News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending February 28 , 2020

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending February 28 , 2020

The Information Program NEWS DIGEST, published on 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.

Current and former grantees featured in this issue: Algorithm Watch, Association for Progressive Communications, EDRi, Privacy International.


Coronavirus Threatens to Disrupt Academia Worldwide
Academia around the world will suffer the effects of travel bans, closures, and test cancellations imposed by the coronavirus (Covid-19) epidemic for the 2020-2021 academic year and beyond, Joyce Lau and John Ross report at Times Higher Education. However, the crisis offers an opportunity to improve and enhance remote and online learning. At the China Media Project, Da Shiji reports on government secrecy and lockdown in Wuhan, where 11 million people are being held under quarantine. SCMP reports that the death of Li Wenliang, the doctor reprimanded by police for warning about the virus outbreak, has prompted calls within China for free speech rights. At Papers Please, Edward Hasbrouck considers the legal position of quarantine orders within the US. At the Jakarta Post, AFP reports that efforts to contain the outbreak are being disrupted by thousands of coordinated Russia-linked social media accounts that are spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories and sowing distrust of Western responders. Finally, at The Atlantic, Zeynep Tufecki suggests that the reason China was slow to act was not endemic secrecy but "authoritarian blindness"; when people are afraid to speak truth openly, the authorities know less and less.

Swiss Authorities Investigate Crypto AG
The Swiss government has ordered an inquiry into the global cryptographic communications equipment company Crypto AG following revelations that the company was owned outright for decades by the US CIA and Germany's equivalent, the BND, Julian Borger reports at the Guardian. The company deliberately weakened the encryption products it sells to more than 100 countries to enable the agencies to eavesdrop on both adversaries and allies. The story that Crypto AG's products were designed to enable access for GCHQ and NSA codebreakers was first reported in 1976 by Duncan Campbell in Time Out.

Preprint Repositories Struggle to Stay Open
The platforms that host preprint repositories for emerging economies are struggling to raise enough money to stay in operation, Smrity Mallapaty reports at Nature. In December 2018 Charlottesville VA-based Center for Open Science warned the servers it hosts - such as INA-Rxiv (Indonesia), AraiXiv (Arabic-language), AfricArxiv, and IndiaRxiv, which are all run by volunteers - that beginning in 2020 it would need to charge fees to cover its annual maintenance costs of $230,000. INA-Rxiv, which was set up in 2017, has decided to close and the marine conservation science repository, MarXiv, has stopped accepting submissions.

South Africa: Artists Protest US Pressure to Weaken Copyright Reform Bill
South African artists, authors, and publishers have picketed the US Embassy in Pretoria to protest US pressure on South Africa to weaken the fair use provisions in its copyright reform bill, which has been awaiting President Cyril Ramphosa's signature for nearly a year, Phanuel Shuman reports at SABC News, which also has a video clip about the protests. In an open letter to the president signed by numerous civil society organizations representing more than half a million South Africans, Re-Create calls on the president to sign the bill. Signatories include Right2Know, Wikimedia South Africa, Creative Commons South Africa, and the Association for Progressive Communications. TorrentFreak reports that the International Intellectual Property Alliance, which represents entertainment industry rights holder groups, has recommended placing South Africa on the US Trade Representative's Priority Watch List,.

EU Considers AI Regulation and Bloc-wide Facial Recognition System
In publishing its white paper on regulating AI, the EU fails to appreciate risks other than loss of trust hampering its adoption, Nicola Kayser-Bril writes at Algorithm Watch. In a previously-seen draft, the white paper suggested banning real-time facial recognition; the final version concludes there is no need for a ban on "remote biometric identification" but says it should only be used in cases of substantial public interest. At The Intercept, Zach Campbell and Chris Jones find that a leaked report drawn up by the national police forces of ten EU member states, led by Austria, calls for legislation to introduce and interconnect facial recognition databases in every EU member state. The European Commission is paying Deloitte almost €700,000 to consider changes to the Prüm system, which connects DNA, fingerprint, and vehicle registration databases for cross-border searching, and €500,000 to a consortium of public agencies to map the use of facial recognition in criminal investigations in all EU member states. At Forbes, Tom Brewster reports that London's Metropolitan Police is testing live facial recognition\ in locations such as the Oxford Street shopping district despite legal challenges launched by Big Brother Watch and Liberty. At the New York Times, Davey Alba reports that US, public schools are turning on facial recognition with the goal of preventing mass shootings and stopping sexual predators.

