Digital Unmasking: the Ethical Issue of Crowd Surveillance
Mathias Klang, University of Massachusetts Boston
[This talk opened, rather jarringly, with a quotation from a guy who recently left ToR after multiple accusations of long-term predatory behaviour. I admit that this unsettled me substantially and probably didn’t help with my note-taking.]
Is there a right to protest anonymously? Anti-masking laws suggest otherwise. This is, in most jurisdictions, no legal right to anonymity, but there are some cases in which we’ve developed a commitment to anonymity, for example, in voting. Anonymity in voting shouldn’t be taken for granted: it was characterised as ‘cowardly’ in US history. We have this idea that democracy should be open.
If every device has politics, what is the politics of a device that captures mobile data? This is a technology that silences uncomfortable discourse.
Bryce Newell, Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology, and Society
Some key questions about body cameras and automatic license plate recognition systems (ALPR). Newell cited several examples of the tracking of police behaviour, and videotaping of police killings. Police talk about feeling victimised, or about a ‘witch-hunt’ against them. In interviews around the filming of police violence, themes around context and control. This is also leading to attempts by police to try to limit access to footage.
In other jurisdictions, police are making data more available instead, for example, putting bodycam footage online. However, this leads to its own issues, including ‘collateral visibility’, as citizens interacting with police have their interactions shared online.
Data privacy in commercial uses of municipal location data
Meg Young, University of Washington
This research asks about how data privacy is enacted by Seattle’s municipal government. Data collection drew on interviews, focus groups, and other ethnographic research. In Seattle, the state freedom of information law is grounded in a strong presumption of citizen’s right to know.
The Acyclica company collects data (MAC addresses), aggregates this data, and uses it to track travel patterns within the city. If the raw data was a public record, it would be requestable. Since it’s outsourced, it’s not. But analysis of the contract suggests that the data can be resold. Data collecting for this was rationalised in a variety of ways. For example, one employee said that people were ‘opting-in’ by having their phones’ wifi turned on in public space.
Sandra Braman provided some closing comments. One key question: what would you do (as an individual activist and as a community), assuming all of this is true, to be as politically effective as possible? We have to recognise that no matter what we do, it will be unpredictable. Activists can use big data (and other) analysis as well as researchers. [And somewhere in there discussion shifted to another skeevy JA from the tech activist world and I unfortunately ran entirely out of energy].