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The Missing Public Voice: My Comments on the Copyright Board at the Senate Banking Committee

Michael Geist Law RSS Feed - Mon, 2016/11/07 - 10:36

The Senate Standing Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce conducted two days of hearings last week on the Copyright Board of Canada. The hearings featured members from the Board, leading copyright collectives and associations, and a panel of individuals that included law professors and practitioners. Ariel Katz and Howard Knopf have already posted their opening remarks. My comments, which focused on the importance of the public interest in Copyright Board decision making and the need for greater public participation, is posted below.

Appearance before the Senate Standing Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce, November 3, 2016

Good morning. My name is Michael Geist.  I am a law professor at the University of Ottawa, where I hold the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law. My area of specialty is digital policy, with an emphasis on intellectual property. I have been very active on copyright issues for many years, editing three books on Canadian copyright reform and court jurisprudence and regularly appearing before committees on the issue.

I appear today in a personal capacity representing only my own views.

There is no shortage of criticism of the Copyright Board. Indeed, in an field that is often sharply divided, disenchantment with Board is sometimes the one thing people seem able to agree on.

It seems to me that the criticism typically comes down to two issues: the substance of decisions and the way those decisions are rendered.  I think this committee should pay little attention to substantive criticism of Copyright Board decisions. As former Chair of the Board Vancise noted earlier this year, criticism of the substance of decisions usually comes down to “whose ox is being gored.”  In other words, if you like decision, you’re ok with the Board.  If not, you think the Board is dysfunctional and in need of an overhaul.

I have been both critical and supportive of past Board decisions.  I think the Board was very slow in acknowledging and implementing the copyright decisions delivered by the Supreme Court of Canada, particularly around fair dealing. That has changed in recent months, however, and the decisions are now more reflective of the court’s jurisprudence. Decisions are and will continue to be challenged, yet we should recognize that there is an established system to address appeals. Reform isn’t needed on the substance of decisions.

Contrast the substantive concerns with the administrative ones. How the Board reaches decisions, the costs involved, the timeliness of those decisions, and the ease of participation is very much a matter for review.

We have thus far seen two different initiatives aimed at identifying potential reforms. The Board itself established a working group of lawyers and experts who regularly appear before it as part of a consultation process. The process did not go far with some seemingly reluctant to criticize the Board and its processes on the record.

More recently, as you know, there have been two important studies conducted by Professors de Beer and Daly with more extensive recommendations.  I think those studies are enormously valuable contributions and provide insightful recommendations on potential reforms.

From my perspective, there is unquestionably a need to develop reasonable timelines for conducting hearings and issuing decisions. At times, there may be parties that are content to “rag the puck” without any urgency on Board processes. Given the importance of Copyright Board decisions beyond the immediate parties, timeliness is crucial. We see that in many others areas – CRTC decisions for example – which provides all parties with greater certainty about timelines and reduces costs that come from long delays and retroactive application of decisions.

Yet beyond timeliness, I would like to focus on the lack of public participation in board processes.

The exclusion of the public stands in sharp contrast to the other boards, tribunals, and agencies that address issues with individual parties but whose decisions have ramifications for a far broader group of stakeholders.

For example, the CRTC and Competition Bureau have both taken steps in recent years to involve the public more directly in policy making activities, hearings, and other issues. In the CRTC’s current differential pricing hearing, being conducted this week, it found a number of ways to engage the public, including discussions on the website Reddit. All of this participation, goes into the public record, allows for better informed decision makers, and leads to greater confidence in the decisions themselves. By contrast, the Copyright Board does little to encourage public participation, despite the fact that its decisions often have an impact that extends beyond the parties before it.

When asked about accessibility and participation concerns, the board pointed to the working group as evidence that it regularly reviews its practices and compared itself to the Federal Court of Appeal, noting that “of course they [the public] don’t participate, because they don’t really belong there, per se.”

With all respect, I think the Board is wrong. The impact of its decisions extend far beyond the limited number of parties that participate in the hearing, yet it thinks its stakeholders are limited to IP lawyers and copyright collectives.  Decisions have a direct impact on commercial users, on the broader public, and on our understanding of copyright law.  This in turns implicates consumer pricing as well as copyright practices on issues such as fair dealing and the public domain.

