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.

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.

Field RemarksLab NotesLiving between the linesNotesObservations

OpenIDEO: a world open participative model for identification of social innovation concepts

In the wake of #GouvCamp

This Wednesday, February 22, I will attend the first GouvCamp in Quebec City. My interest is twofold.

Firstly, I think it is high time that we finally put in place conditions ensuring, minimally, that investments in digital systems and applications for government services to citizens are the most relevant, appropriate, economic, flexible and durable as possible.

Secondly, I also believe that when design and code are law that bind citizens, decisions on these public devices must be made in a democratic approach involving people and concerned citizens rather than technocratic, commercial or partisan logic.

In practice, these two issues are linked. And for both, the solution lies in participatory approaches to system and application design of which I discuss a model here. Their solution also requires access to an independent public expertise, whether governmental (e.g., the Institut national d’excellence en santé et en services sociaux (National institute for excellence in health and social services – INESSS) which assesses technologies and models of intervention), academic or citizen-based (such as the proposed Digital World and Democracy observatory): a subject which I will discuss shortly.

The OpenIDEO model

Recently, Catherine Roy, a colleague of mine, signaled an on-going consultation on How can we design an electoral experience accessible to all? sponsored by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. This consultation is being held on the platform OpenIDEO, a non-profit project of the international design consulting firm IDEO. OpenIDEO’s mission is to find solutions to major social challenges through a collaboration platform for contributors from around the world. (more…)

CommunicationsDebatesInformation & LawLab NotesLiving between the linesNotesReflections

Autonomy, Surveillance and Democracy: A Few Ideas for the Twenty-First Century

Text derived from my presentation

to the Citizen Forum on surveillance of communications

organized by the Quebec caucus of the New Democratic Party

Montreal, Notman House, Thursday, November 3, 2011

Regardless of the fate of the bill named “Lawful Access”, the information society will continue to develop. Then again, an information society is necessarily a surveillance society. Hence the question: what role the parliaments, governments and civil society should play to not only preserve freedoms and democracy, but to enhance them?

Here I propose – in quick rough strokes due to the short time available – some ideas for reference in regard to challenges the twenty-first century presents to us.

Social Life and Surveillance

Idea # 1: Surveillance is an integral component of all social life.

This is true of all human societies, likewise of many animal societies, and even vegetal ones.

Idea # 2: Surveillance takes many forms with very different, even opposite consequences.

I am a grandfather. Obviously I watched my children and grandchild. However, the forms that such surveillance takes can lead children to more and more autonomy, or, conversely, to dependence and submission.

That is why, idea # 3: The concepts proposed by author Ivan Illich of autonomy versus heteronomy, conviviality and counterproductivity are useful to this discussion.

These concepts can be applied, for example, to a convivial urban neighborhood that combines the functions of housing, labor, commerce and recreation. Such an area appears safe because its residents, workers, passersby and idle bystanders spontaneously and freely offer themselves mutual, continuous, autonomous surveillance.

Conversely, an unconvivial single function neighborhood that is deserted during the night or day appears to generate insecurity. No expensive police, guards or electronic surveillance will succeed to produce real security. And such surveillance is likely to increase heteronomous forms of power over individuals and community.

Hence, idea # 4: It is important to consider the complex interrelationships between environmental, physical, social and technical structures and conditions, on the one hand, and the forms of surveillance that these structures permit or not as well as their effects, on the other hand.

Assessment Criteria

And therefore, idea # 5: Respect for freedom is a necessary, but totally insufficient assessment criteria (thus ineffective alone).

In addition, idea # 6 (stated earlier): The information society is necessarily a society where surveillance is becoming widespread, increasing in power and scope, and is being democratized.

Let us illustrate this with a surveillance activity which, unlike the “Lawful Access” bill on the State’s power over private communications, is conducted by private actors on public communications, namely: the high-frequency stock transactions which constitute some 60% of the volume of North American exchanges. This surveillance involves the use of computers that, each microsecond, monitor and analyze all transactions around the planet. This surveillance allows the same computer to purchase securities at one instant and resale them a few seconds later at a profit. The speeds of surveillance, analysis and decision making are so great that human operators can only control possible failure occurrences. Such as those that caused the Flash Crash of May 6, 2010 when these automatic systems suddenly made the Dow Jones Index to plunge several hundred points within a few minutes.

Such capabilities are becoming more democratic. Let’s remember that today a lower end smartphone is already more powerful than these big central computer that, in the sixties, most thought only States could afford. That the customers of data mining software, indispensable to produce results from digital surveillance, are roughly divided into four areas: academic (teaching and research), business (marketing, R & D), police and military intelligence, and we call civil society (various organizations and individuals). That information items on the behavior of individuals and organizations have never been produced in such large numbers or have never been more accessible (just take all the wealth of personal information items disseminated via social media).

Some surveillance activities can easily be described as harmful, such as surveillance of the private communications of citizens or of their legitimate political activities. Other surveillance activities can easily be described as beneficial, such as those about who funds political parties and about who does what lobbying with which decision makers.

However, idea # 7: The majority of the surveillance activities that will emerge will not be so easily assessed: understanding their nature and their effects will require deliberations.

