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…)

DebatesField RemarksInformation & LawLab NotesLiving between the linesNotesObservations

“Lawful access” bill: journalists discovering being targeted

Débats - DebatesA sudden tug of war between the Charest government and journalists caused a shock wave the echoes of which have rippled through throughout the Canadian journalistic profession. A jolt that could help realize how the “lawful access” bill introduced this Monday, Feb. 13 also concerns journalists and media organizations.

A threat

Last week, the Charest government announced that the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions and the Sureté du Québec (provincial police force) would investigate on leaks to media related to the Ian Davidson case, a retired Montreal police officer suspected of attempting to sell lists of police informants to organized crime. Neither the Minister of Public Safety Robert Dutil, nor Premier Jean Charest have agreed to guarantee that journalists would not be investigated or wiretap. (more…)

DebatesInformation & LawLiving between the linesNotesObservations

Winning against the “lawful access” bills: Two strategic intuitions

Débats - DebatesAre there actions we could start today in a decisive campaign against the adoption of so called “lawful access” bills by Canada? I came to answer “yes” while listening to a presentation by Antoine Beaupré, system administrator at Koumbit. It was during a public meeting entitled ” ‘Illegal access’ and the attack of internet freedoms”, on February 3, 2012, in Montreal.

Let’s remind us that the “lawful access” bills that already died three times because of dissolution of Parliament have not been tabled again yet. However, it is expected that the Harper government will go ahead. The latest versions of the legislation gave the police new powers to access data held by Internet services providers (ISPs). They allowed the mandatory disclosure of customer information without judicial oversight, as well as real-time monitoring across ISPs’ networks. All measures deemed unnecessary and dangerous, not only by civil libertarians, but by many police forces also. A detailed legal analysis was published recently by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.

The meeting was organized by Koumbit an IT workers coop that offers several services including web hosting: thus, it has already had its share of searches for information and of servers. Like many other businesses it that field, Koumbit fears the effects of the “lawful access” initiatives on the civil liberties of its customers and of all the citizens who use the Internet from anywhere in the world. Indeed, the opening presentation of Antoine Beaupré dealt with less the legal aspects of the bills as of their technical and political dimensions. (more…)

Field RemarksInformation & LawLab NotesLiving between the linesNotesObservations

Digital identities and assets in case of death or incapacity – A first summary

The text that follows both summarizes (but discussion is only just beginning) and complete previously published notes on the subject beginning with this one. This text is derived from my notes in preparation for the interview I gave to the La Sphère on the Première Chaine of Radio-Canada, February 4, 2012.

The personal story

As I became a grandfather in May, I thought it was a good time to review my will and mandate in case of incapacity. Except that I discovered that I had to ask my representatives or executors to handle lots of online accounts and digital documents. The large majority of my documents are to be found in digital forms: letters, records, invoices, contracts, tax documents, bank and accounting books, photos. These files are embedded in computers, hard drives, servers, USB keys, DVDs, data cards, media player protected by user names, passwords, and encryption keys.

Pierrot Péladeau en entrevue - in interview

As many of you, several dimensions of my life are carried on: (more…)

Field RemarksInformation & LawLab NotesLiving between the linesNotesObservations

What “easier to read” means? In regard to new Google “privacy” policies

Débats - Debates

Google wrote me seven emails, one of each of services I am registered in to tell me: “We’re getting rid of over 60 different privacy policies across Google and replacing them with one that’s a lot shorter and easier to read.

That declaration brings me to three observations from following how the story unfolds this week:

First, the initial difficulty for the media, civil society actors, industry and members of Congress to determine whether or not this announcement corresponded or not to some changes in how  Google uses for our information and our user profiles, and if so which ones exactly.

Secondly, the difficulty to understand “easy to read” configurations: for example, the announcement tells me that I can choose, or not, to get personalized Google search results according to my interests as revealed by my uses of Google +, Gmail and YouTube: I have look in vain the configuration page, I never found the management panel for these configurations commands (anyone found them?). And even for those commands available, the description of their actual effects is often not that obvious, even to me for which studying such things are part of day job.

