sets that we will refer here as “individual records” stating that individual C is a director of companies X, Y and Z. The same database also included what we will refer here to as “address records” explaining that this particular address is the one of such business and/or of such directors).

Obviously, the fact that information items are not mentioned in any act or any regulatory form does not mean they do not exist.

In this case of the CED, the reality of a large proportion of the information items it contained had apparently not been perceived, neither by the representatives of the public body who detained them, nor by those of the business that aimed to sell them at a profit. Yet the material reality of such information items produced significant legal consequences. For example, the public or confidential nature of the information items includes in the “individual records” was not to be decided by the specific rules of the Companies Information Act because these items are not mentioned in it. Accordingly, this matter was therefore to be set by other legal rules of general application, namely here, the Act on Access to documents held by public bodies and the Protection of personal information.

Yet a simple detailed description of the database’s contents could have avoided this misunderstanding as well as long hours of fruitless auditions because they were not bearing on the right object.


4.2 Second example: processes fed by information files systems about tenants.

Beyond the existence or non existence of information items, there is also the question of the nature of the process in which they take part. Here, the instance that impressed on me the most was my very first assessment project of an interpersonal information system: a study of information files on tenants carried out in 1982.

At that time, four Quebec associations of rental housing owners and some Canadian commercial companies were offering tenants reporting or rental housing brokerage services. A law student at the time, I decided to make this the subject of a legal applied research project. Spontaneously, jurists felt that these files mainly raised questions of respect for privacy and reputations provided under the Civil Code of Lower Canada and the Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.[4] Building on this consensus and on publicly known facts, I could then have produced a legal assessment in a study conducted from a law library. However, I decided instead to investigate first about these files systems operating from Montreal, Saint-Jerome, Quebec City and Halifax.

I then discovered that these information services were very different from each other in terms of their objectives, the types of information produced, types of processing performed and the decisions about tenants they allowed to make. Accordingly, the discussion about their legality therefore touched on quite various legal norms and institutions, often far from those relating to respect for privacy and reputation (or even norms for the protection of personal information that apply today to such information handling).

One example among many: less than four months after the publication of my research report, Quebec’s National Assembly passed a first round of legislative amendments which, inter alia, prohibited discrimination in housing based on the fact that person has exercised remedies provided by law.[5] Indeed, the objective of some blacklists had been to discourage tenants to use them, thus to obstruct the implementation of the new Act respecting the Régie du logement (setting standards and creating a board to arbiter disputes between tenants and landlords).[6] The same round of amendments also prohibited discrimination because a person has a child or is pregnant (as some brokers screened different types of prospective tenants according to criteria set by their landlord clients). Never an abstract legal discussion process could have made such findings and produced such effects.

This experience has ingrained in me the idea of the need for a detailed understanding of an information handling and of its social dimensions as a prerequisite to any attempt to assess it legally, socially or otherwise. Because if one does not have clear understanding of who are the players interacting through what information and how, it becomes risky to correctly identify the applicable norms and principles, and therefore the social, legal and ethical implications.

4.3 Benefits of a visual mapping of processes

Information systems are increasingly complicated devices that must achieve a proper dynamic fit with many complex social realities. The fact that a growing proportion of information processes remains unobservable to the naked eye facilitate some precedence of perceptions over facts. For often, the stakeholders’ understanding can only be based on what is provided by forms and operating instructions, by contractual and regulatory texts, by metaphors and explanatory shortcuts, by promotional claims and official discourses.

In such context, the use of visual models facilitates understanding. A diagram such as an information flow chart or a business processes map is already verifiable proposition. This diagram may be confronted to the available documentation, to the devices’ behaviour or to key informants’ knowledge. The strict rules of diagram make-up force us to retain only the essential key elements, but all of those in a systematic, rigorous and comprehensive way.

Thus early on, I used various forms of diagrams as part of various assessment activities. However, my field experience as well as some theoretical work gradually led me to consider the need for a specific visual model for the social, legal and ethical analysis of interpersonal information processes.[7]

5. Genesis of PIP

5.1 A system for prevention of illegal access to prescription drugs

My first attempt to develop a visual model specifically for social, legal and ethical analysis took place in 2000-2001. It was conducted as part of an assessment assignment of a system for prevention of illegal access to prescription drugs. The context was that of a technical upgrading project of the system and its extension to a new class of drugs. Yet since its inception fifteen years earlier, this system was a continuing subject of controversy between members of the board of directors of the professional corporation who managed it as well as between thousands of health professionals drawn in its use. The corporation asked me to evaluate the existing system and identify potential solutions to the conflicts.

