News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 15 April 2016

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 15 April 2016

The Information Program NEWS DIGEST, published the second and fourth Thursdays of each month, aims to update colleagues in the Open Society Foundations and friends further afield about the news, opinions and events the Program team have been watching this fortnight. The views expressed in these stories do not necessarily reflect those of the Information Program or the OSF. Prepared by Wendy M. Grossman.

Our staff, advisers and major grantees tweet at Current and former grantees featured in this issue: EFF, ProPublica, La Quadrature du Net, Privacy International, Sunlight Foundation.


Scholarships available: International Copyright, Privacy Law and Policy
July 4-8, 2016-03-17
Amsterdam, Netherlands
OSF is offering eight scholarships covering fees, travel, and accommodation for civil society participants to attend two summer courses on international copyright law and on privacy law at the Institute for Information Law (IViR) at the University of Amsterdam. More information on how to apply is available here:

For breaking news stories, visit:

"Panama papers" expose secret parallel universe of billionaires
At the Huffington Post, "economic hit man" John Perkins writes about the origins of and his involvement in the system exposed by the leak to Germany's Suddeutsche Zeitung of the "Panama Papers", 11 million documents from the files of the law firm Mossack Fonseca. When corporations have more power than sovereign nations, he writes, it's time for change. The Guardian reports on the angry response in Iceland, where the prime minister, two cabinet ministers, a former bank governor, and 600 other citizens appeared in the papers linked to offshore holdings. Should an election be called, the copyright-busting Pirate Party is leading in the polls. AllAfrica calls the revelations "a moral problem, a problem of greed". In a one-hour documentary, "The Panama Papers: Secrets of the Super Rich", Australia's ABC's investigation studies the uncovered "parallel universe" exposed in the papers and links it to the electric bills paid by Australian consumers. In a televised discussion including economists and journalists who have studied the papers for the last year, France24 explains the history and workings of international tax structures, the leveraging against each other of sovereign nations' laws, and the prospects for change.

EU-US Privacy Shield
The Article 29 Working Party has issued its opinion on the EU-US Privacy Shield, calling it a significant improvement over Safe Harbor but criticising it on the ground that it does not adhere sufficiently to the data protection principles; that the US's new redress mechanism may be unusable; that the agreement does not preclude massive surveillance; and that the proposed ombudsman will be insufficiently independent. In an analysis of winners and losers under the arrangement, World Privacy Forum director Pam Dixon and privacy legal scholar Robert Gellman conclude that the Shield's provisions are mixed for all concerned. Privacy International's analysis is less optimistic, arguing that the Shield does little to limit bulk data collection, US government surveillance, insufficiently implements the standards of necessity and proportionality, and has a weak oversight mechanism as the Ombudsman will be appointed by and report to the US Secretary of State.
WP29 (PDF):
World Privacy Forum:
Privacy International:

Liberia: Outsourcing primary education
AllAfrica reports that UN special rapporteur Kishore Singh has openly attacked Liberia's plan to outsource all its primary and pre-primary education over the next five years to the US-based company Bridge International Academies, calling it a "blatant violation of Liberia's international obligations under the right to education". InDepthNews gives more background on Bridge, which already operates in Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda, and uses a highly standardised, technology-driven model. Liberia will pay Bridge $65 million under the arrangement, and parents will pay $5 to $7 a month, not including school meals. Vox discusses the trade-offs and offers financial details about Bridge, a San Francisco-based start-up whose investors include Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, the World Bank's International Finance Corporation, the UK government's Department for International Development, and Bill Gates.

Colombian hacker admits rigging elections throughout South America
Bloomberg interviews 31-year-old Andrés Sepúlveda, who is serving prison time for rigging elections throughout South America for more than a decade and says he wants to tell his story because people do not understand the power hackers have over modern elections or the specialised skills needed to stop them. Sepúlveda contends that operations like his are in place on every continent, a claim a security consultant is quoted as calling plausible. Townhall responds with a discussion of how easy it would be to steal the upcoming US election via electronic voting.