Indeed, thirdly, if Electronic Frontier Foundation is right, this is how I should manage this personalization:

“For individuals who would like to continue using Google products, but want to create some type of silo between Google search, YouTube, and other products, there is an option to set up multiple Google accounts. Users can set up two or more accounts as long as they have different Gmail addresses; however, individuals using this strategy to protect their privacy should be careful not to commingle-consider using separate browsers for each of your Google accounts. To be extra careful, users might want to use the Data Liberation tool to grab a copy of all of their data from a particular Google product, delete the data from the original account, and then upload that data onto the new account. For example, an individual might set up a secondary Google account for browsing and sharing YouTube videos. She could then download all of her existing YouTube videos to her computer, delete them from her primary Google profile, and then use a separate browser to upload them to a new secondary Google account. Unfortunately, this is a somewhat laborious process. To help users who wish to keep separate accounts, Google should make the process simpler and easier.” (Source)

In short, may be “easy to read,” but not to understand, and even less to help empower the users.

But I would not blame only Google in particular. The whole industry has made little development in how to present reliable, verifiable, readily understandable pictures of what actually happens with one’s personal information to begin with. Policies writing and configuration design are still organization centered and dominated by jurists and engineers. In Canada, almost half of adult population has low literacy levels and certainly as much does not understand much about information processing. These are the users who should be the communication targets. And that means much more than simply providing “easy to read” wording…

 

Field RemarksInformation & LawLab NotesLiving between the linesNotesObservations

The Chambre des notaires corrects its position on the management of digital identities and assets

ObservationsEarlier this week, I reported that Antonin Fortin, Director of Communications and Assistant to the President of the Chambre des notaires du Québec (CNQ, notaries’ professional corporation), wrote about management of digital identities and assets in case of death or incapacity:

We are talking about a complex, relatively new and evolving phenomenon. In addition, the CNQ cannot substitute itself to the legislator and “create” law in this matter. To our knowledge, there is no guide to meet your expectations.

(My translation)

Having been invited to an interview on the subject on La Sphère radio show on Radio-Canada’s Première Chaine on Saturday, February 4, I wanted to get confirmation that this response did represent the official position of the corporation.

On the phone, Mr. Fortin told me that he read again my emails and then realized that he had not properly understood what was their subject-matter. He said that the official position of the Chambre des notaire would rather be that it asked Mr. Salvas Bertrand, a notary who works mainly in training and is interested in this subject, to study the issue and quickly formulate recommendations. These could possibly take the form of advices, guides and training contents.

Specifically, Antonin Fortin said he had forwarded my emails and my proposals to Mr. Salvas.

That is reassuring. Indeed, is the mission of a professional corporation not precisely to protect the public?

Field RemarksInformation & LawLab NotesLiving between the linesNotesObservations

The Chambre des notaires abdicates management of digital identities and assets

Observations

Last week I reported that my notary declared that she was unable to help me manage the components of my digital of identities and assets in case of death (will) or inability (mandate).

I also described calling the legal information service of the Chambre des notaires du Québec (notaries’ professional corporation). The answering notary found my questions quite relevant and about pressing issues. However, she told me that the corporation had no available guide, checklist, standard clauses for will or mandate in case of incapacity, nor specific training to its members about these issues.

After publishing this article, I wrote to Jean Lambert, president of the Chambre des notaires (CNQ). I briefly described my situation and actions I took before asking the following questions:

Are there any guides, checklists, model provisions or tips on these topics?

If not, what are you waiting for to help us to live and die peacefully in this twenty-first century?

Response from the Chambre des notaires

In the absence of Mr. Lambert, it was Mr. Antonin Fortin, director of Communications and assistant to the president who responded: (more…)

Field RemarksInformation & LawLab NotesLiving between the linesNotesObservationsReflections

Self-managing our digital identity, digital assets and intellectual property in case of death or incapacity

ObservationsNow a grandfather, I had to revise my will and mandate in case of incapacity. Except that this time, I found out that I must ask my potential agents and testamentary executors to deal with the ubiquity of digital media. That does complicate their task.