During its fifteen years of existence, this information system had been the subject of much internal debate and several legal advices. It had also been subjected to an investigation by the Surveillance Division of the Commission d’accès à l’information (Access to Information Commission which also has authority on personal information protection) and of a decision by its Judicial Division. Furthermore, the system has been the subject of two coroner inquests because it did not prevent some deaths by suicide through abuse of prescription drugs.

However, when I undertook this mandate, I was to find that there was not a single document spelling out exactly how the system worked. None. For fifteen years, the professional corporation, its directors, thousands of health professionals in various fields of practice, lawyers, commission and coroners have discussed and decided about this information system only from fragmented indications and perceptions.

A credible assessment process requires the production of a description of the system that would be sufficiently detailed, accurate and objective to be considered valid by all the stakeholders involved. So I requested authorization to investigate the different information processes supported by this system in order to produce its first detailed description. The final document contained 22 series of diagrams (including four sets spanning on more than two pages) with their corresponding descriptive texts. This exercise gave me the opportunity to lay the basis for a new visual model. Why a new one? Because the different models already used in computing, as useful as they are, are often flawed from a social and legal perspective.

For example, in the case of this system for prevention of illegal access to prescription drugs, a data model would have identified that the main personal entities were “health professionals” and “patients”. Such categorization would have been consistent with the Canadian health data model at the time.[8]

In a use cases model, “patients” disappear as they are not direct users of the system. So we end up with only health care professionals informing other professionals through the information system.

Figure 2: Norms applicable to role actually played by actors

Figure 2: Norms applicable to role actually played by actors

By contrast, an actual social analysis reveals that the system was indeed making “professionals” and “patients” to interact together. However, at times the actual interpersonal relations were between individuals acting as informers or as agents for the detection and prevention of law violations, on one hand, and individuals suspected or alleged to have committed illegal acts to obtain prescription drugs, on the other hand.

Indeed, it was precisely where the main source of conflict lied. And also where was to be found the solution, not only to the controversy but also to the inefficiency of the device to prevent suicide by abuse of legally obtained drugs. Indeed, the processes that were triggering requests to health professionals for intervention were based, not on a clinical logic, but rather on a legal one of implementation of the Criminal Code, namely the provisions about the fraudulent access to prescription drugs.

The immediate benefit of this picture of interpersonal process information was of course that it offered for the first time to the interested parties a document giving an overview of the system and a detailed description of the processes they support. Even an employee whose exclusive duty for more than ten years had been the operation of the system said that she learned new things about its operation. For example, she discovered – as much as the corporation did – that the professionals’ files management rules that weed out inactive patient records resulted in the systematic elimination of warnings that officially were still in force.

5.2 A data warehouse research

I conducted a subsequent experiment as part of the work of a committee on the ethics, confidentiality and privacy related issues of a medical research data warehouse project. I was a member of that committee. Some designers of data warehouse were also members of it. They had ample opportunity to provide us details about the various components of the device.

After several months of work of our committee, I tested the representation that we collectively had by producing a PIP model. It was a summary diagram presenting a most simplified and highest level overview of the processes, without dealing with the interpersonal relationships. We then realized that at least one third of the planned processes for the warehouse project had yet not been acknowledged. These processes had thus far eluded our analysis and our discussion.

Figure 4: Unacknowledged portions of information processes (upper ones, in red) as exposed by a PIP model

Figure 4: Unacknowledged portions of information processes (upper ones, in red) as exposed by a PIP model

Such experiments demonstrate the need for meticulous documentation of interpersonal relationships mediated by informatics and the great usefulness of visual modeling for such task.

6. Brief description of PIP

The general syntax of the model combines two types of pictures (or diagrams).

The first type describes the operating sequence of information processes looked at. In other words, these pictures describe the material information handling operations: what information is produced, stored, communicated and processed to produce what results.

The second type of pictures rather describes the relationships supported by a process or a portion of it. In other words, these pictures focus instead on identifying who are the people involved in these handlings and what roles each play in regard to information items and other people.

Experience has shown that in order to distinguish these two types of pictures and of realities, it is preferable that the production of these diagrams uses distinct pictograms.