So idea # 8: Drawing on a proposition from economists Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis, we could state that: all surveillance should be subjected to the application of the principles of freedom, but that any surveillance involving some exercise of social power should also be subjected to the principles of democracy.

These principles are to be applied, no matter the public or private nature of the actions being monitored; or the state, commercial or civilian identity of those conducting the surveillance.

Logically, the same principles should also apply to the decision making on environmental, physical, social and technical structures and conditions that determine the forms surveillance may or may not take. Indeed, various social movements express the same demand, whether about shale gas extraction or high finance business: one’s obligation to subject to the action of another called for one’s right to know and right to have one’s say.

As a Preliminary Conclusion

Idea # 9: Such radical democratization calls for deep legal, parliamentary and political transformations from the local to the international levels.

Such changes could indeed be facilitated by possible information societies’ developments.

However, idea # 10: The exact forms that these changes should take remains yet to be defined.

Here, our situation is similar to those of different protests movements (such as Occupy Wall Street) that clearly identifies how current practices are unacceptable without being able to define what should be the alternatives. However, it is as equally urgent to conceive concrete solutions. Let us illustrate with two cases.

Electronic payment

The first case is about privatization of a decision of a public nature. It is the introduction in North America of smart banking cards that raise issues of individual and societal surveillance. Electronic payment is a “radical monopoly” to use another concept from Ivan Illich: if citizens retain the choice of the financial institution that will provide the banking card, there is only one electronic payment system that is imposed on all financial institutions and to all their customers on a given territory.

However, the choice of a new microprocessor based payment system is not trivial. This is because there are dozens of concepts for implementing this technology that are quite different in terms of individual surveillance. Some concepts can make electronic payments as anonymous as the use of paper money. For example, the financial institution knows by the end of the day that it should debit the account of such customer to such total amount, but remains unable to connect this with the various suppliers where the customer has spent money. At the other end of the spectrum, there are concepts that provide the financial institution with a wealth of information about who has purchased what from whom precisely at what time and how much. The choice between one type of concept and another has little to do with technical or budgetary constraints. It is in practice a political decision on the level of surveillance that financial institutions may or may not carry on the activities of their clients. But it is not elected parliaments that decide. Rather, parliaments have left the decision to private clubs of financial institutions (in Canada, to the Canadian Payments Association).

But it’s not just the surveillance of individual clients that is at issue. The generalization of electronic payments offers financial institutions a breathtaking real-time view of economic activities and situations of entire societies. This truly represents a strategic advantage in times of economic turmoil. Especially when compared to the situation of governments, media and civil society who discuss measures that will have some impact only several months into the future on the basis of statistics reflecting situations often four months old in the past. Why only financial institutions could have as up to date data?

In one individual surveillance as in societal surveillance, the democratic principle should apply – in addition to that of freedom – with respect to decisions about social powers of such magnitude. Should parliaments recover the power to legislate publically on these matters? Or should we try to democratize the work of clubs such as the Canadian Association of payment? Or follow a different model of democratic decision making?

Passports

The second case is about internationalization of a public decision. This is about passports used to monitor border crossings of citizens, and often their movements within these boundaries. Design standards of electronic and biometric components of passports are taken in international forums, such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), by senior public servants of the Member States surrounded by lobbyists of the airline and surveillance technologies industries. National parliaments often only have the choice to endorse or not the standards already established elsewhere.

Again, we must find a way to preserve the principle of democracy against such technocratic fait accompli through international bodies. Should parliaments or governments publicly pre-debate options to be offered in international forums? Should we engage a democratization of discussions in international forums to allow a real voice to citizens to be affected by decisions? Or a combination of both? Or another model?

These are the types of changes, needing to be outlined, that I propose to explore with you during the following discussion.

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.

CommunicationsInformation & LawLab NotesLiving between the linesNotes

I Create and Give a Whole New ‘Information and Law’ Course in January

tablette cuneiformeWas UQAM so desperate that it finally came to offer me this course? Because if I am indeed a jurist by training, I still remain a non-practicing and non-believing one. Enough joking. I accepted to create and teach a course officially entitled Droit de l’information (Information Law), never offered before. This course is part of the LLB program, but is offered to students in all programs. Indeed, currently 12% of students enrolled are from Communications.

I suggested – and it was agreed – that the scope of the course be expanded into a sort of  ‘Information & Law’ course, almost and ‘Information Society and Law’ one. So rather than covering one by one, some special legal institutions (intellectual property, access to information, freedom of press and libel, privacy and others), I propose instead to explore:

  • all of legal realities through the perspective of information and of an information society, and conversely,
  • the realities of information and of information society as they are regulated by laws, norms and standards of all kinds.

I have yet to produce a detailed course outline. However, at the time I am writing this, the first objective would be to get students to acquire certain knowledge and skills to work in an information society, including:

  • detect the presence of information in any considered human activity;
  • reconstruct how the information is handled, who are those involved, what types of relationships (including legal) develop between whom through such information handling;
  • identify the relevant legal institutions and the different sources of norms potentially applicable to a particular information handling;
  • raise the social and ethical issues of this handling;
  • detect the informational dimension in any legal document (law, contract, court, legal communication, norm or standard);
  • communicate about the legal dimension of handling information, including lay citizens and users.