Many branches of government and administrative agencies have recognized the need to engage the public and to develop better decision making processes by maximizing public participation and engagement. To date, the Board has not done so.  Its processes are costly, lengthy, and for all practical purposes inaccessible to the general public.  That needs to change.

I look forward to your questions.

The post The Missing Public Voice: My Comments on the Copyright Board at the Senate Banking Committee appeared first on Michael Geist.

what is Canadian content?

Fair Duty by Meera Nair - Sun, 2016/11/06 - 22:35

The mantra that our cultural creators are essential to the soul of Canada is doing double duty these days. Not only is it invoked in connection to the pending copyright review, but it has provoked a public consultation regarding Canadian content in a digital world. Melanié Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage, caught the attention of many when she publicly supported the claim that the internet is only a vehicle for consumption of culture with, as Michael Geist writes, culture being confined to “movies, television or music.”

Thoughtful words from @patrickwatson “Without culture, nobody would be on the internet” #DigiCanCon #cdnpoli https://t.co/jRr5w7eXoy

— Mélanie Joly (@melaniejoly) October 29, 2016

It seems that on Minister Joly’s internet, worldwide networks only function in service of those industries that make an obvious contribution to GDP, be it in Canada or in another country. On her internet, there is no plethora of public domain content collected by volunteers and posted (legitimately) at Project Gutenberg or IMSLP. There is no impetus to share knowledge in the selfless manner exhibited by Sal Khan (founder of the Khan Academy) or John Page (a Silicon Valley software engineer who sought a better solution to mathematics instruction than the weighty tomes inflicted upon his son). There are no scholarly repositories, managed online, such as those pertaining to Emily Dickinson or L.M. Montgomery. There is no growing array of open-access quality-textbooks like those found at BC Campus or OpenStax.  And there are no individuals who facilitate the development of creative effort by sharing well-written, well-researched, and well-curated material. Maria Popova’s site BrainPickings comes to mind; it deserves to be declared an international treasure.

Those clamouring for Canadian content do not appear to give much thought as to what goes into developing that content. Financial well-being is as far as they go. Yet creative effort does not occur by the presence of money alone. Creativity needs knowledge, awareness, skill, diligence, luck, and something that lacks capture in a single word; loosely speaking, this indefinable element is a capacity to envision that which others may not.

That aside, the insistence on the importance of Canadian content invites the question – what is Canadian content?

My current assortment of library books includes two contenders. Dal and Rice is a memoir written by Wendy M. Davis describing life in pre and post-independence India. Davis was born in England, but resides in Edmonton; as best as I can tell, the work was written in Canada. Moreover, Dal and Rice was published by McGill-Queens Press. I will tentatively say that this is Canadian content.

But I am less certain about the second book; Eleanor Wachtel’s compendium The Best of Writers & Company. I am sure it would be declared Canadian content, given the unimpeachable fact that Wachtel is a Canadian citizen by birth, and has remained here throughout the development of her admirable career. Published by Biblioasis (the regional press that commands national acclaim), the Canadian qualifications appear unassailable.

And yet, the majority of the content is the handiwork of others. The book is a compilation of the transcripts of fifteen interviews conducted by Wachtel. True, Wachtel writes the introductory text that prefaces each interview, and Wachtel shapes the dialogue by posing the questions. But it cannot be said that she wrote the responses. Those words are (presumably) the independent creation of her fifteen subjects, only three of whom are identified as Canadian (Ann Griffin, Alice Munro and Mavis Gallant).

Perhaps the hint of Canadian’ness lies in the front matter. Both books acknowledge contributions from Canadian taxpayers through the Canada Council for the Arts and the Book Publishing Industry Development Program. It sounds crass, to reduce the dialogue of Canadian letters to a matter of money, to have the temerity to ask: who paid for it? But it cannot be ignored that the patriots of Canadian content are expressly concerned with a similar question: who pays for it?

