News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending March 13, 2020

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending March 13, 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 Open Society Foundations. Prepared by Wendy M. Grossman.

Current and former grantees featured in this issue: Citizen Lab, EDRi, La Quadature du Net.


China: Government Surveillance Escalates to Contain the Coronavirus
Government surveillance has reached a new level in China as part of the country's response to the coronavirus and may become a "new normal", Lily Kuo reports at the Guardian. Security measures include detailed tracking of people's movements, for example requiring them to scan a QR code and write down their name and ID number, temperature, and recent travel history before entering apartment compounds and workplaces. At the New York Times, Paul Mozur, Raymond Zhong, and Aaron Krolik report that the phone app Alipay Health Code, which citizens are required to install, decides in real time whether the individual should be suspected of carrying the COVID-19 virus and whether they should be permitted to use public spaces. The app assigns each person a green, yellow, or red color health status, and appears to share information with the police, but gives users no transparency into its decision making. In a Twitter thread, Mozur has posted video clips showing the app at work in the metro and in some areas only open to those with green codes.

France: Administrative Court Strikes Down Facial Recognition in Schools
The Administrative Court of Marseille has ruled that facial recognition systems are a disproportionate measure for controlling access to two high schools in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region of France, La Quadrature du Net reports on its blog. The Court also found that the system breaches the General Data Protection Regulation because students subject to school rules cannot freely give consent. At AI Regulation, Theodore Christakis gives background on the involvement in the case of the French data protection regulator, CNIL, which told the court that less intrusive means could have been found to achieve the objective of increasing school security.

Sweden Passes Law Allowing Police Hacking
The Swedish parliament has passed a law that will allow Swedish law enforcement to apply to the courts for a warrant to hack into devices they believe a suspect might have used to commit a crime that attracts at least a two-year prison sentence, reports at EDRi. Critics object that the law permits police to hack into devices that belong to mere acquaintances, and allows prosecutors to issue their own warrants if they think the courts will be too slow.

US Federal Agencies Buy Location History Data
US federal agencies including Customs and Border Protection, the Secret Service, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement are bypassing warrant requirements by buying location history data from "data-to-knowledge" company Babel Street, Charles Levinson reports at Protocol. Under the terms of use, the agencies are forbidden from using the technology as evidence or mentioning it in legal proceedings. The data enables agents to geofence the area around an investigation site, identify devices that were nearby in the days before the incident, and track their locations through the previous months as well as where they went afterwards. At NBC News, Jon Schuppe reports that after police in Gainesville, FL obtained a geofence warrant, resident Zachary McCoy, who uses the RunKeeper smartphone app to track his bike rides, discovered that riding past a house that had been burgled led police to list him as a suspect and demand access to his Google account.

Smithsonian Institution Adds 2.8 Million Images to Public Domain
The Smithsonian Institution has released 2.8 million high-quality images and 3D models into the public domain for free use for any purpose and will continue adding to the database as images, songs, data sets, and other material are digitized and determined to be free of copyright, Mike Masnick reports at TechDirt. As part of the project, the Institution is asking volunteers to work online to help transcribe scans of books and documents.

Australian Government Sues Facebook Over Cambridge Analytica
The Australian information minister, Angelene Falk, has filed a lawsuit in federal court against Facebook, arguing that it failed to protect Australia's roughly 311,127 users (in 2014-2015) from having their data collected and exploited for the purposes of political profiling by Cambridge Analytica, contrary to their reasonable expectations, Josh Taylor reports at the Guardian. Falk argues that the system's design made it impossible for users to consent or control how their data was used.


Chinese Censors Seek to Control Spread of Coronavirus Information
In this posting for Citizen Lab, Lotus Ruan, Jeffrey Knockel, and Masashi Crete-Nishihata outline their study of how the Chinese government is controlling information about the coronavirus on WeChat, YY, and other Chinese social media, where early warnings of the epidemic were censored. In early February, the Cyberspace Administration of China announced it would punish websites, platforms, and accounts for "harmful content", and "spreading fear". At the Washington Post, Tony Romm writes that half-truths and outright falsehoods are proliferating on WhatsApp, particularly in African and Asian countries. At Fast Company, Mark Wilson reports that new research from MIT finds that labeling content as fact-checked and disputed leads to the "implied truth effect" - people believe that unlabeled stories are trustworthy.

Uganda Still Awaits Benefits of Data Protection Law
In this blog posting, Unwanted Witness summarizes the first year in operation of Uganda's data protection law. Although the Ministry of Information Communications Technology and National Guidance is mandated to develop regulations to enforce the new law, it has yet to establish them, and meanwhile the government has expanded mandatory collection of sensitive personal data under the national ID system and agencies such as the police force are planning to integrate their CCTV systems with national ID and immigration data.

Global Freedom Declines for Fourteenth Year
In this year's report, Freedom House finds that 2019 was the 14th consecutive year of decline in global freedom; citizens in 64 countries have seen their political rights and civil liberties decline and there has only been improvement in 37. Both democratic - the report cites the US and India - and authoritarian leaders are happy to break down institutional safeguards and ignore the rights of minorities and critics. At The Register, Lindsay Clarke profiles new research from Chatham House that studies the role of digital technology in the current crisis for liberal democracy; the authors, who include MEP Marietje Schaake, former MEP Julia Reda, and computer scientist Wendy Hall, conclude that democracy must evolve to meet new conditions, though they admit this may be a challenge for the EU. In an article at Columbia Journalism Review, Ahana Datta describes numerous government-sponsored cyber attacks on journalists, particularly foreign correspondents. In some cases their phone calls to sources are automatically redirected; in others their phones were targeted with fake SMS authentication codes for WhatsApp, Instagram, or Telegram or with downloadable malware.

Data Gathering Creates New Problems for Migrants
In this blog post at EDRi, Petra Molnar summarizes the impact of biometrics and automated decisions on migrants' journeys. Border guards scrape their social media histories and machines interview them while humanitarian organizations partner with private entities and collect biometrics as a requirement for dispensing food and other aid, placing migrants under persistent and oppressive surveillance. The article is the second in a series on AI and migration.

Cultural Change Brings New Speed to Scientific Collaboration
In this article at Science, Kai Kupferschmidt discusses the coronavirus-inspired transformation of how scientists communicate with each other, adopting tools like Slack and Twitter, posting viral genomes to the GIDSAID platform for near-instant analysis, and uploading reports and data to preprint servers. Few of these tools existed ten years ago, and their use is enabling research to move faster than in any previous outbreak. However, speed also enhances the risk of spreading misinformation. At the LA Times, Michael Hiltzik attributes the change to open access, surmising that COVID-19 could kill off for-profit journal publication. However, Hiltzik notes, the Trump administration has so far failed to follow through with a plan to make federally-funded research immediately free to the public; currently, it may be kept behind a paywall for a year. Also at Science, H. Holden Thorp counts the global cost when scientists are muzzled.

European Court of Human Rights Rules Against UK DNA Retention
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that UK police breached the privacy rights of Northern Irish citizen Fergus Gaughran, who was convicted of drunk driving in 2008, when they retained his DNA profile, fingerprints, and photograph, Owen Bowcott reports at the Guardian. The UK is one of the few members of the Council of Europe that doesn't time-limit the retention of biometric data. The judgment reverses that of the UK Supreme Court in 2015.


*** In light of the coronavirus outbreak, please follow your organization's travel guidelines, and check links to events listed below regularly for participation restrictions and updates as to whether events will go ahead.***

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

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.

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.

CANCELLED: 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 April 24, 2020 2:10 PM.

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