Lets us state here that the PIP method is not prescriptive as to which symbols or pictograms should be used. Especially when it comes to communications and popularization, each user could use pictograms that are appropriate to the business sector, the cultural references of the addressees as well as the graphic signature of the issuing organization.

That being said, for the purposes of research and development of PIP, today we use two separate free access sets of generic icons.

Figure 5: Basic PIP-L pictograms

Figure 5: Basic PIP-L pictograms

For descriptions of relationships between actors, we use PIP-L (for Picture of Interpersonal Information Process – Language; acronym that can be pronounced “people”). This ad hoc pictographic system was developed in collaboration with Communautique and industrial designer Caroline Cyr.[9]

Figure 6: Sample of PICOL pictograms

Figure 6: Sample of PICOL pictograms

Then, for descriptions of the processes themselves, we use PICOL (Pictorial Communication Language). This pictographic system was developed at the University of Applied Sciences in Mainz, Germany, for the description of electronic communications systems.[10]

7. Using PIP for communication and popularization

7.1 Increasing communications needs-about processes

Beyond needs analysis, and legal analysis in particular, there are growing needs for successful communication about processes that would be easily comprehensible by end users and information subjects. Indeed, the processes arising from the application of a statute or a contract are increasingly computerized. These processes are even increasingly self-administered by the various parties involved, thus less and less supported by clerks or professionals responsible for records keeping or accounts management. So instead of training a few tens or hundreds of employees about often complicated processes, we end up with thousands, even millions of users who usually have to learn to operate them more or less on their own. The quality of communication with these users is therefore crucial to the proper performance of the processes.

Jurists who advise organizations or users need themselves to properly understand these processes to legally assess and explain them. Yet as we have already seen, often the available documentation offers a poor explanation or conflicts arise simply because of differing perceptions.

In addition, how to properly explain these processes and their legal implications to the citizens who self-administer them while in Canada, 48% of adults have difficulty reading a simple text, and therefore much less a technical or legal content. That is besides the fact that many are still unfamiliar with computers or, despite a certain familiarity, are struggling to make out the operation of any electronic device?

The use of visual representations is a means, among others, to facilitate such communication.

7.2 Example of an explanation of vote in the electoral system

In 2009, we experimented with Communautique and literacy organizations the use of PIP diagrams with groups of people with low literacy or low familiarity with computers.[11] We have succeeded through these diagrams, not only to explain certain processes, but also a number of basic concepts for understanding our information society. The example presented here is the explanation of vote in the Canadian electoral system from its informational basis. Among participants, there were few foreign immigrants learning French. We then realized how much this sort of explanation could be easily understandable by people unfamiliar with our electoral system.

Note that the following diagrams are a series of pictures of interpersonal relationships. We did not need to use specific description of the information processes involves in the electoral system.

Figure 8: Interpersonal relationships in candidature

Figure 8: Interpersonal relationships in candidature

We began the explanation by taking the information object meant to be handled directly by the citizens: the ballot. First, we focused attention on the fact that each line of the ballot talks about an individual, duly identified, which is a candidate for the post of deputy (representative to a legislative assembly) and that this individual is member or not of a party, also duly identified if it is the case.

Figure 7: Interpersonal relationships between candidatures

Figure 7: Interpersonal relationships between candidatures

Afterward, that the ballot is a list of candidates, duly identified, member or not of a party, duly identified, which are competing with each other for the vote of every person qualified to vote.

Figure 9: Interpersonal relationships in vote

Figure 9: Interpersonal relationships in vote

When voting, the voter indicates one’s choice among the candidates listed on the ballot. The vote is anonymous and the elector remains generally unidentifiable (anonymous personal information and generally not individually identifiable).[12]

Figure 10: Interpersonal relationships in election

Figure 10: Interpersonal relationships in election

If the individual votes are anonymous and unidentifiable, their compiling permits to determine how many votes of the electorate of a duly identified riding have been given to each candidate. The candidate receiving the most votes wins the election and becomes representative of the population of this riding.

Figure 11: Interpersonal relationships in legislative assembly

Figure 11: Interpersonal relationships in legislative assembly

The group of all elected deputies composes the Legislative Assembly responsible for enacting legislation. As these acts and other decisions being taken by vote, a competition relationship remains between the deputies and their parties. Finally, according to the British parliamentary tradition, the party or group of parliamentarians with the largest number of seats in the legislature is usually the first to be offered to form a government politically responsible for the State businesses and its public administration.