The answer, in terms of the consultation, is pointing towards a levy on the revenues of internet service providers. This mandatory contribution would be channeled towards continued development of Canadian content. In October, writing for the Financial Post, Josh Tabish of Open Media reminded all Canadians that our internet services fees are among the highest in the world. (It is no exaggeration to say that for Canadian families living in poverty, internet service already competes with food.) Three weeks later, Tabish and Denise Williams (a Coast Salish member of the Cowichan Tribes) writing for Motherboard, offered a further reminder that heightened internet service fees would hit indigenous communities the hardest.

No government should be so naïve as to believe that fees imposed on internet service providers in Canada will not be passed on to consumers. Whether it is called a levy or a tax will make no difference. As to whether the dollars accumulated will translate to more Canadian content, we will have to wait and see. The only assured outcome is less money with which even to purchase our much-vaunted Canadian content, creating the peculiar paradox of less content for Canadians.

Fortunately, the fact is that the internet will still provide delightful, educational, thought-provoking, and endearing content for everyone, from everywhere.


Does IP have a role in sustainable development? Of course it does!

Sara Bannerman - Sat, 2016/11/05 - 23:45
Does intellectual property have a role in sustainable development?  Of course it does!  But the World Intellectual Property Organization, a UN agency, seems uncertain as to whether it has a role to play in implementing the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As I note in a draft book chapter, WIPO's preliminary analysis of the ways in which its work supported SDGs viewed most of WIPO’s work as contributing to SDG 9, the building of infrastructure and industrialization, as well as goal 8, that of economic growth.

Surprisingly few of WIPO’s activities were viewed by WIPO as contributing to the SDGs of education, hunger, protecting biodiversity, combating climate change, or ensuring human health.

"Developed" countries argue "that only a few goals apply to the work of WIPO, and others argue that there should be no ‘cherrypicking’ as all the goals in one way or another do apply to WIPO’s work as a UN agency."  The view of the "developed" countries, here, is completely ridiculous; it is clear that intellectual property plays an important role in relation to many SDGs, including those related to food and agriculture, health, innovation, climate change, biodiversity, and technology transfer.

The world intellectual property system, at present, also sometimes works contrary to achievement of the SDGs, by locking up agricultural innovation, inflating drug prices, stalling innovation, rewarding the invention and sale of dirty technologies, locking up biodiversity, and preventing technology transfer. There is no shortage of proposals for reform that would help to address these problems.  (See the work of Peter Drahos, Matthew Rimmer, and Ahmed Abdel-Latif, among  many others.)  Industry players note the important role of intellectual property  in potentially stalling climate-friendly innovation; this is why Tesla has adopted open patent policies to encourage the take-up and spread of electric vehicle technology.

WIPO and its member states should acknowledge the links between intellectual property and both sustainable and unsustainable development.  The UN sustainable development agenda requires WIPO, as a UN agency, and its member states to build and retool world intellectual property institutions for sustainable development. 

Lost Confidence: Why Trust in Canadian Surveillance Agencies Has Been Irreparably Harmed

Michael Geist Law RSS Feed - Fri, 2016/11/04 - 08:29

In the aftermath of the Snowden revelations in which the public has become largely numb to new surveillance disclosures, the Canadian reports over the past week will still leave many shocked and appalled. It started with the Ontario Provincial Police mass text messaging thousands of people based on cellphone usage from nearly a year earlier (which is not government surveillance per se but highlights massive geo-location data collection by telecom carriers and extraordinary data retention periods), continued with the deeply disturbing reports of surveillance of journalists in Quebec (which few believe is limited to just Quebec) and culminated in yesterday’s federal court decision that disclosed that CSIS no longer needs warrants for tax records (due to Bill C-51) and took the service to task for misleading the court and violating the law for years on its metadata collection and retention program.

The ruling reveals a level of deception that should eliminate any doubts that the current oversight framework is wholly inadequate and raises questions about Canadian authorities commitment to operating within the law. The court found a breach of a “duty of candour” (which most people would typically call deception or lying) and raises the possibility of a future contempt of court proceeding. While CSIS attempted to downplay the concern by noting that the data collection in question – metadata involving a wide range of information used in a massive data analysis program – was collected under a court order, simply put, the court found that the retention of the data was illegal. Further, the amount of data collection continues to grow (the court states the “scope and volume of incidentally gathered information has been tremendously enlarged”), leading to the retention of metadata that is not part of an active investigation but rather involves non-threat, third party information. In other words, it is precisely the massive, big data metadata analysis program feared by many Canadians.