Saudi Arabian Spies Operated Inside Twitter
A complaint filed by the US FBI alleges that two Saudi Arabian citizens working on Twitter's global media team passed identifying information from thousands of user profiles to the Saudi Arabian government over a period of seven months in 2015, Alex Kantrowitz reports at Buzzfeed News. The case highlights vulnerabilities within US technology companies, which don't plan for the possibility that employees may have close relationships with foreign governments and abuse their access to sensitive data to spy on their behalf. One dissident based in Canada is suing the company for failing to fully disclose the spying; others inside Saudi Arabia are believed to have been arrested and tortured.


NGOs at Risk from GDPR Abuse
In this posting at Responsible Data, Vera Franz summarizes her new report, written with Ben Hayes and Lucy Hannah, highlighting the potential for governments and corporations to use GDPR as a weapon against NGOs. Organizations such as Global Witness and Romania's RISE project have received subject access requests and regulatory demands intended to expose their sources. NGO leaders and funders need to ensure their organizations find the balance between non-compliance and over-compliance.

Law Enforcement Targets Cloud Storage for Forensic Analysis
In this blog posting at EDRi, Privacy International summarizes its new report on mass data collection technology used by law enforcement investigators to forensically analyze data stored in the cloud. Now that phones are increasingly locked down, user data stored on third-party servers is considered the future of mobile forensics, especially as analysis software has begun to include facial and emotion recognition. There is little transparency about cloud extraction technology, and public understanding is limited.

OpenAI Succumbs to Commercial Pressures
In this article at Technology Review, Karen Hao reports that the four-year-old research lab OpenAI has lost touch with its founding aspirations of transparency, openness, and collaboration and instead has become obsessed with maintaining secrecy, protecting its image, and enforcing employee loyalty. In March 2019, OpenAI added a for-profit arm and accepted a $1 billion investment from Microsoft; it followed up by changing its pay structure and releasing the GPT-2 auto-text generator it had previously called too dangerous to release. Hao believes the lab is succumbing to pressure to commercialize and social responsibility is losing out.

US Moves Toward Data Privacy Legislation
In this article at The Verge, Makena Kelly outlines US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's (D-NY) proposal for an independent Data Protection Agency whose remit would be to protect consumer data. Under her data protection act, consumers would have the right to file complaints triggering investigations into malpractice, and the agency would work with the technology industry to promote the development of privacy-enhancing technologies. In a video clip, the Washington State House Innovation, Technology, and Economic Development Committee hears testimony regarding the state's in-progress data privacy bill, SB 6281. At Geekwire, Monica Nickelsburg summarizes Washington ACLU's opposition to and Microsoft's support for the bill.

We Need to Talk About Cloud Neutrality
In this article at Wired, Holly Wood argues that today the cloud, not the internet, is the essential enabler of the technology economy - and unlike the internet, much of which was publicly financed or subsidized, the cloud is fully owned and operated by a handful of private companies.  Given the potential for abuse, in a world where Netflix hosts its streaming services on Amazon, which is also its competitor, we should be thinking about cloud neutrality, not network neutrality. At the New York Times, David McCabe profiles Sarah Miller's work as leader of the newly-founded American Economic Liberties Project, which is dedicated to pushing for government action on corporate concentration across a wide array of industries including agriculture and medicine as well as technology.

US National Archives Grants Government Agencies Deletion Rights
In this audio clip at WNYC, Columbia University professor Matthew Connelly raises the alarm about a 2017 agreement under which, despite opposition from both lawmakers and the public, the US National Archives agreed to let Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials delete or destroy documents relating to the sexual abuse and death of undocumented immigrants. The result, exacerbated by ongoing budget cuts, Connelly says here and in a recent New York Times op-ed, is that we may never find out the truth about ICE's policies under the Trump administration. In response, Archivist of the United States David Ferriero called Connelly's claims "misleading" while admitting that the US State Department uses automated algorithms to decide what to delete or destroy. At Alternet, Connelly provides more detail of the deletion practices in in an interview with Amy Goodman.


