News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 26 May 2017

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 26 May 2017
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: Digitale Gesellschaft, EDRi, EFF.

For breaking news stories, visit:

India compels biometrics for 1.3 billion residents
The LA Times reports that as part of its program to issue identity numbers (Aadhaar) to its 1.3 billion residents, India is making biometrics mandatory for all e-government projects. The Aadhaar has become increasingly essential, even for children seeking schooling, despite a 2015 Supreme Court ruling that the government could not require it for any benefit to which a person was entitled providing their could prove their identity by some other means. The Supreme Court is now hearing a case disputing the government's right to compel the production of biometric data. The Centre for Internet and Society, cited in the story, has found that 135 million Aadhaar numbers have been published insecurely on the web by federal and state agencies.

US: Trump administration removes data from public view
At the Washington Post, Juliet Eilperin reports that the Trump administration is hiding away or limiting access to a wide variety of information that until recently has been provided to the public, including information about workplace violations, energy efficiency, and animal welfare abuses. Among other changes: the White House has ceased publishing visitor logs and removed websites and other material supporting Obama policies that the present administration has dropped such as websites providing scientific information about climate change. In protest against the disappearance of this material from the Environmental Protection Agency, Chicago officials have reposted the site as it appeared. The number of data sets available to the public has dropped from 195,245 to just under 156,000.
Washington Post:

Germany passes Network Enforcement Law
At Foreign Affairs, Heidi Tworek reports that the German Bundestag has passed the Network Enforcement - Law ("Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz"), which allows the government to fine social media companies up to €50 million if they do not remove illegal content or hate speech within 24 hours of receiving a complaint. Digitale Gesellschaft, Wikimedia Deutschland, the Internet Society, and the Federal Association of German Startups have opposed the law's privatization of law enforcement. German Justice Minister Heiko Maas hopes to expand this approach to all of Europe. Digitale Gesellschaft reports that it has initiated a broad alliance of economic associations, civil society organizations, network policy associations and legal experts, who are jointly calling for a declaration of freedom of expression to stop the project. EDRi reports that proposals from the European Commission require internet companies to proactively search for illegal content without specifying who should assess whether the content is illegal. The Guardian reports the contents of leaked files showing Facebook's guidelines for assessing posted content for sex, terrorism, and violence.
Foreign Affairs:
Digitale Gesellschaft:
Google Translate:

UK: Police charge activist under terrorism law for refusing to disclose passwords
Motherboard reports that the UK's Metropolitan Police have formally charged Muhammad Rabbani, director of the human rights group Cage, for refusing to give up his phone and computer passwords when crossing the UK border in 2016. According to the Guardian, Cage is building a legal case around alleged torture involving the US intelligence agencies, and the material on Rabbani's laptop was privileged. Cage estimates that about 30,000 British nationals were detained last year under Section 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, with only five eventually arrested.

Sweden drops investigation of Julian Assange
The Guardian reports that while Sweden has dropped its investigation of allegations of rape against him, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has said that "the proper war is just commencing". Prosecutor Marianne Ny said prosecutors had concluded that all possibilities of pursuing the investigation under the present conditions had been exhausted, though she added that if Assange were to "make himself available" in future the investigation could be resumed. At The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald argues that statements made by the Trump administration show that Assange is still in "serious legal jeopardy".

MP3 freed from patent protection
At The Hindu, Meenakshi R. reports that the Fraunhofer Institute, which originally developed the MP3 format, has ended the licensing program for "certain MP3-related patents and software" as of April 23, 2017 as some patents have expired. While many headlines have described the decision as the "death of MP3", the format remains very popular, though state-of-the-art services use more recent codecs such as AAC. Gizmodo reports that Swedish historian and researcher Rasmus Fleischer is writing a book that will allege that early versions of the streaming service Spotify depended on "pirate" MP3s found on the internet.

Google Play Store allows developers to bar user-modified devices
Android Police reports that the latest version of Google's Play Store enables developers to selectively block their apps from appearing in search results from three categories of devices based on whether they are certified by Google or pass integrity checks. Android Police also reports that the first app known to have taken advantage is Netflix, although the app works if it's been installed. In a press release the company explained that because its latest release relies on Google's WideVine digital rights management (DRM) it is blocking altered or not-certified devices - which means devices whose owners have modified the operating system or are using emulators. At BoingBoing, Cory Doctorow connects this development to Netflix's efforts to drive the W3C's adoption of web-scale DRM, and notes the inherent contradiction of calling a device "rooted" (that is, under the user's complete control) when users can't instruct it to pretend it passes the integrity check.
Android Police (blocking):
Android Police (Netflix):

