Private companies exert considerable control over the flow of information on the internet. Whether users are finding information with a search engine, communicating on a social networking site or accessing the internet through an ISP, access to participation can be blocked, channelled, edited or personalised. Such gatekeepers are powerful forces in facilitating or hindering freedom of expression online. This is problematic for a human rights system which has historically treated human rights as a government responsibility, and this is compounded by the largely light-touch regulatory approach to the internet in the west. Regulating Speech in Cyberspace explores how these gatekeepers operate at the intersection of three fields of study: regulation (more broadly, law), corporate social responsibility and human rights. It proposes an alternative corporate governance model for speech regulation, one that acts as a template for the increasingly common use of non-state-based models of governance for human rights.
What does a Texas school district have in common with Macy's new shoe department? Both use Radio Frequency Identification, aptly nicknamed "spychips." Texas embeds them in students' ID cards; Macy's inserts them in thousands of shoes. Whether pinpointing grade-schoolers' whereabouts or shoppers' spending habits, each chip has a unique ID number, giving corporations and government agencies new ways to monitor individuals' behavior.
In Spying on Democracy, Heidi Boghosian documents the disturbing increase in surveillance of ordinary citizens. Many Americans might not realize the extent to which our government actively acquires personal information from telecommunications companies and other corporations about individuals who engage in lawful and constitutionally protected activities. Spying reveals how technology is used to categorize and monitor people based on their activities, their associations, their movements, their purchases, and their perceived political beliefs. Corporations and government intelligence agencies mine data from sources as diverse as unmanned drones and video surveillance cameras, iris scans and medical records, all while accessing and combing websites, e-mail lists, phone records, and social media sites to create databases about "persons of interest." If the trend is permitted to continue, we will soon live in a society where nothing is confidential, no information is really secure, and our civil liberties are under constant surveillance and control.
Continue reading “Spying on Democracy: A Short History of Government/Corporate Collusion in the Cyber Age (City Lights Open Media)”
Digital devices have made our busy lives a little easier and they do great things for us, too – we get just-in-time coupons, directions, and connection with loved ones while stuck on an airplane runway. Yet, these devices, though we love them, can invade our privacy in ways we are not even aware of. The digital devices send and collect data about us whenever we use them, but that data is not always safeguarded the way we assume it should be to protect our privacy. Privacy is complex and personal. Many of us do not know the full extent to which data is collected, stored, aggregated, and used. As recent revelations indicate, we are subject to a level of data collection and surveillance never before imaginable. While some of these methods may, in fact, protect us and provide us with information and services we deem to be helpful and desired, others can turn out to be insidious and over-arching.
Privacy in the Age of Big Data highlights the many positive outcomes of digital surveillance and data collection while also outlining those forms of data collection to which we do not always consent, and of which we are likely unaware, as well as the dangers inherent in such surveillance and tracking. Payton and Claypoole skillfully introduce readers to the many ways we are “watched” and how to change behaviors and activities to recapture and regain more of our privacy. The authors suggest remedies from tools, to behavior changes, to speaking out to politicians to request their privacy back. Anyone who uses digital devices for any reason will want to read this book for its clear and no-nonsense approach to the world of big data and what it means for all of us.
In Cory Doctorow's wildly successful Little Brother, young Marcus Yallow was arbitrarily detained and brutalized by the government in the wake of a terrorist attack on San Francisco–an experience that led him to become a leader of the whole movement of technologically clued-in teenagers, fighting back against the tyrannical security state.
A few years later, California's economy collapses, but Marcus's hacktivist past lands him a job as webmaster for a crusading politician who promises reform. Soon his former nemesis Masha emerges from the political underground to gift him with a thumbdrive containing a Wikileaks-style cable-dump of hard evidence of corporate and governmental perfidy. It's incendiary stuff–and if Masha goes missing, Marcus is supposed to release it to the world. Then Marcus sees Masha being kidnapped by the same government agents who detained and tortured Marcus years earlier.
Continue reading “Homeland”
Most people believe that the right to privacy is inherently at odds with the right to free speech. Courts all over the world have struggled with how to reconcile the problems of media gossip with our commitment to free and open public debate for over a century. The rise of the Internet has made this problem more urgent. We live in an age of corporate and government surveillance of our lives. And our free speech culture has created an anything-goes environment on the web, where offensive and hurtful speech about others is rife. How should we think about the problems of privacy and free speech? In Intellectual Privacy, Neil Richards offers a different solution, one that ensures that our ideas and values keep pace with our technologies. Because of the importance of free speech to free and open societies, he argues that when privacy and free speech truly conflict, free speech should almost always win. Only when disclosures of truly horrible information are made (such as sex tapes) should privacy be able to trump our commitment to free expression. But in sharp contrast to conventional wisdom, Richards argues that speech and privacy are only rarely in conflict. Americas obsession with celebrity culture has blinded us to more important aspects of how privacy and speech fit together. Celebrity gossip might be a price we pay for a free press, but the privacy of ordinary people need not be. True invasions of privacy like peeping toms or electronic surveillance will rarely merit protection as free speech. And critically, Richards shows how most of the law we enact to protect online privacy pose no serious burden to public debate, and how protecting the privacy of our data is not censorship. More fundamentally, Richards shows how privacy and free speech are often essential to each other. He explains the importance of intellectual privacy, protection from surveillance or interference when we are engaged in the processes of generating ideas – thinking, reading, and speaking with confidantes before our ideas are ready for public consumption. In our digital age, in which we increasingly communicate, read, and think with the help of technologies that track us, increased protection for intellectual privacy has become an imperative. What we must do, then, is to worry less about barring tabloid gossip, and worry much more about corporate and government surveillance into the minds, conversations, reading habits, and political beliefs of ordinary people. A timely and provocative book on a subject that affects us all, Intellectual Privacy will radically reshape the debate about privacy and free speech in our digital age.