News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending January 15, 2021

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending January 15, 2021

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: Education International, Privacy International.


Privacy International Wins High Court Ruling Against General Warrants
After a five-year battle, the UK High Court has held that "general warrants" are illegal and that the security and intelligence services cannot rely on non-specific warrants to authorize wide-ranging property interference and certain forms of computer hacking, Privacy International reports. PI issued the judicial review challenge after a 2016 decision by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. If it is not appealed, the judgment will go back to the tribunal for execution.

US Capitol Invasion Was Openly Planned on Social Media
The January 6 invasion of the US Capitol was openly planned and publicized on numerous easily accessible niche and mainstream sites, Jane Lytvynenko and Molly Hensley-Clancy report at Buzzfeed News. At NBC News, Ben Collins and Brandy Zdrozny find many published warnings, contrary to Washington Police Chief Robert Contee, who claimed no one could have foreseen the insurrection. In an article at The Atlantic, Adrienne LaFrance likens Facebook to the "Doomsday Machine", hypothesized by military strategist Herman Kahn in order to make nuclear war unthinkable. In a Twitter thread, Seth Abramson examines point by point the "Save America March" speech US president Donald Trump delivered to the crowd waiting to march on the Capitol; the speech forms the basis of an article of impeachment. Finally, in a video clip Arnold Schwarzenegger reveals his memories of growing up in post-Nazi Austria and draws lessons for American democracy.

Tech Companies Block Trump and Far-Right Social Media
Following the Capitol attack, Twitter and Facebook suspended Donald. Trump's personal accounts including Instagram and WhatsApp, Olivia Harrison reports at Refinery29.  At the Huffington Post, Lydia O'Connor and Dominique Mosbergen report that the government-owned @POTUS account, the Trump campaign account, and several others were also suspended after Trump tried to circumvent the ban by tweeting from them. The Trump Twitter Archive retains the searchable set of Trump's tweets from September 2016 onward. The Guardian reports that Twitter has suspended 70,000 accounts sharing QAnon content. At the New York Times, Sapna Maheshwari reports that Shopify has closed two ecommerce sites tied to Trump, one of them his campaign store. At CNet, Stephen Shankland, Edward Mayer, and Ian Sherr report that Apple, Google, and Amazon have all banned the far-right Parler social network from their services. At TechDirt, Mike Masnick considers the Trump ban and the balance between justifiable content moderation and censorship; no definitive set of rules can handle all situations. At The Hill, Joe Ferulla argues that the Capitol attack threatens the First Amendment because profits drive the "mass delusion machine".  At the New York Times, Lauren Hirsch lists numerous companies that are withdrawing political donations as a result of the insurrection.

WeChat Spreads Chinese Censorship Across the Globe
WeChat has become a worldwide vector for Chinese censorship, Jeanne Whalen reports at the Washington Post. Its millions of US users disagree about the remedy. Some favoring the White House plan to ban the app even though in September a federal court in San Francisco stayed the ban on First Amendment grounds. Others would rather see owner Tencent sued, punished, or fined.

Cars Provide Rich Data for Digital Forensic Investigators
Law enforcement investigators are increasingly using the data gathered by modern cars' telemetry and infotainment systems as part of their crime-solving efforts, Olivia Solon reports at NBCNews. The sensors and phone links provide far-reaching troves of digital evidence, including calls made and locations visited, and less-obvious details such as how much drivers and passengers weigh. Unlike phones, cars lack information security to protect this data from overreach.

Britain Funds Media "Influence" in Venezuela
The UK has allocated £250,000 from its aid budget to "influence" local and national media agendas in Venezuela, raising suspicions that it is trying to help remove Nicolas Maduro from power, Matt Kennard and John McEvoy reports at Daily Maverick. Separately, the British government also funds the Westminster Forum for Democracy, which has spent over £750,000 to "strengthen democracy" in Venezuela since 2016.


Copyright Exceptions Needed to Support Education During Pandemic
In this blog posting, Education International argues that in 2021 the World Intellectual Property Organization should rectify the opportunity it missed at its November 2020 Standing Committee meeting to produce urgently-needed guidance on copyright exceptions to help education, research, and cultural heritage organizations with COVID-19-related intellectual property challenges.