Only a few years ago, one could easily find the documents of an incapacitated or deceased person. It was enough to systematically round the various places where the person lived and worked. The nature of the documents generally jumped in the eyes: contracts, invoices, private correspondence, books, recordings, professional documents, etc. In the absence of specific instructions, one could apply certain customs: such as delivering private correspondence items to their authors, distribution of content libraries, records shelves, photo albums or collections to interested close ones; retention of fiscal documents for some six years before destroying them.

Digitalization of assets

As more and more people around me, I hold less and less documents on paper or other macroscopic media. Already, most of my documents are to be found in digital forms: private correspondence, files, invoices, contracts, tax documents, banking and accounting, books, music, photos, work documentation, etc. (more…)

CommunicationsDebatesLab NotesLiving between the linesNotesObservationsReflections

For a Comprehensive Citizen Appropriation of Information and its Technologies

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

Video of the conference (in French)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Different types of body scanners

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

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

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

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

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

Different designs of smart banking cards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social appropriation of tools is not enough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comprehensive appropriation of information and its technologies

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

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

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

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

Pragmatics of information in computerized interaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CommunicationsLab NotesLiving between the linesNotesObservations

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

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

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

Living between the linesNotesObservations

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

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

Also in PDF

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LINES

Sarah muses about some of her links to others

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

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

Lab NotesLiving between the linesNotesObservationsReflections

Truthfulness of personal information as indicator of social morality?

ObservationsCan the level of accuracy of personal information items be indicative of the moral virtue of the social system in which the information is used?

This question came to me while I was doing some renovation at home while listening to Tapestry CBC One radio show. This week, Mary Hynes met Sam Harris in the wake of the publication of his book The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. A surprisingly short interview given that this show’s usual practice is to devote its whole hour to a single personality or subject. By listening to Harris, one understands. He certainly offers a convincing argument about the ability of science to shed light on a moral issue, or even to decide between what is right and wrong. However, the fierceness of his attacks against religions quickly annoys, thus weakening his argument.

Still, neuroscience, for example, can objectively observe through scanner and hormonal analysis that, in general, an altruistic action provides wellness to human beings who do it as those who receive it. It also observes as exactly the opposite effect with a selfish action, that it is even worse for a malevolent action. Many developments in biology, ethology and ethnology as well as psychology and sociology do offer increasingly revealing insights on various moral issues. As Harris points out, science offers here the advantage to transcend cultures, religions and moral systems because of the provable and universal nature of its conclusions.

What with the quality of personal information? The short answer is that, on one hand, science is dependent on the quality of its data and that this quality often depends on the willingness or ability of human beings to tell the truth. Still on the other hand, the level of accuracy of the provided information is measurable… scientifically.

The anecdotal answer comes from to two recent observations about the necessity…  to lie. (more…)

Critique of CensusLiving between the linesNotesObservations

A Quantitative Methods Professional Answers Us…

Débats - DebatesThis is a response to previous post from a professional who wrote me, but do not wish to be identified for the moment:

Quantitative methods professional

The idea that a volunteer sample reduces the reliability and the validity of data is today as accepted an idea than the one that the earth is round. […] There are many articles that deal with the extent of the bias, its reasons, the ways that can be used to circumvent these biases somehow, etc. But one can never really succeed to circumvent them.

[As for Justice Boivin’s finding] I have not read the arguments in favour of a voluntary survey and how they think they can avoid the sample biases. Of course there is uncertainty about the reliability of data from the NHS, since we have never done this exercise before. There is one certainty about the fact that the data will be biased, but it is difficult to predict in advance the extent and nature of this bias.

Increasing the number of long questionnaires will not change the bias, and nothing leads us to believe that an advertising campaign can correct the bias. The campaign could very well increase it (especially if only in the two official languages). (more…)

Critique of CensusDebatesLiving between the linesNotesObservations

Questions for Statisticians and Specialists in Quantitative Methods regarding the Reliability of a Voluntary Census

In the wake of the decision on a application for judicial review form the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada

ObservationsFederal Court’s Justice Richard Boivin heard evidence and testimonies presented in support of and in opposition to the National Household Survey (NHS) which, being voluntary, replaces the old census long form, which was mandatory under fine and even imprisonment. The judge ruled this week that “there is uncertainty about the reliability of the data that will come from the NHS” … except that the Court is “not convinced that the data of the NHS will be so unreliable as to be unusable.”

