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.

"Beyond Privacy" ProjectCommunicationsLab NotesLiving between the linesNotesReading Notes

2012 Map of a Twitter Status Object for Dummies

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.

Many probably have seen the Map of a Twitter status object below. Produced by Raffi Krikorian, from Twitter’s engineering department, this one-page chart quickly became popular. This was because it illustrated in a single image that a Twitter message was not a mere line of text up to 140 characters.

Although this document and its annotations are addressed primarily to API developers, it had a strong educational value. I have used it often. You had to see how wide the eyes of information law students opened in surprise and curiosity! That chart made easy to pass on the message we must do our homework when assessing informational practice. That we not be satisfied with only the visible information items and processes. That we must understand what actually happens in the black box. Even ask a hand to computer technologists.

I was writing a new book chapter entitled “Production Inputs“. It explains that handling of information objects allows us to produce new ones. However, this task requires, often without our realizing, the production of even further information objects, either to carry it out, or to describe it. The example of the 140 characters tweet which, in fact, features thousands of characters of code lines seems great to illustrate this point.

So I undertook to produce a new chart that would be updated, clearer as well as, more easily readable and understandable by non-specialists.

Partial List of Information Items Linked to a Tweet (small)

The result is this chart spreading over two pages. But it would have taken three to be exhaustive. Please, click the following to access :

Among many things, this exercise revealed to me the existence of fields for blocking messages or entire users’ accounts at the request of public authorities, of holders copyright, or of others. It also revealed that this map is not only that of a tweet, but also of all the information items coproduced with it. To the extent that all these items are available in practice, the distinction is perhaps only one of nuance. From a pedagogical point of view however, this is worth mentioning.

Further revelation, I also found a few syntax, description and field’s status typos in the original chart from Krikorian. Far from being a Twitter engineer, I would be very grateful if you would signal to me any typo or error in the new chart proposed here.

"Beyond Privacy" ProjectCommunicationsLab NotesLiving between the linesNotes

“Beyond Privacy” Project: The Mandatory Multiplication of Electromagnetic Information Loaves

 

Provisional book cover: Title : "Living Between The Lines: Information Society Through Our Personal Information" Mentions: "Beyond Privacy Project : An open work-in-progress"

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.

 

Utility vehicles

 

Information objects allow us to interact across time and space. This capability varies depending on the physical support. The difference becomes obvious between solid matter and electromagnetic waves.

How would it feel for you to pull out a banknote and burn it?

If a twinge of lost, the source is not the combustion of a fraction of a gram of matter. If pleasurable excitement, it does not result that much from the momentary flame.

The emotion comes mainly from the irreversible loss of information items. Not just any ones! The vaporized in smoke writing conveyed a unit of value that we could share with others.

The destroyed information allowed us to get from other persons a good or a service. Or to repay them a debt. Or to hand them an assistance. Or offer them a gift.

Also vanished is the ability to offer to ourselves a gift.

Hence the emotion produced. We have forever destroyed information items representing a fragment of power in the human world.
Cover of the Voyager probes' golden disk. A circular plate on which are engraved the instructions to play the disk and a map of the location of the solar system.

(more…)

"Beyond Privacy" ProjectCommunicationsLab NotesLiving between the linesNotes

“Beyond Privacy” Project: A Few Decisions Following Your Comments

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.

Firstly, a big thank you for the comments received so far!

Noteworthy detail: people who have commented so far all are women. Not a single man…

Each of your comments is valuable. Some have already resulted in several decisions, including:

  • to divide the Introduction into short chapters of less than 75 lines as in other parts of the book, in order to clarify and simplify the narrative;
  • to open the book with the Table of notions rather than with the Table of Contents so that one can see from the first pages what topics will be covered;
  • to add the following illustrations to the Prologue to make it clearer that its focus is the “links” that information objects weave between individuals, groups and communities, rather than information objects themselves.

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

Relationship supported by information: example of the petition. Here, a petition connects Sarah and other citizens (acting as petitioners) to a public authority (acting as the petitioned party). The relationship is the act of petition.

"Beyond Privacy" ProjectCommunicationsLab NotesLiving between the linesNotes

“Beyond Privacy” Project: Glossary

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.

Glossary

 

Information : The word receives quite different definition depending on the uses and the fields of practice. In this book, this word designates a material support for the conservation, communication and processing of knowledge or signals, particularly one those that give a form to an interpersonal relation.

"Beyond Privacy" ProjectCommunicationsLab NotesLiving between the linesNotes

“Beyond Privacy” Project: Bibliography

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.

Bibliography

Cross, R. C, and M. S Wheatland. “Modeling a Falling Slinky.” arXiv:1208.4629 (August 22, 2012). http://arxiv.org/abs/1208.4629

Floridi, Luciano. Information: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press,

Le Grand dictionnaire terminologique. Office de la langue française du Québec. http://www.gdt.oqlf.gouv.qc.ca/

Oxford English Dictionary Online. Oxford, United Kingdom. Oxford University Press. 2010. http://www.oed.com/

Trésor de la langue française informatisé. Analyse et traitement informatique de la langue française, Centre national de la recherche scientifique & Université Nancy-II. http://atilf.atilf.fr/

"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: Credits

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.