WhatsApp rolls out encryption to 1 billion users
EFF's Bill Buddington reports that on March 31 Facebook subsidiary WhatsApp enabled end-to-end 256-bit encryption by default for its chat and call functionality, calling the move's importance impossible to overstate: " one fell swoop moved the user base of end-to-end encryption from those protecting trade secrets, enthused crypto-hobbyists, and whistleblowers to an actually significant portion of the world population". At the Guardian, John Naughton agrees, but notes that compromising the phone on which WhatsApp runs is still a viable way of accessing message contents, and links that reality to the "equipment interference" provisions in the UK's Investigatory Powers bill. India Today reports that the move has "probably" made WhatsApp illegal in India under a 2007 law that made it illegal to use encryption stronger than 40-bit without explicit government permission.
India Today:

EU: Radio Directive threatens free software
Ars Technica UK reports that clauses in the 2015/53/EU Directive on the market for radio equipment, now being transposed into national laws, threaten to eliminate consumers' freedom to choose the software they like for any device that incorporates a radio (that is, mobile, wifi, and other connections), and severely damage initiatives aimed at reducing the digital divide and encouraging citizen ownership of Internet networks and devices. The Free Software Foundation Europe and 22 other organisations including La Quadrature du Net, the Chaos Computer Club, and the OpenNet Initiative, have issued a joint statement expressing their concerns; in addition, La Quadrature du Net has written a letter to the French Ministry of Budget and the French Telecom Regulator asking them to include Recital 19, which ensures that the required compliance should not be abused to prevent the independent use of third-party software, in the legislation.
Ars Technica:

IP address location error causes havoc for Kansas farm
A key plank in law enforcement efforts, particularly copyright violations, is often assuming IP addresses can be accurately mapped to specific users. At Fusion, Kashmir Hill reports that over the last 14 years a kludge in Maxmind, software, which maps IP addresses to geographical locations, has assigned more than 600 million IP addresses to the default location of one small family farm in Potwin, Kansas, approximately the geographical centre of the United States. In that time, the farm's residents have been repeatedly harassed and accused of identity fraud, spamming, IP spoofing, and many other types of criminal activities without ever knowing why. Hill unearths many other examples.

MIT's Data USA
This Sunlight Foundation article welcomes MIT's new Data USA site, which aims to make government data easier to parse. The New York Times describes the site as effectively designed like a search engine, setting out to "transform data into stories" by making assumptions about what users are most likely to want to know.
NY Times:
Data USA:

For more features and analysis selected by the Program team, visit:

How a trademark dispute broke the web
This Quartz article illustrates the fragility of the patchwork of software that runs the web. On March 22, in response to legal threats, open-source developer Azer Koçulu opted to "unpublish" 273 software packages stored with the npm repository. Because so much software ia set to update automatically, the deletion of one of Koçulu's most widely used packages, an 11-line module called "left-pad", almost immediately began halting the many JavaScript programs around the world that used it; one of these, React, helps run many major websites, including Facebook. The software was restored after two hours.

Ownership and the Internet of Things
In this blog posting, EFF discusses the future of ownership in response to the widely reported news that on May 15 Revolv, bought in 2014 by Google's Nest subsidiary, will shut down the app that runs all connections to the Revolv smart home hub, rendering all Revolv equipment inoperable. Business Insider says the Revolv acquisition was widely viewed as an "acqui-hire" - that is, aimed at acquiring the people rather than the business. In a furious posting on Medium, Revolv owner Arlo Gilbert discusses how he used the technology and takes issue with Nest's decision. Gizmodo reports that since the angry public response Nest has indicated it will help Revolv owners on a "case by case" basis.
Business Insider:

Knowledge Unbound
The MIT Press is offering leading open access advocate Peter Suber's new book, Knowledge Unbound: Selected Writings on Open Access, 2002-2011, for free download in a variety of formats. The book offers a selection of some of Suber's most significant and influential writings on open access from 2002 to 2010. In it, Suber makes the case for open access to research; answers common questions, objections, and misunderstandings; analyses policy issues; and documents the growth and evolution of open access during its most critical early decade.
MIT Press:

Robots and the law
This page links to the live video streams from the We Robot conference, held April 1-2 in Miami, as well as slides from the (not-streamed) workshops that preceded it. Speakers examined the free speech rights of AIs (under the First Amendment, the barriers are surprisingly few); whether robot policemen could be racially neutral; and the "moral crumple zones" humans may become in machine-human partnerships. Wendy M. Grossman summarizes the conference's major themes in a net.wars posting. At the Discourse blog, he conference's main organizers, Ryan Calo and Michael Froomkin, launch their new book, Robots and the Law.
We Robot:

Decrypting encryption
In this three-animation series, Decrypting Encryption, Tactical Tech explains the workings of the encryption/decryption tool GNU Privacy Guard (GPG), including what "symmetric" and "asymmetric" types of encryption are and how to check the public key and unique fingerprints of the person you're corresponding with to verify their identity.