Let’s recall that the Conservative government decided to remove the long form from the mandatory status of the Canadian census to make it voluntary instead. To offset a possible decline in participation, it provided an increase of around 50% of the number of long questionnaires (from 3 to 4.5 million households at an additional cost of $ 30 million) plus an advertising campaign to spur participation.

Many statisticians, demographers and researchers have criticized this decision. According to them, a voluntary survey would lead to a significant decrease in participation, particularly in certain portions of the population (the poorest, the least educated, of certain ethnic backgrounds). The result would be less representative and thus biased data which would distort the demographic profiles of country, regions and local communities. However, beyond these general statements, public interventions in the media so far have provided no statistical demonstration in support to this claim. Justice Boivin’s finding seems to confirm this perception.

So I make an appeal to statisticians and specialists in quantitative methods in order to clarify certain key elements of the debate. (more…)

DebatesLiving between the linesNotesObservations

New column: Critique of Canadian census

The Conservative government decided that for the 2011 Canadian census, answer to the long form would no longer be mandatory, but voluntary instead. This decision provoked a sharp polarization between those determinedly for or against it.

Critique of Census observation book offers a critical exploration of the many technical, social, legal and ethical issues raised by such an information production operation about a country and its population.

Other resources:

The Datalibre.ca site maintains a media watch on the 2011Census :

Critique of CensusLiving between the linesNotesObservations

Canadian conservatives battling over the census… in USA

ObservationsI wrote in July that the Conservative government’s decision to abolish the compulsory nature of the census’ long form probably originated from an observation of the recent controversies surrounding U.S. Census as well as of the potential political risks and opportunities in their import in Canada.

Subsequent conservatives’ statements have amply demonstrated that the rationality of their decision was more one of partisan calculation than of administrative rationality or respect for the rights of citizens. Today, the Liberal Opposition tabled a bill to make the long form mandatory, still along with fines, but no more imprisonment. As if the opposition in the Commons blindly followed to the letter their role in one of the possible scenarios envisioned by the Conservatives.

However, the American inspiration for the strategy and the discourse in support has never been so clearly brought to light than by the statements of Minister Tony Clement on Tuesday. Jennifer Ditchburn of The Canadian Press reports that according to Clement, the enumerators could beat the system and make off with the personal information of Canadians. Although Statistics Canada has clear policies, “some enumerators are recruited in the same neighbourhood as respondents. This means, says Clement, “your neighbour may know some of your most personal and more intimate information.”

The minister described the situation here in the U.S. where, constitution requires, the census must be conducted by enumerators.

In Canada, the census is self-administered … since 1971. One reason for the abandonment of enumerators was specifically related to a matter of respect for privacy. It was less to avoid the risk of espionage, but to reduce the intrusiveness and the intimidating presence of a visit by a possible neighbour and therefore the bias resulting from the reluctance to answer questions honestly, even to answer at all. Indeed Statistics Canada’s policy for telephone follow-up reminders is to rely on enumerators who should not be from the area of citizen contacted.

In short, the cat is out of the bag. Latest Clement’s arguments are clearly American import copy and paste that have no relevance in the Canadian context. So gross an error would have not occurred if the conservative decision had been taken on the basis of some needs analysis to improve the Canadian census. Moreover, if one had wanted to improve the census, one would have amended the long form rather than spend the summer denigrating the questions it contains, and even those he does not…

Critique of CensusLiving between the linesNotesObservations

Citizen Awakening of the Data Subject?

In the wake of controversies over the census, Facebook and others

ObservationsSaturday, I cleaned the house while listening to a lecture by sociologist Saskia Sassen on the evolving concept of citizenship in a globalizing world recorded for the Big Ideas show (mp3, video). The conference focused on the multiple micro changes that globalization causes in the definition and experience of citizenship (or of the political subjectivity, in other words).

Sassen reminds us that while we tend to experience citizenship as an unitary condition, in fact citizenship is made of a whole bundle of components. At the heart of citizenship, there is a bundle of formal rights that are recognized by State. But there are as well around many other social elements that might not derive from our connection to the State (such as the physical environment of the city vs. the countryside). So one can unbundle citizenship to look as how each of these elements emerges, changes and disappears; thus how the whole idea of citizenship is evolving as a result.