Writing and Illustration

Pierrot Péladeau

First Reading

Pierrette Lavoie

Comments

Karine Clément

Anne-Marie Théoret

Valerie Steeves

Andrée Côté

Monique Chartrand

Cynthia Chassigneux

Hélène Bergeron

Alain Bellemare

Icons Libraries

PIP-L (Picture of Interpersonal Information Process – Language) by Caroline Cyr

PICOL (PIctorial COmmunication Language) by Melih Bilgil

Images

Wood types photograph used for book project’s cover: “gothic san serif lower case – FUTURA!” by Kyle Van Horn

Cover of Voyager Golden Disk: courtesy of NASA / JPL – Cal Tech

Hosting of  pierrot-peladeau.net web site 

Michel Dumais

Promotion of the Work-in-Progress 

Robert Ellis Smith, Privacy Journal

p style=”padding-left: 30px;”

"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…)

"Beyond Privacy" ProjectCommunicationsLab NotesLiving between the linesNotes

“Beyond Privacy” Project: the ‘Introduction’ chapter

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.

Introduction

In Lines Societies

 

Digital technologies are transforming our world a little more each day. Enough to say that we are experiencing a revolution. Understanding information and its roles leads us to a familiar and ancestral invention: writing.

 

Information, you say?

The computer has been invented some three quarters of a century ago. Its countless electronic avatars have scattered everywhere, even in our pockets. Mankind has accelerated its production of “bytes” and “data” in ever greater astronomical quantities. Still, how many of us do understand these “information” objects? How many perceive the different roles that humans can make them play? How many know how can we use them ourselves? How can we influence the uses that others make of them when they affect us? The education of our Sarah in the Prologue, despite its obvious necessity, is still largely fiction. Yet, this book demonstrates how little it takes to lay the foundations of it.

This is because the presence of information items surfaces more and more in the open. Day after day, all around us. The growing popularity of digital applications and social networks multiply our opportunities for learning and experimentation. And our culture already offers us several keys for their understanding and their mastery. (more…)

"Beyond Privacy" ProjectCommunicationsLab NotesLiving between the linesNotes

“Beyond Privacy” Project: Table of Notions

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.

Table of Notions

General statement:

Personal information items play growing roles

in the lives of individuals, groups and societies

“Information items”:

Information items are physical objects

These objects support knowledge and signals, facilitating their storage through time, communication through space and their handling to produce new information items

An operation performed on information items to produce some new information items (results) can also generate other information elements necessary for its completion and others to describe it

Structured storage of information objects can multiply them

Communication of information items often produces new ones (more…)

"Beyond Privacy" ProjectCommunicationsLab NotesLiving between the linesNotes

“Beyond Privacy” Project: the Table of Content

"Beyond Privacy" ProjectCommunicationsLab NotesLiving between the linesNotes

Launch of the Open Work-in-Progress “Beyond Privacy” Project

LIVING BETWEEN THE LINES

information society through our personal information

Invitation

Couverture provisoire du livre : Titre : « Vivre entre les lignes : la société de l'information à travers nos information personnelles » - Mentions : « Par delà la vie privée - Livre en chantier ouvert »
This post launch the open work-in-progress drafting of a book  intended for a broad audience: as much curious citizens as specialists in various fields and educators. Its aim: to help understand our information societies from an exploration of the closer reality of our own personal information. Its main challenge: to present useful, but often technical knowledge in clear and simple language. Hence the idea of an open work-in-progress.

The name of the project and the book’s working title: “Beyond Privacy” Project: LIVING BETWEEN THE LINES information society through our personal information.

Chapters will be published as and when they are produced. You are invited to comment. Your comments and suggestions are valuable. They will help improve the discussed contents and the way they are communicated. (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 NotesNotes

Lecture on the right to accessible information

INVITATION
Lecture
by Catherine Roy
Director General of the Centre de recherche et d’expérimentation sur l’inclusion numérique (Centre for research and experimentation in digital inclusion)
on

le droit à l’accessibilité des informations

(right of access to documents in media readable by everyone)
in the wake of the judgment in Donna Jodhan v. Attorney General of Canada

Lecture in French

A founding member of the HTML for all Working Group of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and as well as of W3Québec (an organization promoting open standards and best practices for the web and multimedia), Ms. Roy will address in particular the respective roles of legislation and of technical standards in the evolution of law, here in regard to the accessibility of information.

Monday, April 11, 2011 from 18:00 pm to 19:30 pm, Room A-1720, UQAM (Hubert-Aquin building on 400 Sainte-Catherine East street, metro Berri-UQAM) as part of an Information Law course (JUR5512).

Free admission (the number of places being limited, please RSVP by email: peladeau dot pierrot @t uqam dot ca)

Jodhan c. A. G. of Canada
The legal news in the heart of the conference is the recent decision of the Federal Court in November 2010, v. Donna Jodhan Attorney General ofCanada, as amended by decision of January 2011 (French version:http://decisions.fct-cf.gc.ca/fr/2010/2010cf1197/2010cf1197.html; English version: http:// decisions.fct-cf.gc.ca/en/2010/2010fc1197/2010fc1197.html). The main issue was whether the federal government had violated the right to equality guaranteed by the Canadian Charter, either by setting inadequate technical standards for Web accessibility to information, or by not implementing existing technical standards.

Information Law

This course acknowledges that much of the legal regulation of interpersonal relations mediated by information handlings flows from adhesion contracts, technical standards as well as rules and procedures incorporated into the informational devices themselves.

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.

« Previous Entries

1 comment |
line
footer
Powered by WordPress | Designed by Elegant Themes