If you would like your event listed in this mail, email

March 5-6, 2020
Amsterdam, Netherlands
From automating simple tasks to predicting efficiencies, AI has much to offer business. Yet we have also been warned: AI will reinforce biases, hide important decisions, and deplete employment. Are we headed to a smarter workplace, or a dumber future? AI@Work will go beyond siloed debate: computer scientists, ethicists, academics, policy makers, and business leaders will come together to share ambitions, experiences, concerns, and visions.

AI Summit 2020
March 16-17
Brussels, Belgium
Politico's AI Summit returns to Brussels to tackle key questions about the future of AI global regulation and the technology's implementation. The conference will consider whether and how AI development should be limited, different cultural interpretations of "trustworthy", and the challenges of implementing a cross-border and coordinated European approach to AI.

ECogS 2020
March 23-26, 2020
Okinawa, Japan
The International Conference on Embodied Cognitive Science (ECogS) will bring together approaches that are theoretically and methodologically diverse yet united in their commitment to an alternative orientation, one in which embodied interaction plays the primary organizing role of life, mind, and consciousness.

TICTeC 2020
March 24-25, 2020
Reykjavik, Iceland
mySociety created TICTeC to bridge the gap between civic tech and research - to bring two different communities together, to emphasize the importance of being able to demonstrate impact, and to share what those impacts are. Because Reykjavik's city Council has pioneered using digital tools to elicit feedback from citizens on council policies, expenditures, and projects, the 2020 conference will provide a special opportunity to learn from Iceland's extensive civic technology and civic engagement experience.

We Robot 2020
April 2-4, 2020
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
We Robot is an interdisciplinary conference on the legal and policy questions relating to robots. The increasing sophistication of robots and their widespread deployment everywhere - from the home, to hospitals, to public spaces, and even to the battlefield - disrupts existing legal regimes and requires new thinking on policy issues. The conference fosters conversations between the people designing, building, and deploying robots, and those who design or influence the legal and social structures in which robots will operate.

Global Privacy Summit
April 7-8, 2020
Washington, DC, USA
Global Privacy Summit will gather more than 3,600 professionals from around the world for an outstanding program with a truly global focus.

Personal Democracy Forum CEE 2020
April 23-25, 2020
Gdańsk, Poland
The eighth PDF CEE is organized by the ePaństwo Foundation together with the City of Gdańsk and the European Solidarity Centre and will be followed by the fourth edition of the Festival of Civic Tech for Democracy. The 2020 conference is inspired by the 21 Demands proposed in 1980 by strikers in the Gdańsk Shipyard, and is expected to attract around 500 democracy activists, civic tech enthusiasts, media, business and academic representatives, public administration officials, opinion makers, influencers, cultural activists, digital media specialists and activists to debate human and digital rights, transparency of governments, cybersecurity, civic technologies and countering disinformation.

AI for Good
May 4-8, 2020
Geneva, Switzerland
The AI for Good Global Summit is the leading United Nations platform for global and inclusive dialogue on AI. The Summit is hosted each year in Geneva by the International Telecommunications Union in partnership with sibling UN agencies, the XPRIZE Foundation, and ACM.

re:publica 2020
May 6-8, 2020
Berlin, Germany
re:publica is Europe's largest internet and digital society conference. More than 19 500 participants from 80 countries came together to discuss current issues of digital society at the three-day festival. Participants represent a cross-section of (digital) society, which include professionals from economics, politics, business, hacker culture, NGOs, media, and marketing, as well as bloggers, activists, artists, and social media experts.

May 8-9, 2020
Chicago, IL, USA
The 11th Chicago-based Thotcon hacking conference is a non-commercial event intended to combine a top-quality information security conference with a casual and social experience.

Creative Commons Global Summit
May 14-16, 2020
Lisbon, Portugal
The 2019 CC Summit gathered nearly 400 Creative Commoners from across the globe to attend over 130 sessions and seven keynotes. The Summit, comprising discussion, debate, workshops and planning, talks, and community building, is for anyone who's interested in the global movement for the commons as an activist, advocate, artist, librarian, educator, lawyer, or technologist.