7.3 Example of an explanation of consent in patient records

The second example is an exercise on the important issue of consent or not to some personal information handling. The following diagrams were created for a seminar of specialists in protection of personal information. This was the second versions of diagrams originally developed for a training session to health and social services workers.

These two pictures compare the consent (or lack thereof) in two contexts:

  • regular communication of medical information between health professionals, and
  • electronic communication, as proposed by the Dossier Santé Québec electronic patient record system.

Note that once the drawings illustrate both the relationships (with PIP-L) and processes (with PICOL). They are not intended to describe the whole systems involved, but to focus primarily in making visually explicit:

  • the presence of consent;
  • the lack of consent;
  • the mandatory (statutory) nature of a set of operations, and
  • the possibility for the patient to refuse certain operations among them (opting out).

At first glance, there is no need to use words to understand that we are dealing with two very different modes of organizing communication and consent to it.

Figure 12: Picture of ordinary consent to communication of medical information

Figure 12: Picture of ordinary consent to communication of medical information

Figure 13: Picture of consent to electronic communication in Dossier Santé Québec

Figure 13: Picture of consent to electronic communication in Dossier Santé Québec

In the explanation of the Dossier santé Québec, the most critical point was the understanding of the opt-out option. Indeed, experience has shown that any attempt to explain it orally or in writing was laborious. Despite the details provided and restatements, the explanation often causes confusion among the addressees.

In contrast, use of the picture clarifies the explanation by defining precisely to what the opting out applies as well as its effects. In this diagram, we have successfully:

  • defined all the mandatory operations inside a box marked by the green circled arrow symbol showing the familiar road sign “mandatory direction” accompanied by the words “Law” which states that this obligation is legal;
  • identified each of the mandatory operations by marking them by the same “mandatory direction” symbol, plus the gears icon (meaning automatic), plus the “no consent” symbol;
  • signalled the presence of an opt-out by a diamond decision between “Yes” (and green PICOL “execute/continue operations” pictogram) and “No” (and red PICOL “cancel” symbol) that contains the word “option”;
  • identified the subset of operations that could be opted-out with a box (and thus, conversely, those who are not affected by exercise of opt-out).

8. PIP: a promising work in progress

Clearly, the use of the Picture of Interpersonal Information Processes method facilitates the production of rigorous analysis and the production of intelligible and unambiguous communications, particularly on the legal dimensions. However, the development of the method and of its use is still ongoing.

At first, it is necessary to organize transfer and appropriation of the method. We thank this conference’s organizers for their invitation which gives us a first opportunity to meet with jurists.

In the coming weeks, one will find on the PIP-PIP-L page, not only this presentation, but also access to symbols and then to various manuals and case uses.[13]

We will also provide training and guidance in using the PIP method, especially with the objective of appropriation that is at the heart of Communautique’s mission, especially through training of trainers and multiplying agents.

We intend to gradually build and moderate a community of practice and R&D, including the use of PIP method for communication purposes between computer projects’ stakeholders as well as with their users and other people involved. We also plan to develop real-life critical proof of concept project of use of PIP for communication.

So we send a warm invitation to all those interested, not only among jurists and lawyers but also all other categories of professionals and stakeholders involved in the design, development and operation of interpersonal information or transaction systems.

Finally, in the longer run, we are also looking to build software and methodological bridges with the practices and tools already used to design information systems in order to facilitate integration and use of PIP from the early stages of development of systems meant to support some form of interpersonal relationships.


[1] I discuss further this matter of all the norms involved in interpersonal information processes « Par delà la vie privée : ce que tout juriste devrait savoir sur les applications des technologies de l’information et des communications concernant les personnes physiques » (Beyond privacy: what every jurist should know about information and communications technologies’ applications regarding individuals)”, in Actes de la XIVe Conférence des Juristes de l’État. Cowansville, Québec: Les Éditions Yvon Blais, 2000, 133-148. Online version: http://pierrot-peladeau.net/fr/relations/ecr/ecr2

[2] [1990] C.A.I. 171 (89 0 36). On line version: http://www.cai.gouv.qc.ca/07_decisions_de_la_cai/01_pdf/jurisprudence/890236ju.pdf

[3] L.R.Q., c. R-22

[4] Civil Code of Lower Canada (CCLC) and Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, RSQ, c. C-12, s. 4 and 5.

[5] This provision became section 1899 of the present Civil Code of Quebec, RSQ c. C-1991.

[6] L.R.Q. c. R-8.1.

