News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending January 29, 2021

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending January 29, 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: Access Now, AI Now Institute, Data & Society, EDRi, EFF. Homo Digitalis, Human Rights Watch, Panoptykon Foundation, Privacy International, and Ranking Digital Rights.


Pandemic Provides Excuse to Deploy Surveillance Technologies
The pandemic has turned refugees into test subjects for surveillance technologies, Petra Molnar tells Raphael Tsavkko Garcia in an interview at Medium after conducting a fact-finding mission in Greek refugee camps for EDRi. Molnar witnessed the birth of the Kara Tepes containment center where, as at other camps, COVID-19 has provided an excuse to experiment with drones, AI lie detectors, risk scoring, and voice printing. At The Nation, Felipe de la Hoz suggests new US president Joe Biden will replace the now-canceled border wall with advanced surveillance technology that will pose greater danger to both migrants and US citizens.

Open Letter Calls for Human Rights Protection in AI Regulation
EDRi and 61 other civil society organizations have written an open letter to the European Commission calling for regulatory red lines to protect human rights in the upcoming proposal on artificial intelligence, EDRi reports on its website. Among the issues the letter highlights are biometric mass surveillance, structural discrimination, access to justice, and workers' rights. EDRi member signatories such as Privacy International, Homo Digitalis, and the Panoptykon Foundation are joined by AI Now Institute, Ranking Digital Rights, Statewatch, and Human Rights Watch.

Misinformation in Circulation Plummets After Trump Twitter Ban
A study from Zignal Labs finds that misinformation dropped by 73% in the week after January 8, when Twitter banned former US president Donald Trump and more than 70,000 accounts associated with QAnon, Elizaeth Dwoskin and Craig Timberg report at the Washington Post. The frequency with which Trump's posts were retweeted made him the site's biggest amplifier. At Wired, Sonner Kehrt describes Sara-Jayne Terp's use of cybersecurity tools to track false claims as if they're malware in order to understand and stop misinformation campaigns. At Medium, Sarah Emerson argues that instead of targeting Parler, Congress should ask the FBI to study the entire social media landscape; this includes Facebook and Twitter, which played essential roles in the unrest, as well as Telegram, MeWe, and other sites to which former Parler users are turning. At Politico, Kara Swisher argues that while the technology companies did the right thing in finally banning Trump, it took them too long. Examining the companies' power is an urgent necessity, particularly given their ability to terminate entire businesses, as in Parler's case. At Wired, James Temperton reports that lax security allowed hackers and archivists to save 70TB of Parler posts, and document its role as a "radicalization engine".

Hong Kong Authorities Crack Down on Digital Dissent
A digital sweep shows that Hong Kong authorities are using the powers granted them by the new 2020 national security law to redo the Great Firewall, Shibani Mahtani reports at the Washington Post. Hong Kong police now send devices seized from arrestees to mainland China for data extraction; digital rights activists say the government intends to crack down on dissent online and use confiscated devices to map and silence the opposition.

Facebook Refers Trump Account Ban to Oversight Board
Facebook has asked the 20-person Oversight Board to decide if the company acted correctly in suspending former US president Donald Trump and whether it should be permanent, Ben Wittes reports at Lawfare. Wittes finds no obvious way to balance keeping politicians' words accessible and accountable against the risks of harmful or offensive speech. The board is accepting public comments and will decide in 90 days. At The Markup, Leon Yin and Alfred Ng the Citizen Browser project data shows that although Facebook claims it had stopped recommending "civic groups", in fact the recommendations continued throughout December and January, most frequently to its panel's Trump voters. In a second report based on Citizen Browser data at The Markup, Colin Lecher and John Keegan find that Facebook showed Biden and Trump voters substantially different coverage of the Capitol riot. At the New York Times, Kate Conger and Mike Isaac provide an inside look at how Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey made his decision.

Users Flee WhatsApp After Policy Changes
WhatsApp has lost millions of users since a poorly-explained update to its terms of service, scheduled for February 8 and now delayed until May, Alex Hern reports at the Guardian. Facebook intended to enable new business messaging features and clarify existing policies; instead, users posted that WhatsApp was claiming the right to read users' messages and share the data with Facebook. Many have switched to Signal. At the New York Times, the editorial board calls for curbs on the technology companies' overreach via lopsided contracts, and highlights some of the most egregious terms and conditions clauses that users never notice.


New US Administration Brings Hope for Change
In a "transition memo", EFF calls on the new US Biden-Harris administration to further reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, act to limit the use of facial recognition, require a warrant to search travelers' devices at the border, reject mandatory backdoors in encryption software and devices, foster competition in social media rather than altering Section 230, and bolster network neutrality. In a blog posting, Access Now launches a tracker for seven core digital rights issues it hopes Biden-Harris will prioritize. At Vox, Sara Morrison suggests that Biden's Federal Communications Commission should restore network neutrality, ensure universal affordable access to broadband internet, and drop Trump-era plans to reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. At The Register, Kieren McCarthy offers an assessment of the damaging tenure of departing FCC chair Ajit Pai.

Nigerian COVID-19 Technology Brings Surveillance Concerns
In this article at Global Voices, Boye Adegoke writes that Nigeria's weak accountability, lack of political will to bring in data protection and privacy legislation, history of surveillance, and repressive approach to COVID-19 are leading local digital rights activists to worry that two new privately-developed contact tracing apps may provide the state with additional tracking and targeting capabilities. The human rights losses will only be clear after the pandemic ends.

QAnon Prophecies Fail As Biden Is Inaugurated
In an article at the New York Times, Kevin Roose tracks QAnon believers' dismay at US president Joe Biden's inauguration, which they were led to expect would be blocked by a dramatic series of arrests leading to former president Donald Trump's return to power. At NBC News, Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins recount the history of QAnon, which started when a YouTube video creator and two 4chan moderators picked it to promote out of an array of obscure conspiracy theories. On Twitter, digital sociologist Jen Schradie collates a list of books on the American far-right, research which until now has been female-dominated.

Russian Protests Mark Return of Alexei Navalny
In this episode of their 5pm EST daily videocast, In Lieu of Fun, Lawfare editor Ben Wittes and law professor Kate Klonick ask Alexander Vindman, Bianna Golodryga, and Toomas Hendrick to analyze the Russian protests over the arrest of Alexei Navalny and the impact on Russian dissent of new social media such as Tik-Tok. Among their suggestions to the new Biden government for curbing Russian corruption: enforce money laundering rules.

Kenya 2022 Presidential Election Brings Misinformation
In a posting at Global Voices, Njeri Wangari warns that Kenya must speed up implementation of its 2020 data protection law in order to be ready to block voter manipulation via big data in the upcoming August 2022 presidential election. Misinformation online is already growing as political battles move online. For most of Kenya's 53 million citizens, smartphones provide their only mode of internet and social media access.

Digital Technology and Democratic Theory
In this video clip from the Data & Society Research Institute, Lucy Bernholz, Rob Reich, and Seeta Peña Gangadharan discuss their new book, Digital Technology and Democratic Theory. The book collects essays by scholars from multiple disciplines to offer a sober, long-term assessment of digital technologies' impact on fundamental aspects of democracy such as the structure of the public sphere and resistance to unjust sociotechnical systems.


*** 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


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.

European Association for Biometrics
March 9, 15, and 30, 2021
Online from Bussum, The netherlandsNetherlands
In a series of events on the theme of "demographic biometric fairness", the European Association for Biometrics will feature presentations on current research by experts from academic, industry, and governmental organisations and will facilitate interactions and discussions with the audience in order to create awareness, a common ground, and next steps.

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 3:55 PM.

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