The court ruling comes after the Security Intelligence Review Committee raised concerned about CSIS bulk data collection in its latest report and recommended that that inform the federal court about the activities. CSIS rejected the recommendation. In fact, the court only became aware of the metadata retention due to the SIRC report and was astonished by the CSIS response, stating that it “shows a worrisome lack of understanding of, or respect for, the responsibilities of a party [SIRC] benefiting from the opportunity to appear ex parte.”

There is little no reason to believe that the issues raised by the court or the revelations regarding surveillance on journalists – an act that undermines the freedom of the press and its ability to hold government to account – are isolated incidents. In fact, this is not the first time the federal court has felt misled about the activities of Canadian intelligence agencies. Justice Richard Mosley, a federal court judge, issued a stinging rebuke to Canada’s intelligence agencies and the Justice Department in 2013, ruling that they misled the court when they applied for warrants to permit the interception of electronic communications. While the government steadfastly defended its surveillance activities by maintaining that it operated within the law, Justice Mosley, a former official with the Justice Department who was involved with the creation of the Anti-Terrorism Act, found a particularly troubling example where this was not the case.

This week’s metadata case involves CSIS, but this year’s report from the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) commissioner uses legal language seemingly designed to obscure an otherwise clear admission that there are ongoing metadata violations within the CSE. The report notes that metadata activities were “generally conducted in compliance with operational policy” and that the “CSE has halted some metadata analysis activities” that were the subject of previous criticisms. The use of words like “generally” and “some” are no accident. The CSE Commissioner could have just as easily written that the CSE still does not conduct its metadata activities in full compliance with the law and that it has refused to stop some activities that were the subject of complaints. Yet the soft framing turns what should be a major story and source of concern into something largely ignored by the general public.

Moreover, Snowden has made it clear that Canadian securities agencies have been enthusiastic participants in numerous surveillance initiatives. Canadians played a lead role in projects focused on tracking travellers using airport Wi-Fi networks, monitoring millions of daily uploads and downloads to online storage sites, aggregating millions of emails sent by Canadians to government officials, and targeting mobile phones and app stores to implant spyware.

Meanwhile, all Canadian telecommunications companies still do not release transparency reports (Bell being the notable outlier), securities agencies won’t disclose their own breaches, and the federal government is consulting on the expansion of interception capabilities within Canadian networks and the revival of lawful access rules.

There are no silver linings here. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale responded to the court ruling by stating:

“In matters of security and intelligence, Canadians need to have confidence that all the departments and agencies of the government of Canada are being effective at keeping Canadians safe, and equally, that they are safeguarding our rights and freedoms.”

In light of what we now know, Canadians simply cannot be confident that security intelligence agencies are safeguarding and respecting our rights and freedoms. This government was elected on a mandate of real change. It must now put those words into action by overhauling legal oversight and enacting real change to Canadian surveillance programs and their agencies.

The post Lost Confidence: Why Trust in Canadian Surveillance Agencies Has Been Irreparably Harmed appeared first on Michael Geist.

The CRTC’s Differential Pricing Hearing: ISPs Should Not Be Picking the Internet’s Winners and Losers

Michael Geist Law RSS Feed - Wed, 2016/11/02 - 13:04

Net neutrality, the longstanding principle that Internet service providers should treat all content and applications in an equal manner faces its toughest test yet this week as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), Canada’s broadcast and telecommunications regulator, conducts a hearing on whether ISPs may engage in “differential pricing”.

My Globe and Mail column notes that differential pricing refers to instances in which ISPs adopt a non-neutral approach to content by charging one price for consumers to download or access some content, but a different price for other content. The issue – sometimes known as “zero rating” for cases in which ISPs do not levy any data charges for certain content – may sound technical, but it has huge implications for how Canadians access and pay for Internet services.

Much like prior policy battles over net neutrality, the concern over differential pricing involves fears that ISPs will use their gatekeeper position to favour some content over the others. In fact, given the vertical integration that brings together carriage and content at many of Canada’s largest providers, the temptation to privilege their own content may be too much to resist.