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

How Google takes over the classroom
In this article at the New York Times, Natasha Singer asks whether the low-cost laptops and free software Google is supplying to public schools will provide the company with data that supports future profiling when these children become adults. EFF, which has been campaigning on this subject for some time, estimates that approximately one-third of American students use school-issued digital devices, and supplies case studies illustrating the privacy issues they raise. Africa News reports that under a deal with Microsoft, Rwandan students will begin using "smart classrooms" by the end of 2017.
NY Times:
Africa News:

The cost of software security
In this blog posting, written after the worldwide WannaCry ransomware attack that exploited millions of computers across the world running unpatched Windows XP, Columbia University security professor Steven M. Bellovin considers the problem of who should pay for security patches to legacy software. Failing the adoption of alternatives, we all pay as a society for security failures. In a separate posting, he discusses why patching is hard. The Financial Times reports that Microsoft has begun a system of charging more for extra security support for its top-of-the-line version of Windows 10. The Hill discusses the NSA's role in stockpiling exploits for its own use rather than disclosing them to protect the public.
Bellovin (who pays):
Bellovin (patching):

Proposing public service social media
In this article at The Atlantic, Ethan Zuckerman suggests that a solution to today's polarized media landscape and the right's "hermetically sealed" echo chamber might be public social media along the lines of public service broadcasters like those in the UK, Canada, and Germany. In a blog posting cross-posted to InfoWars, Ethan Ralph calls Zuckerman "one of Soros's top thugs" and describes the proposal as "wanting Big Brother".

AI and the future
In this podcast at Data & Society, Eric Horvitz, a technical fellow and director at Microsoft Research, discusses the societal and technological complications of using AI, covering such issues as biased data, transparency, attacks on AI systems, and employment. He discusses current research and compares today's predictions about AI to predictions made in 1899 about the future of electricity and life in 2000.
Data & Society:

Challenges and opportunities for smart cities
In this blog posting from the LSE Media Policy Project, Visiting Fellows Jonny Shipp and Dr Ionanna Nicola discuss the challenges and opportunities for smart cities. Digitization is making municipal processes less transparent, while the budget cuts imposed on many city councils make it hard to respond thoughtfully. The rapid pace of development of private services means that the public interest is often not fully considered or represented, and the companies involved claim ownership of the data, which they then analyze and try to sell back to the cities. For city administrations, the focus should be citizens, not just users. The South China Morning Post describes life in ZTE's flagship smart city, Yinchuan, a community of 2 million people situated on the edge of the Gobi Desert. IT News Africa reports that Rwanda

Uber versus Waymo
In this article at BusinessInsider, Biz Caron explains Google spin-out Waymo's ongoing lawsuit for patent infringement and intellectual property theft against Uber. Both companies hope to dominate the huge upcoming market for autonomous vehicles. Waymo claims that Uber has benefited from information about Waymo's Lidar vision system that was contained in more than 14,000 documents copied by its former engineer, Anthony Levandowski before he left to found Otto, a startup focused on self-driving trucks. Uber acquired Otto in mid-2016, but claims never to have seen the information in the files. A win for Waymo could derail Uber's automation plans. At CNet, Dara Kerr reports on the hearings: while it appears clear that Levandowski downloaded the files, there seems to be little evidence that Uber used any of the information. The Guardian reports that the judge is allowing Uber to continue with its project but that the company must keep Levandowski away from work involving Lidar; Uber has threatened to fire the engineer if he does not return the documents, as required by the court order.


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

Robots Exhibition
February 8 - September 13
London, UK
The Science Museum's 2017 robots exhibition includes robotic artifacts over five centuries, from a 16th century mechanized monk to the latest research developments. Focusing on why they exist rather than on how they work, the exhibition explores the ways robots mirror humanity and the insights they offer into our ambitions, desires and position in a rapidly changing world.

Human Rights Watch Film Festival
March 6-June 18
London, UK; Chicago Illinois; Toronto, Canada; New York, NY
The 16 human rights documentaries included in this peripatetic festival highlight individuals and groups exhibiting courageous resilience in challenging times. Among the human rights topics represented are the integrity of the press; the experience of refugees seeking safety; and factory workers protesting chemical harms from their work in the Chinese electronics industry. Nicholas de Pencier's BLACK CODE, based on Ronald Deibert's book of the same name, follows members of Toronto-based Citizen Lab as they document civil society activism in Tibet, Syria, Brazil, and Pakistan.

Privacy Law Scholars
June 1-2
Berkeley, California
The tenth annual Privacy Law Scholars workshop will assemble a wide array of privacy law scholars and practitioners from around the world to discuss papers in progress. Scholars from many disciplines, including psychology, economics, sociology, philosophy, political science, computer science, and mathematics also participate.