[7] I discuss in detail the advantages and disadvantages of existing visual models in « La modélisation visuelle des systèmes d’information en santé pour leur gestion administrative, légale, sociale et éthique » (The visual modeling of health information systems for their administrative, legal, social and ethical management) in L’informatique de la santé dans les soins intégrés : connaissances, applications, évaluation. Actes des 9e Journées Francophones d’Informatique Médicale. Sherbrooke, Société Québécoise d’informatique Biomédicale et de la Santé (SoQibs), 2003, 297-308. On line version: http://pierrot-peladeau.net/fr/relations/ecr/ecr1.

[8] Working Group 1 (Health Information Model) of the Partnership for Health Informatics/Telematics. Conceptual Health Data Model v2.3. Ottawa, Canadian Institute for Health Information, mars 2001.

[9] PIP-L : http://pierrot-peladeau.net/fr/pip-pip-l

[10] PICOL :  http://picol.org/about.php

[11] Project « Découvrir la société de l’information à travers nos informations personnelles » (Discovering the information society through our personal information) funded by the Canadian Council of Learning: http://www.communautique.qc.ca/projets/projets-actifs/ateliers-appropriation.html

[12] There are scenarios like the one where, for instance, all voters of the same ballot box have vote identically, thus still anonymous ballots reveal in broad daylight the vote of each person listed as having voted, thus being identifiable in practice.

[13] PIP et PIP-L page: http://pierrot-peladeau.net/en/pip-pip-l

Par-delà la vie privée: ce que tout juriste devrait savoir sur les applications des technologies de l’information et des communications concernant les personnes physiques

Couverture-cequetoutjuriste«Par delà la vie privée : ce que tout juriste devrait savoir sur les applications des technologies de l’information et des communications concernant les personnes physiques», Actes de la XIVe Conférence des Juristes de l’État. Cowansville, Québec: Les Éditions Yvon Blais, 2000, 133-148.

Abstract:

This communication organizes itself around a single message: the need to look beyond legal analysis of information technology and communications (ICT) applications involving individuals solely in terms of privacy related rights; or, in other words, the need to see that these devices operate, well beyond the scope of this concept, in a multidimensional reality, often of a complex nature. This text therefore presents facts and arguments in support of a particular approach to the relationship between law, on the one hand, and ICT, on the other. This approach is the result, as much of empirical field work than of historical and theoretical examinations. A set of means to ensure a better assessment of ICT application projects will be presented.

La modélisation visuelle des systèmes d’information en santé pour leur gestion administrative, légale, sociale et éthique

fichier PDF file« La modélisation visuelle des systèmes d’information en santé pour leur gestion administrative, légale, sociale et éthique », in L’informatique de la santé dans le soins intégrés : connaissances, applications, évaluation. Actes des 9e Journées Francophones d’Informatique Médicale. Sherbrooke, Société Québécoise d’informatique Biomédicale et de la Santé (SoQibs), 2003, 297-308.

Abstract

Operating within complex social environments, health information systems raise numerous administrative, social, legal and ethical issues that could become controversial. Gridlock can result from lack of common factual understanding of their technical and social dimensions. Some argue that data flow diagrams can help to dissipate misconceptions, delimit areas of concern and identify solutions. But flow charts and other existing visual models provide apoor image of exactly who and how social actors interact through a system. This article presents a new model which adapts elements from existing ones in order to convey concepts that have proved useful for the social assessement of information systems. Three experiments are presented here: the preparation of a patient consent form for a new health research data warehouse; the social assessment of an existing controversial system for prevention of illegal access to prescription drugs; and an impact analysis of an act regarding disclosure of confidential information on networked health records. As other visual models, this one forces the users to engage into rigourous analysis. However, its results are signifantly different and complementary. They can be powerfully revealing, yet easy to understand by non specialists. Further experimentation and writing of instruction material are now needed.

CommunicationsLab NotesNotes

Presentation of PIP method at Legal IT Conference, April 26-27, 2010

I just received an invitation to make the following presentation at the Legal IT Conference 4.0 (Law + Information Technology) held in Montreal on April 26 and 27, 2010.

UPDATE #1: Access to that presentation will be open and free. It will take place in the Technology Showcase track, on Monday, April 26th.
UPDATE #2: It will be the second presentation of the 15:15 to 16:30 workshop (time was changed)

UPDATE #3: Text and visuals now online: English Abstract | Full text:  HTML –  PDF

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