How can the CRTC craft a policy that maintains the principles of net neutrality but avoids heavy-handed regulation?  In searching for a policy that encourages ISP innovation that does not rely on leveraging the potential gatekeeper function, the commission should consider a default rule prohibiting differential pricing subject to two exceptions. Read the full column that examines the solutions that are non-starters and the details on a differential pricing policy.

The post The CRTC’s Differential Pricing Hearing: ISPs Should Not Be Picking the Internet’s Winners and Losers appeared first on Michael Geist.

CETA Implementation Bill Provides Reminder of the IP Cost in the Canada – EU Trade Deal

Michael Geist Law RSS Feed - Tue, 2016/11/01 - 09:10

The Canadian government moved quickly from signing the trade agreement between Canada and the European Union on Sunday to tabling Bill C-30, the CETA implementing legislation, on Monday. While most of the attention has focused on the political issues surrounding CETA in Europe and the potential gains for Canadian exporters due to tariff reductions, the implementing bill provides a reminder that there are significant costs associated with CETA that have generated far less discussion. In fact, the majority of the 140-page bill features changes to Canada’s intellectual property rules, requiring changes that largely serve European interests.

Mandated reforms to patent protections (in the form of term restoration provisions) and the expansion of protections for dozens of European geographical indications was always part of the price to be paid for CETA. There were concerns expressed throughout the negotiations on both issues.  Geographic indications rules grant protections to foods widely produced around the world and establish new marketing and naming restrictions on Canadian food producers.  Meanwhile, the patent term restoration provisions are likely to increase health care costs in Canada by delaying the availability of generic pharmaceuticals due to the extension in the term of protection for patented pharmaceuticals.

Bill C-30 includes detailed provisions amending the Patent Act to create a “supplementary patent protections” system that extends the term of protection. It also contains changes to the Trade-Marks Act to protect the long list of European geographical indications.

The bill is expected to sail through the House of Commons – there are reports it could pass before year-end – but those who take the time to review the implementing legislation will find that the deal being touted as a “progressive trade agreement for a strong middle class” includes extensive changes to intellectual property law that will lead to higher pharmaceutical costs for all Canadians and create new restrictions for the Canadian agricultural community.

 

The post CETA Implementation Bill Provides Reminder of the IP Cost in the Canada – EU Trade Deal appeared first on Michael Geist.

No Minister Joly, The Internet Is Much More Than Just Movies, TV and Music

Michael Geist Law RSS Feed - Mon, 2016/10/31 - 10:21

Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly hosted a public meeting in Montreal last week as part of her consultation on Canadian content in the digital world. The media reports from the event included a focus on comments from musician Patrick Watson, who is quoted as saying that no one would be on the Internet if there were no movies, television or music. Reports indicate that the comment generated support in the room and from Joly.  In fact, hours later, Joly tweeted out “thoughtful words from @patrickwatson ‘without culture, nobody would be on the Internet’”.

If that really represents Minister Joly’s worldview on the Internet, there should be little doubt that an Internet tax will play a key role in her future plans. Claims that no one would be on the Internet without culture is demonstrably false, but it is consistent with the argument that Internet service providers and Internet companies owe their revenues to the cultural content accessed by subscribers and they should therefore be required to contribute to the system much like broadcasters and broadcast distributors.

The reality is that Internet use is about far more than streaming videos or listening to music. Those are obviously popular activities, but numerous studies (CIRA, Statistics Canada) point to the fact that they are not nearly as popular as communicating through messaging and social networks, electronic commerce, Internet banking, or searching for news, weather, and other information. From the integral role of the Internet in our education system to the reliance on the Internet for health information (and increasingly tele-medicine) to the massive use of the Internet for business-to-business communications, the Internet is about far more than cultural consumption. Indeed, given its importance to virtually all aspects of modern day life, there are few policy goals more essential than ensuring that all Canadians have affordable access to the network. Far from representing an updated approach to cultural funding, an Internet tax would unfairly target millions of Canadians, make access less affordable, and do little to “modernize” cultural funding policy.

The post No Minister Joly, The Internet Is Much More Than Just Movies, TV and Music appeared first on Michael Geist.