Personal Democracy Forum CEE 2017
June 8-9, 2017
New York, NY
The theme is PDF17 is "What We Do Now". Attendees will get connected, get inspired, learn with today's new and veteran organizers alike, and discover how what we do now can make all the difference.

Next Library Festival 2017
June 11-14, 2017
Aarhus, Denmark
Next Library 2017 will offer a "patchwork" of co-learning, co-creative, participatory, engaging, pluralistic and interactive meetings, and lots of parallel sessions, keynote speakers, wildcard sessions, demos/exhibitions, gaming, Networking Dinner Party, Get2Gether, Social un-conferences, alternative events and surprises.

Future Perfect
Jun 16, 2017
New York, NY
Data & Society Research Institute's Speculative Fiction Reading Group will host Future Perfect, a conference exploring the use, significance, and discontents of speculative design, narrative, and world-building in technology, policy, and culture. Participation is limited. Those interested in attending this Conference should apply by May 12, and may either 1) propose work to be exhibited and/or presented, or 2) describe how their work makes them a relevant discussant/participant.

CERN Workshop on Innovations in Scholarly Communication
June 21-23, 2017
Geneva, Switzerland
The organizers of the biennial CERN Workshop on Innovations in Scholarly Communication - OAI10 - include representatives from the Open Society Foundations, SPARC, PloS, CERN, UCL, and other academic institutions..

Data Power 2017
June 22-23, 2017
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
The Data Power 2017 conference asks: how can we reclaim some form of data-based power and autonomy, and advance data-based technological citizenship, while living in regimes of data power? Confirmed speakers include Helen Nissenbaum, Frank Pasquale, Stefania Milan, and Paul N. Edwards.

Workshop on the Economics of Security
June 26-28
San Diego, California, US
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.

Open Repositories 2017
June 26-30, 2017
Brisbane, Australia
The annual Open Repositories Conference brings together users and developers of open digital repository platforms from higher education, government, galleries, libraries, archives and museums. The Conference provides an interactive forum for delegates from around the world to come together and explore the global challenges and opportunities facing libraries and the broader scholarly information landscape.

Summer courses on privacy and international copyright laws
July 3-7, 2017
Amsterdam, Netherlands
These courses, run by the Institute for Information Law, are intensive post-graduate courses aimed to help professionals stay abreast of changing rules. The first, on privacy law and policy, focuses on recent developments in EU and US privacy law relating to the internet and online media. The second, on international copyright law, comprises nine seminars, each focused on one specific copyright issue.

AI Now Symposium
Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
July 10, 2017
The second annual symposium of the AI Now Initiative, led by Kate Crawford and Meredith Whittaker, will be held at the MIT Media Lab. AI Now works across disciplines to understand the social impact of AI.

Citizen Lab Summer Institute
July 12-14
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
This year's conference is organized around five research streams: Network Interference and Freedom of Expression Online, Surveillance and Counter Surveillance, Security and Privacy of Apps, Corporate Transparency and Public Accountability, and a special session on Information Controls and Armed Conflict.

IFLA World Libraries and Information Congress
August 19-25, 2017
Wroclaw, Poland
The theme of the 83rd annual IFLA congress will be "Achieving a healthy future together: diverse and emerging roles for health information professionals".

#CivicTechFest 2017
September 10-16. 2017
Taipei, China
Asia's first-ever civic technology festival and conference, #CivicTechFest" will feature a series of forums, workshops, roundtables, conferences, and hackathons related to open data and open government.

Expanding from its annual conference in Florence in April, mySociety's annual conference, TICTeC, which focuses on the impacts of civic technology, will provide two days of sessions as part of #CivicTechFest.

Summit on Internet Freedom in Africa
September 27-29, 2017
Johannesburg, South Africa
This event convenes various stakeholders from the internet governance and online rights arenas in Africa and beyond to deliberate on gaps, concerns and opportunities for advancing the right to privacy, access to information, free expression, non-discrimination, and the free flow of information online.

Privacy + Security Forum
October 4-6, 2017
Washington, DC
The conference breaks down the silos of security and privacy by bringing together leaders from both fields.

Mozfest 2017
October 27-29, 2017
London, UK
The world's leading festival for the open internet movement will feature influential thinkers from around the world to build, debate, and explore the future of a healthy internet.

ORGcon 2017
November 4, 2017
London, UK
ORGCon is the UK's biggest digital rights conference. This year's theme is: The Digital Fightback.


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This page contains a single entry by Wendy M. Grossman published on May 27, 2017 12:00 PM.

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