New England Journal of Medicine under attack
In this article, jointly published with the Boston Globe, ProPublica reports that the venerable and venerated New England Journal of Medicine is falling out of step as others such as the British Medical Journal move to adopt requirements to publish experimental data and espouse open access. Earlier this year, NEJM editor-in-chief Jeffrey M. Drazen called researchers who seek to replicate others' work "research parasites"; in 2015 the journal ran a series calling concerns about conflicts of interest in medicine oversimplified and overblown. More recent critics, such as a group led by the British doctor and writer Ben Goldacre, say their complaints have been dismissed.


To see more events recommended by the Information Program team, visit: If you would like your event listed in this mail, email

Laura Poitras at the Whitney Museum
February 5-May 1, 2016
New York, NY
Oscar and Pulitzer Prize-winning Laura Poitras, best known for her documentary film about Edward Snowden, CITIZENFOUR, has turned her journal and FBI files into an exhibit at New York's Whitney Museum documenting her life under surveillance. LAURA POITRAS: ASTRO NOISE is an immersive installation of new work building on topics Poitras has investigated in previous film work, including mass surveillance, the war on terror, the U.S. drone program, Guantánamo Bay Prison, occupation, and torture.

Nervous Systems: Quantified Life and the Social Question
March 10-May 9, 2016
Berlin, Germany
Artists, media historians, and writers collaborate to produce a range of reflections on the quantified self for this exhibition at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt. The exhibition includes "The White Room", a live installation by Tactical Tech that includes consultations, demos, and discussions.

OER16: Open Culture
April 19-20
Edinburgh, Scotland
The vision for the conference is to focus on the value proposition of embedding open culture into institutional strategies for learning, teaching, and research. Conference chairs are Melissa Highton, Director of Learning, Teaching, and Web Services at the University of Edinburgh, and Lorna Campbell, OER Liaison at the University of Edinburgh and EDINA Digital Education Manager.

Tomorrow's Transactions Forum
April 20-21
London, UK
Consult Hyperion's annual conference lets anyone interested in the future of electronic transactions debate and discuss any and all ideas, no matter how apparently wacky (such as those that appear in the art competition). Intervention and interaction are welcome; product presentations are banned.

The Science of Consciousness
April 25-30
Tucson, Arizona
A week-long gathering of 800 to 900 scientists, philosophers, artists, meditators, and interested people from 50 countries will consider questions like: Will consciousness be reproduced through brain mapping, transhumanism and/or artificial intelligence? Or, does the brain "tune into" and organize consciousness or its precursors existing naturally in the universe? What are the implications of either view on the nature of existence, and treatment of mental and cognitive disorders?

TICTeC 2016
April 27-29, 2016
Barcelona, Spain
The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference will focus on the impact of civic technology and digital democracy on citizens, decision makers, and governments around the world and discuss themes of engagement, participation, institution, social behaviour, politics, community, digital capability, communication, and ethics relating to the use and study of civic technology.

April 25-29, 2016
eZulwini, Swaziland
Swaziland Library Association (SWALA) hosts the 22nd Standing Conference of Eastern, Central and Southern African Libraries Association. This year's theme is Digital Transformation and the changing role of libraries and Information Centres in the sustainable development of Africa.

Second African Public Libraries Summit
April 30-May 1, 2016
eZulwini, Swaziland
The African Library and Information Association and Institutions (AfLIA)'s two-day summit will be held as a post-conference event of the SCECSAL Conference which will also be held in Swaziland. Co-sponsored by the Global Libraries Program of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the summit's theme will be "21st Century Public Libraries - innovation develops communities".

ICOA 2016
May 16-17
Montreal, Canada
The 18th International Conference on Open Access aims to bring together leading academic scientists, researchers and research scholars to exchange and share their experiences and research results about all aspects of Open Access. It also provides the premier interdisciplinary forum for researchers, practitioners and educators to present and discuss the most recent innovations, trends, and concerns, practical challenges encountered and the solutions adopted in the field of Open Access.