Privacy Law Scholars
June 4-5, 2020
Washington, DC, USA
Organized jointly by BCLT and the George Washington University Law School, the Privacy Law Scholars Conference (PLSC) assembles a wide array of privacy law scholars and practitioners from around the world to discuss current issues and foster greater connections between academia and practice. PLSC brings together privacy law scholars, privacy scholars from other disciplines (economics, philosophy, political science, computer science), and practitioners (industry, legal, advocacy, and government).

Festival of AI and Emerging Technology
June 8-10, 2020
London, UK
CogX draws together speakers from industry, government, and academia to create "a space to learn, discover, and connect with the people and technologies that are shaping the future of humanity".

June 9-12, 2020
San José, Costa Rica
Each year, RightsCon, organized by AccessNow, gathers over 1,000 expert speakers from around the world.

Digitising Early Childhood
June 11-12, 2010
Milan, Italy
Contemporary children and their parents are inventing what it is to have a digital childhood, and in doing so are introducing families, schools and policy makers to new ways of thinking, doing and being. This conference discusses and expands research trajectories through these uncertainties and aims to build bridges across the different disciplines and strands of research in this area. It will forge a new way forward and consolidate the base of what we already know, revealing what we have yet to investigate and address, and what important insights are emerging that must be taken seriously.

Workshop on the Economics of Information Security
June 15-16, 2020
Brussels, Belgium
The annual workshop on the economics of information security is a cross-disciplinary event to develop more effective approaches to information security.

CPDP LatAm 2020
June 23-25, 2020
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The first Computers, Privacy, and Data Protection Latin America will be held in conjunction with the first Latin American Privacy Law Scholars conference and MyData's first Latin American meeting. The theme will be "Data Protection in Latin America: Democracy, Innovation, and Regulation". The organizers hope it will be a unique opportunity to bring together varied and complementary perspectives on data protection and its impact on democracy, innovation, and regulation in Latin America.

Aspen Ideas Festival
June 27-July 3, 2020
Aspen  Colorado
Presented by the Aspen Institute in partnership with The Atlantic, the Aspen Ideas Festival is a public gathering place for leaders from around the globe and across many disciplines to present and discuss the ideas and issues that both shape our lives and challenge our times. Anyone may purchase a pass to attend.

FTC PrivacyCon
July 21, 2020
Washington, DC
The US Federal Trade Commission's fifth annual PrivacyCon, which is free and open to the public, will focus in particular on the privacy of health data collected, stored, and transmitted by mobile apps.

August 2020
Bangkok, Thailand
Wikimania 2020 will be the 16th Wikimania conference, an annual event for the international Wikimedia community.

August 6-9, 2020
Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
DEF CON is one of the oldest and largest continuously running hacker conventions.

Netroots Nation
August 13-15, 2020
Denver, Colorado, USA
For more than a decade, Netroots Nation, which began as a convention for the most active members of the DailyKos community, has hosted the largest annual conference for progressives and other organizers and advocacy groups, drawing thousands of attendees from around the country and beyond, to develop their work around topics such as sharing data, developing technology talent, and managing digital campaigns.

86th World Library and Information Congress
August 15-21, 2020
Dublin, Ireland
WLIC is the annual conference of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA).

MozFest 2020
October, 2020
Location TBD
MozFest programs and events are co-created by a group of dynamic, vibrant and varied community collaborators, all working towards one goal: the opportunity for everyone to live a healthy online life.

Future in Review
October 6-9, 2020
La Jolla, CA, USA
Future in Review 2019 is a global conference on the intersection of technology and the economy, offering new partnerships, projects, and plans, and the opportunity to analyze and create the future of technology, economics, pure science, the environment, genomics, education, and more.

International Open Data Conference
November 18-20, 2020
Nairobi, Kenya
The sixth edition of IODC will be hosted by the government of Kenya with support from the OD4D Network, IDRC, and the World Bank. The conference program will be co-created with the community via an open call for proposals to ensure a diverse agenda of interactive sessions, workshops, and ancillary events. A special focus will be placed on building bridges with the broader data community, exploring how to bring the power of the newest technologies to some of the world's oldest problems, and creating new models for collaboration in order to drive social and economic value from open data in Africa and around the world.


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This page contains a single entry by Wendy M. Grossman published on February 28, 2020 1:06 PM.

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