TPP consultation — my submission

Fair Duty by Meera Nair - Sun, 2016/10/23 - 22:31

Earlier this year, Canadians were invited to participate in a public consultation regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP).  The deadline for submission is 23:59 EDT, October 31, 2016.

My submission is slightly over 4000 words in length; too much for a blog post.  Below are the closing paragraphs; the entire document is available here.

Update: A thoughtful reader alerted me to a 404 response when trying to access my submission.  If the direct link does not work, try the attachment page.

… The principle argument to join the TPP seems to be that Canada cannot afford to be left out. Even if the agreement was only a matter of tariff and subsidy reductions, that argument is weak.[1] Given the nature of the entirety of the TPP, the costs of which will be felt through heightened expenditure for medicines, diminishment of Canadian culture, elimination of future innovation, absence of attention to public well-being for fear of international reprisals, and the loss of sovereignty when such reprisals are unavoidable, one has to ask: whom is this government wishing to please by committing Canada to the TPP?  The answer does not appear to be: Canadians. One must also ask: has our existing business community been sufficiently engaged to warrant our confidence that fulfilling their wishes will lead to better living for all?

That does not appear to be the case. In 2012, Mark Carney, former governor of the Bank of Canada, indicated that instead of investing in the economy, Canadian businesses “were holding on to nearly half a trillion dollars in cash, an increase of 43 per cent since the end of the recession in 2009.”[2] Recently, the esteemed firm Deloitte, an internationally revered organization, released a damning report concerning the willingness of Canadian businesses to take the necessary steps to reinvigorate the economy. In Deloitte’s words, too many “lack an essential game-changing quality: courage.”[3]

By virtue of the TPP, the individuals that Canada most desperately needs to encourage – the innovative entrepreneur looking to develop new industries to drive the economy when our wood and water have been exhausted – will find that no amount of courage can overcome the hurdles put in place by their own government. As the actual trade measures of the TPP bring very modest gains to Canada, and the remaining components will inflict costs far in excess of those gains, adopting this agreement makes little sense beyond acquiescing to the corporate bullying that is likely happening behind closed doors. If that is the sole reason that Canada must go forward with the TPP, please be honest to Canadians about the government’s reasoning. Please do not pretend that this is solely about Trade.

The TPP is an international omnibus bill, the effects of which will be detrimental to Canadians. The greatest pain will be inflicted upon those youthful voters whom this government so assiduously courted.

Regards,

Meera Nair

 

 

[1] The C.D. Howe analysis estimates the loss to Canada for not joining the TPP; “The real GDP impact would be a negligible -0.006 percent in the first year, rising to about -0.026 percent in 2035.” The losses to existing industries are not taken lightly, but it is essential to wonder what industries could rise in their place, if unrestricted by the constraints embodied within the TPP.

[2] Michael Enright, “Canada’s cowardly CEOs are sitting on billions, rather than investing in the economy,” The Sunday Edition, 16 October 2016 <http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thesundayedition/timid-ceos-endless-war-in-syria-steve-earle-fall-in-vermont-1.3801572/canada-s-cowardly-ceos-are-sitting-on-billions-rather-than-investing-in-the-economy-michael-s-essay-1.3801574&gt;.

[3] Deloitte, The future belongs to the bold, <http://www2.deloitte.com/ca/en/pages/insights-and-issues/articles/the-future-belongs-to-the-bold.html&gt;.  As an aside, poetry lovers will enjoy the inference of Invictus by the report’s authors.

 


Routing Detours: Can We Avoid Nation-State Surveillance?

Freedom to Tinker - Tue, 2016/08/30 - 18:44
Since 2013, Brazil has taken significant steps to build out their networking infrastructure to thwart nation-state mass surveillance.  For example, the country is deploying a 3,500-mile fiber cable from Fortaleza, Brazil to Portugal; they’ve switched their government email system from Microsoft Outlook to a state-built system called Expresso; and they now have the largest IXP […]

Differential Privacy is Vulnerable to Correlated Data — Introducing Dependent Differential Privacy

Freedom to Tinker - Fri, 2016/08/26 - 09:57
[This post is joint work with Princeton graduate student Changchang Liu and IBM researcher Supriyo Chakraborty. See our paper for full details. — Prateek Mittal ] The tussle between data utility and data privacy Information sharing is important for realizing the vision of a data-driven customization of our environment. Data that were earlier locked up […]