Students in law will be especially encouraged to develop the ability to legally qualify a human activity involving the handling of information.

Rather than switch from one field law to another, the course’s plan will rather follow, week after week, the consecutive life cycle stages of information from its initial creation to various uses, including personal decision making.

This course will also insist on:

  • basic knowledge in information science and management, linguistics and related fields, and
  • methods to properly document information practices.

The course will be held on Monday evenings from January 10, 2011. There is still room for students. I therefore make this a formal invitation. Welcome to all!

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.

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.

Beyond Privacy? / Par delà la vie privée ?

Totalitarian experiences that devastated the twentieth century aimed the abolition of private lives through surveillance and files keeping. To the point that the idea of production and handling of personal information became inseparable from that of invasion of privacy.

Yet, information handlings supporting interpersonal relationships cannot be reduced to this single dimension. Not only is the private portion of our lives concerned, but all their social and public components as well. Not only the right to privacy, but all human rights and freedoms!

Therefore, assessing handlings of personal information requires examining all their roles and all their implications, beyond privacy only.

DebatesLiving between the linesNotes

Facebook remains a black box

Débats - DebatesYes, Facebook changed its publication of content controls (which may be improperly called confidentiality or privacy controls).

But as rightly points out the tweet of Privacy International signalling its response to this announcement, is the real question not elsewhere? Namely: how Facebook itself uses the information that members place on their pages? “The Real question: How Does Facebook Process Information?

No matter how you change publication controls or make them more user-friendly, the processing and uses that Facebook makes of the information continues to remain in the dark, poorly explained.

It’s quite like the classic black box. Facebook members know the information they themselves put on their page (inputs). They might better understand what information is published or not toward whom (outputs). However, they do not know exactly all of what happens between the two, especially everything about what Facebook exchanges with its trading partners.

This is where is the core of the processes that constitutes Facebook and its market value.

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.

Here

Identity

Pierrot_Peladeau - photo : Jean-François Leblanc, Agence Stock Photo

Trajectory

Activities

Coordinates

Contributions

Trajectory

I practice the social assessment of interpersonal information systems since 1982, time at which I participated in the creation of UQAM‘s Groupe de recherche informatique et droit among which I co-authored five books, including the Quebec government commissioned report L’identité piratée (Pirated Identity – SOQUIJ, 1986) on personal information systems in the private sector. This report’s recommendations led to the adoption in 1993 of the first data protection legislation covering the entire private sector in the Americas.

Among many other roles, I was scientific coordinator of the Telehealth Ethics Programme of the Center for Bioethics of the Montreal Clinical Research Institute (IRCM) from 1997 to 2005.

Up to now my research, consulting and teaching activities brought me to work with more than 600 organizations in fields of activities as various as healthcare, social services, banking, government services, telecommunications, public education, personnel management, research with human subjects, community organizations and commerce.

Activities

Today, my activities focus primarily on:

  • theory, practice and teaching on social assessment of interpersonal information systems;
  • the use of the image and visual modelling to help understand how they work and explain them to lay-persons; and
  • democratization of decisions regarding design and deployment of interpersonal information systems.

An overview of my personal program of activities can be found here.

I also write a regular digital lives column (in French) in Journal de Montréal and Journal de Québec as well as in blog entries here on this site.

Coordinates

Professional phone (North America +1) : 5 1 4 – 7 1 6 – 0 9 3 7
Twitter : http://twitter.com/PierrotPeladeau
Email (please use form below) :

Contributions

Portrait photo: Jean-François Leblanc, Agence Stock Photo

Pictogram “group of persons” on this site’s title: Caroline Cyr

Content Management System (CMS): WordPress and its dedicated community of developers

Graphic theme: Elegant Themes

Web hosting : Michel Dumais

Living between the linesNotes

I Avoid The Word “Privacy” (And You Should Too)

About one obstacle to thinking about our relationships through information

Tablette d'écriture cunéiformeNotion addressed: Information (including personal information) and information technology play multiple growing roles in every aspect of the lives of individuals, groups and societies.

I was planning to write my own reading of the inquiry and recommendations of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada on the management of personal information by Facebook. However, I too often stumbled on the words “privacy” in the documentation of the Commissioner and articles from the media and other commentators. Too often not to publish beforehand this cautionary piece.

Early in my work, I became cautious with the use of the term “privacy“. It has so many different meanings that it becomes a genuine barrier to communication. More importantly, its use has become customary whenever it comes to discussing personal information handling. So much so that it now constitutes a real obstacle to the exercise of thinking specific usages and their social roles and implications. As a result, we also observe technical, social, economical and commercial failures. (more…)

Relations

presherment-parchemin

Relations: noun:  The act of relating, of reporting a story ;
The manners in which things, individuals and groups are associated.

This personal mediagraphy discuss about the manners in which persons and information are associated. Items are presented as they are of writing, talk (audio files) or image (illustrations, diagrams, videos, slide shows). A final section lists adaptations specifically destined to lay persons. A same item can be found in more than one section. (more…)

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