This idea brought me back to that of a citizen awakening as data subject. A theme that corresponds to a wish I expressed as early as in 1988 in my contribution to the book Human Rights in Canada: Into the 1990s and Beyond.[1] Sassen’s lecture called this question to me: are we now also witnessing this historic micro change of the addition of the status of data subject into the consciousness of contemporary citizen? (more…)

Critique of CensusLiving between the linesNotesObservations

2011Census’ Theatre of Fears

Do you know someone who completed the census out of fear of fine or imprisonment? Or someone having not completed it who feared it? No? Then ask: What does Harper government fear?

Decision to transform the mandatory census’ long-form into a voluntary survey has led to genuine alarms. Scientists, business communities and local administrations dread deterioration of the data necessary to their work and decisions. Organizations acting for linguistics minorities, women and other communities worry about losing sound figures on which they base their advocacy.

However, accusations that Conservatives try to undermine the gathering of information that might contradict their policies are not plausible. It would be a dangerous game: skewed results from botched census could as much disserve them. It does not fit with a 50% multiplication of long questionnaires (from 3 to 4.5 million at additional cost of $30 million) plus a participation promotion campaign. Moreover, this government’s punctilious programs’ reviews and, especially, this Conservative Party’s wedge politics strategies require very reliable statistical benchmarks. (more…)

Living between the linesNotesObservations

New Digital Divides: The Personalized “Filter Bubbles” Menacing Democracy

ObservationsInstead of linking humans together, could digital technologies isolate them from each other? Could personalization of web services produce ghettos? Could it threaten democracy itself? These are the dangers raised by Eli Pariser, president of MoveOn.org, on June 3, 2010, during the last Personal Democracy Forum.

Ethan Zuckerman reported his remarks. First, an example of a personalized conference:

“What if we came to an event like Personal Democracy Forum, and sorted ourselves by gender, age, political ideology, hometown. Pretty soon, we’d all be sitting in small rooms, all by ourselves. What if speakers then offered personalized talks, adding explosions for the young male listeners, for instance. “You’d probably like your personal version better… but it would be a bad thing for me to do.” It renders moot the point of a conference – we no longer have a common ground of speeches that we can discuss in the hallways.”

“Google uses 57 signals available to personalize the web for you, even if you’re not logged in. As a result, the results you get on a Google search can end up being very different, even if quite similar people are searching. Eli shows us screenshots of a search for “BP” conducted by two young women, both living in the North eastern US. They get very different results… one set focuses on business issues and doesn’t feature a link on the oil spill in the top three, while the other does. And one user got 141 million results, while the other got 180 million. Just imagine how different those results could be for very different users.”

(more…)

Living between the linesNotesObservations

Encrypted Https Google Search: Effective or Symbolic Measure?

Observations Google recently announced that it now offers the possibility to search for documents in a confidential manner through the secure encrypted internet exchanges protocol Internet Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). Concretely, this means that between your computer and Google’s servers, no one can read directly, nor your queries, nor the searches’ results (just like for your financial transactions are made confidential under SSL).

To benefit from this new “beta” service, one must go to https://www.google.com. Your browser should then indicate that the communication is secure (for example, by displaying a padlock). The localized sites of Google (such as google.fr or google.ca) do not offer this security, nor does this is available either for searching images and videos.

SSL Google Search

For sure, this is a significant symbolic gesture from the web giant. It has been applauded by the Center for Democracy & Technology as “a shining embodiment of the concept of Privacy by Design.”

For sure, the fact that a player as important as Google provides an increasing number of services under SSL (web access to Google Mail under SSL is already the default option since January 2010) could be a important signal to everyone on the Internet: it may be time to think about protecting a larger number of our Internet communications, even if it means slightly slower processing and transmission times (barely noticeable when one has computer and connections with some power).

However, is that new service actually changes anything to the experience of those whose exercise of their liberties or confidentiality of their work requires them to escape the surveillance of their employers, the Internet services providers (ISPs) or States? (more…)

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