Techniques for Building AI Models Are Broken
In this article at MIT Technology Review, Will Douglas Heaven discusses findings from 40 researchers across seven different teams at Google that today's techniques for building machine learning models leave no way to tell whether the models will work in the real world. "Underspecification", a known problem in statistics in which different effects may have many possible causes, means in practice that training data may produce multiple models that differ in tiny, arbitrary ways that can lead to large differences in performance.

Activism Leads Google Workers to Unionize
In this podcast at the Wall Street Journal, Bowdeya Tweh describes the events and activism that led Google employees to unionize and considers the prospects for organizing at other Silicon Valley companies. At CNN, Brian Fung explains how the new Alphabet Workers' Union will function.

Countering Technology-Facilitated Gender-Based Violence and Abuse
In this video clip, the Canada-based Centre for International Governance Innovation presents a panel featuring Suzie Dunn, who discusses her research on technology-facilitated gender-based violence and abuse. Countering the technology-fueled exploitation of women requires responses from numerous sectors including law enforcement, legislators, technologists, victim support workers, editors, and NGOs. In a paper, UCL researchers Tomás Bermudez, Maddalena Esposito, and Jay Neuner survey the use of "stalkerware" in intimate partner violence. At the Women's Service Network, the second national survey on technology abuse and domestic violence in Australia finds increased use of technology to entrap women. The three most commonly used technologies are text messaging, smartphones, and Facebook; the fastest-growing are video cameras and GPS tracking apps.

QAnon Is How Religions Begin
In this episode of Kate Klonick's and Benjamin Wittes' daily videocast, In Lieu of Fun, Atlantic editor Adrienne LaFrance discusses what she learned about QAnon in researching a lengthy May 2020 article. She finds an important difference between people who profit from QAnon and true believers for whom this "pro-Trump conspiracy theory" is so impossible to dislodge that, "this is how religions begin".

Moving AI Forward
In this video clip, the second debate in a series hosted by Montreal.AI, scholars and practitioners from a variety of disciplines, including Ryan Calo, Barbara Tversky, and Daniel Kahneman, discuss how AI should move forward and how to solve challenges such as understanding causality, bias, reasoning, and ethics.


*** 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

January 23-25, 2021
Online from Sydney, Australia
The 22nd focuses on Linux, and the community that has built up around it, and the values that it represents. It is a deeply technical conference covering topics varying from the inner workings of the Linux kernel to the inner workings of dealing with communities. Run by volunteers, is a not-for-profit conference that aims to provide attendees with a world-class conference at a down to earth rate.

Computers, Privacy, and Data Protection
January 27-29, 2021
Online from Brussels, Belgium
As a world-leading multidisciplinary conference, CPDP offers the cutting edge in legal, regulatory, academic and technological development in privacy and data protection. Within an atmosphere of independence and mutual respect, CPDP 2021, "Enforcing Rights in a Changing World", will gather academics, lawyers, practitioners, policy-makers, industry, and civil society from all over the world to offer an arena to exchange ideas and discuss the latest emerging issues and trends.

TICTec 2021
March-May 2021
In lieu of its usual two-day annual conference, mySociety will instead host a series of short, energetic, and to-the-point online TICTeC "Show and Tell" presentations that will feature speakers from around the world talking about the impacts of digital tools intended to empower citizens.

MozFest 2021
From March 8, 2021
Online from Amsterdam, The Netherlands
MozFest is a unique hybrid: part art, tech and society convening, and part maker festival. It is the premier gathering for activists in diverse global movements fighting for a more humane digital world.

Wikimania 2021
Bangkok, Thailand
Wikimania 2020, now Wikimania 2021, will be the 16th Wikimania conference, an annual event for the international Wikimedia community.

May 14-15, 2021
Chicago, Illinois, 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.

TILTing Perspectives
May 19-21, 2021
Online from Tilburg, the Netherlands
TILTing perspectives 2021 brings together, for the seventh time, researchers, practitioners, policy makers, and civil society at the intersection of law and regulation, technology, and society to share insights, exchange ideas, and formulate, discuss, and suggest answers to contemporary challenges related to technological innovation.

Privacy Law Scholars 2021
June 3-4, 2021
Online from Washington, DC, USA
Privacy Law Scholars is a paper workshop intended to improve the quality of legal scholarship in the area of privacy. Participants submit works-in-progress for workshop discussions led by commenters on the papers.