Language necessarily contains human biases, and so will machines trained on language corpora

Freedom to Tinker - Wed, 2016/08/24 - 16:32
I have a new draft paper with Aylin Caliskan-Islam and Joanna Bryson titled Semantics derived automatically from language corpora necessarily contain human biases. We show empirically that natural language necessarily contains human biases, and the paradigm of training machine learning on language corpora means that AI will inevitably imbibe these biases as well. Specifically, we look at […]

Security against Election Hacking – Part 2: Cyberoffense is not the best cyberdefense!

Freedom to Tinker - Thu, 2016/08/18 - 09:00
State and county election officials across the country employ thousands of computers in election administration, most of them are connected (from time to time) to the internet (or exchange data cartridges with machines that are connected).  In my previous post I explained how we must audit elections independently of the computers, so we can trust the […]

Security against Election Hacking – Part 1: Software Independence

Freedom to Tinker - Wed, 2016/08/17 - 09:27
There’s been a lot of discussion of whether the November 2016 U.S. election can be hacked.  Should the U.S. Government designate all the states’ and counties’ election computers as “critical cyber infrastructure” and prioritize the “cyberdefense” of these systems?  Will it make any difference to activate those buzzwords with less than 3 months until the […]

Can Facebook really make ads unblockable?

Freedom to Tinker - Thu, 2016/08/11 - 17:18
[This is a joint post with Grant Storey, a Princeton undergraduate who is working with me on a tool to help users understand Facebook’s targeted advertising.] Facebook announced two days ago that it would make its ads indistinguishable from regular posts, and hence impossible to block. But within hours, the developers of Adblock Plus released an […]

The workshop on Data and Algorithmic Transparency

Freedom to Tinker - Wed, 2016/08/10 - 09:57
From online advertising to Uber to predictive policing, algorithmic systems powered by personal data affect more and more of our lives. As our society begins to grapple with the consequences of this shift, empirical investigation of these systems has proved vital to understand the potential for discrimination, privacy breaches, and vulnerability to manipulation. This emerging […]

A response to the National Association of Secretaries of State

Freedom to Tinker - Tue, 2016/08/09 - 08:11
Election administration in the United States is largely managed state-by-state, with a small amount of Federal involvement. This generally means that each state’s chief election official is that state’s Secretary of State. Their umbrella organization, the National Association of Secretaries of State, consequently has a lot of involvement in voting issues, and recently issued a […]

Supplement for Revealing Algorithmic Rankers (Table 1)

Freedom to Tinker - Fri, 2016/08/05 - 05:35
Table 1: A ranking of Computer Science departments per csrankings.org, with additional attributes from the NRC assessment dataset. Here, the average count computes the geometric mean of the adjusted number of publications in each area by institution, faculty is the number of faculty in the department, pubs is the average number of publications per faculty […]

Revealing Algorithmic Rankers

Freedom to Tinker - Fri, 2016/08/05 - 05:35
By Julia Stoyanovich (Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Drexel University) and Ellen P. Goodman (Professor, Rutgers Law School) ProPublica’s story on “machine bias” in an algorithm used for sentencing defendants amplified calls to make algorithms more transparent and accountable. It has never been more clear that algorithms are political (Gillespie) and embody contested choices (Crawford), […]

Election security as a national security issue

Freedom to Tinker - Wed, 2016/08/03 - 13:11
We recently learned that Russian state actors may have been responsible for the DNC emails recently leaked to Wikileaks. Earlier this spring, once they became aware of the hack, the DNC hired Crowdstrike, an incident response firm. The New York Times reports: Preliminary conclusions were discussed last week at a weekly cyberintelligence meeting for senior officials. […]

Brexit Exposes Old and Deepening Data Divide between EU and UK

Freedom to Tinker - Mon, 2016/07/25 - 10:45
After the Brexit vote, politicians, businesses and citizens are all wondering what’s next. In general, legal uncertainty permeates Brexit, but in the world of bits and bytes, Brussels and London have in fact been on a collision course at least since the 90s. The new British prime minister, Theresa May, has been personally responsible for […]
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