International Conference for E-Democracy and Open Government
May 18-20, 2016
Krems, Austria
The International Conference for e-Democracy and Open Government brings together e-democracy, e-participation and open government specialists working in academia, politics, government and business to critically analyse the innovations, issues, ideas and challenges in the networked societies of the digital age.

Privacy in the Digital Age of Encryption and Anonymity Online
May 19-20, 2016
The Hague, Netherlands
This conference on privacy in the digital age of encryption and anonymity online is jointly organised by EIPA and Europol. The main theme of the conference will be the difficulty of balancing privacy and security with a focus on the latest systems of encryption, anonymisation, and pseudonymisation.

Health Privacy Summit
June 6-7
Washington, DC
The 2016 Health Privacy Summit brings together top national and international experts for serious discussion about global health privacy issues and realistic solutions and to ask, Is Big Data effectively the beginning of the end for privacy in health care?

20th International Conference on Electronic Publishing
June 7-9, 2016
Göttingen, Germany
ELPUB 2016 will take a fresh look at the current ecosystem of scholarly publishing including the positioning of stakeholders and distribution of economic, technological and discursive power. ELPUB will also open the floor for emerging alternatives in how scholars and citizens interact with scholarly content and what role dissemination and publishing plays in these interactions. Questions to be raised include: What is the core of publishing today? How does agenda setting in emerging frameworks like Open Science function and what is the nature of power of the referring scholarly discourses? How does this relate to the European and world-wide Open Science and Open Innovation agenda of funders and institutions, and how does this look like in publishing practice?

Personal Democracy Forum
June 9-10
New York, NY
The 2016 Personal Democracy Forum will feature speakers such as Danah Boyd, Kate Crawford, Douglas Rushkoff, and Anil Dash.

Workshop on the Economics of Information Security
June 13-14, 2016
Berkeley, CA
The Workshop on the Economics of Information Security (WEIS) is the leading forum for interdisciplinary scholarship on information security and privacy, combining expertise from the fields of economics, social science, business, law, policy, and computer science.

OR2016 Conference
June 13-16, 2016
Dublin, NL
The theme of OR2016 is "Illuminating the World." OR2016 will provide an opportunity to explore the impact of repositories and related infrastructure and processes.

June 22-24
Denver, Colorado
The 12th Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security will bring together an interdisciplinary group of researchers and practitioners in human computer interaction, security, and privacy. The program will feature technical papers, workshops and tutorials, a poster session, panels and invited talks, and lightning talks.

June 24-26
Esino Lario, Italy
Wikimania is the annual conference celebrating Wikipedia and its sibling free knowledge projects with conferences, discussions, meetups, training, and a hackathon. Hundreds of volunteer editors come together to learn about and discuss projects, approaches and issues.

21st-Century Literacies for Public Libraries
August 10-11, 2016
Philadelphia, PA
At this two-day satellite meeting, presented by IFLA's Public Libraries Section, delegates will share and learn from each other's experiences in developing and delivering services that encompass today's expanded concept of literacy, which includes not only the traditional ability to read and write but proficiency in a range of other literacies such as civic, health, financial, digital, and information.

IFLA World Library and Information Congress
August 13-19, 2016
Columbus, OH
The theme of the 82nd IFLA Congress is "Connections. Collaboration. Community." The Congress will feature programmes from myriad library sectors.

Privacy+Security Forum
October 24-26, 2016
Washington, DC
Monday, October 24, is devoted to pre-conference workshops and "intensive days" - advanced discussion focused narrowly on a particular topic or industry. Proposals are welcome until April 30, 2016 based on the following guiding principles: bridge the silos between privacy and security; cover issues with depth and rigour; employ interaction, scenario-based learning, and extensive engagement; deliver practical takeaways from each session.

Mozilla Festival
November 6-8, 2016
London, UK
MozFest is an annual celebration of the open Web. Participants are diverse, including engineers, artists, activists, and educators, but share the common belief that the Web can make lives better, unlocks opportunity, spurs creativity, teaches valuable skills, and connects far-flung people and ideas. The Festival seeks to improve the Web with new ideas and creations.


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This page contains a single entry by Wendy M. Grossman published on April 18, 2016 10:11 PM.

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