June 7-11, 2021
AccessNow's tenth RightsCon will bring together business leaders, policy makers, general counsels, technologists, advocates, academics, government representatives, and journalists from around the world to tackle the most pressing issues at the intersection of human rights and technology.

CPDP LatAm 2021
July 2021
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. The conference will especially focus on data protection at a time of social emergency - COVID-19, democracy, innovation, and regulation in Latin America.

August 5-8, 2021
Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Def Con is one of the oldest and best-attended hacker conferences. Each year it attracts thousands of professional and amateur security researchers.

SOUPS 2021
August 8-10, 2021
Vancouver, BC, Canada
The 17th Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security will bring together an interdisciplinary group of researchers and practitioners in human-computer interaction, security, and privacy. It will be colocated with USENIX 2021.

Singularity University Global Summit 2021
August 23-25, 2021
Los Angeles, California, USA
Global Summit 2021
Singularity University's premier annual gathering brings together 2,000 change-makers for talks on AI, augmented/virtual reality, blockchain, the future of work, impact, investing, robotics and more.

World Library and Information Congress 2021
August 2021
Rotterdam, Netherlands
WLIC is the annual conference of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA).


Ada Lovelace Institute
London's Ada Lovelace Institute, founded in 2019 to ensure the ethical use of AI, is running a series of events on the issues surrounding the use of technologies in response to the pandemic. Late-2020 events included discussions of regulating for algorithm accountability and "almost-future" AI.

Bace Cybersecurity Institute
Recent webinars sponsored by Bace Security include a "fireside" discussion with prominent women in security, security problems in online voting, methods for privacy-protecting digital contact tracing, advanced botnet researcher, and using marketing techniques to improve cybersecurity communication.

Benchmark Initiative
The Benchmark Initiative is running regular events on topics such as the use of location data to end the global sanitation crisis, the safe use of location data in human migration; data, power, and the pandemic; and managing social distancing in public spaces. All events are posted on Vimeo soon after they conclude.

Data & Society
Data & Society has moved its weekly Databites and Network Power Hours programs into online interactive formats. Its first event for 2021 examines digital technology and democratic theory.

EFF and its local counterparts in the Electronic Frontier Alliance are running numerous events on subjects such as technology education, open source, voting security, and content moderation.

Future in Review
Future in Review is running a series of online "FiReSide" events. Recent topics include Chinese-US relations after the presidential election, and the future technology struggle.

In Lieu of Fun
Kate Klonick, an assistant professor at St John's University School of Law who specializes in online speech and governance, and Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution and co-founder and chief editor of Lawfare, hold a nightly discussion of current affairs, law, politics, and digital media with invited guests. Daily at 5pm Eastern Time.

Legal Frontiers in Digital Media 2020
The Berkeley Center for Law and Technology's online seminars on emerging legal issues at the intersection of digital media, freedom of speech, and law include AI, privacy law, technology law as a vehicle for anti-racism, and a look ahead to the next telecommunications act.

London Futurists
The London Futurists group, led by former Psion and Symbian architect David Wood, is presenting near-weekly speaker-led events focusing on potential radical transformations of humanity and society. Upcoming topics include anticipating future pandemics and a discussion of Michael Baxter's new book, Living in the Age of the Jerk. Event recordings are made available soon after meetings conclude.

Open Data Institute
The ODI's Friday lunchtime (London time) talks have moved online. These one-hour talks cover topics such as data ethics, social equity, trust, and converting weather into music.

Open Rights Group
The Open Rights Group and its local offshoots are running frequent online presentations and discussions of digital privacy, democracy, and data exploitation. Recent topics have included the launch of ORG's data and democracy report, a proposed law to ensure that contact-tracing apps are surrounded with privacy-protecting safeguards, and the effect of the pandemic on democratic institutions.

Public Knowledge
Public Knowledge is running public web events on subjects such as algorithmic amplification of hate speech, the survival of local journalism, and how to protect privacy during a pandemic.

London's Royal United Services Institute is running frequent online events considering topics relating to international politics, terrorism, financial crime, policing, and warfare, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic and the changes it will bring.

Singularity University
Singularity University's upcoming events include reimagining primary education and a series of executive programs aimed at various countries.


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This page contains a single entry by Wendy M. Grossman published on January 29, 2021 3:54 PM.

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