News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending February 12, 2021

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending February 12, 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, Bits of Freedom, EFF, noyb.


US Adds Copyright Legislation to COVID Relief Package
Two copyright bills were unexpectedly added to the middle of the 5,600-page spending bill and coronavirus relief package the US Congress hurriedly passed in December 2020, Katharine Trendacosta and Cara Gagliano report at EFF. The Protecting Lawful Streaming Act makes running an illegal streaming service a felony, but of greater concern is the Copyright Alternatives in Small-Claims Enforcement Act (CASE). CASE creates a Copyright Claims Board inside the Copyright Office that can hear infringement claims from rights holders seeking less than $30,000 in redress per proceeding, and those affected must opt out if they wish to avoid being bound by the board's decisions.

UN Adapts Children's Rights for Digital Environment
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has adopted General Comment 25 on children's rights in the digital environment, the UK's 5Rights Foundation reports on its website. The Comment discusses children's rights to non-discrimination, to life and development, and to be heard. It also states that the best interests of the child should be taken into account when regulating the digital environment.

Myanmar Shuts Down Social Media
Following protests against the military coup, the Myanmar Ministry of Transport and Communications ordered mobile networks and internet service providers to block first Facebook and then Twitter and Instagram in the country until further notice, Kim Lyons reports at The Verge. Spokespeople for Facebook and Twitter issued statements opposing the disruption of personal communications and the public conversation.

Hamburg Authority Orders Clearview AI to Partially Delete Profile
After an 11-month investigation that included submissions from noyb, the Hamburg Data Protection Authority ordered facial recognition company Clearview AI to delete the hash values relating to the biometric profile - though not the images themselves - of Computer Chaos Club member Matthias Marx, noyb reports on its website. The order, which must be implemented by February 12, also affirms the right of all Hamburg residents not to be included in Clearview AI's database without their consent. At the New York Times, Kashmir Hill reports that Canada's privacy commissioner has said Clearview should delete Canadians' faces from its database because the company engages in "mass surveillance, and it is illegal". However, dozens of law enforcement agencies and organizations across Canada use the company's app for investigating child sexual abuse crimes, among other things. Clearview contends that it did not require permission because the images were posted on public websites.

India Proposes to Regulate Non-Personal Data
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology's revised proposals for an Indian data protection law focus on non-personal data, and they fail to address the booming black market in people's personal data, Naman M. Aggarwal and Raman Jit Singh Chima report at  Access Now. Access Now argues that a framework for protecting personal data should be developed first, and that a standalone law on non-personal data jeopardizes long-term plans for data protection governance.

Amazon Attempts to Block Union Drive
Amazon has launched a drive to stop more than 2,000 workers at its Alabama warehouse from unionizing, Michael Sainato reports at the Guardian. Ballots, which were due to go out on February 8, will be counted on March 30; Amazon's lawyers are trying to appeal a court ruling allowing workers to vote by mail. At the BBC, Jane Wakefield reports that Amazon has installed AI-powered cameras in its delivery vans that constantly record drivers and report any of 16 actions, including hard braking, driver distraction, and yawning. Amazon claims the cameras are to help keep drivers safe. At AP News, Joseph Pisani reports that Andy Jassy, who runs Amazon's cloud computing business, will replace Jeff Bezos as CEO later in 2021.


Disinformation During the Libyan Conflict
In this blog posting at Lawfare, Alexei Abrahams and Joey Shea share their study of the role and evolution of coordinated disinformation and propaganda in the ongoing Libyan conflict. They find that foreign intervention has undermined confidence in the authenticity of political discourse in and beyond the region, and that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey have all been implicated in information operations during Libya's civil war.

Smartphone Location Data Reveals Capitol Attackers
In this article at the New York Times, Charlie Wurzel and Stuart A. Thompson review the dataset of about 100,000 smartphone pings that reveal that 40% of the phones near the rally stage were also in and around the Capitol while Trump supporters were invading it. The data is unquestionably useful to law enforcement for finding and punishing the attackers. However, Wurzel and Thompson argue that it should never have been collected and that doing so places everyone's privacy at risk. Among the issues they cite: the inherent inaccuracies in location data, the mobile advertising identifiers now attached to each individual who uses a smartphone, and the way the data is spread to myriad commercial organizations across many sectors. At Gizmodo, Shoshana Wodinsky reports that the Center for Democracy and Technology is suing the US Department of Homeland Security over the failure of two of its agencies to respond to three separate freedom of information requests asking how it uses social media data in examining visa applications.

Canada Proposes Digital Sales and Services Taxes
In this episode of his Lawbytes podcast, Michael Geist interviews Itai Gringberg, an expert on cross-border taxation, about upcoming Canadian plans for digital taxes. Proposals include mandatory payments supporting Canadian content, a digital sales tax by July 2021, and a digital services tax in 2022. Digital services taxes, or proposals to create them, exist in many countries, though both the US and China oppose the idea. It's not clear how to manage the substantially different interests of developing countries and emerging market economies.

Avoiding Burnout in Digital Activism
In this blog posting at Bits of Freedom, Ties Rademacher argues that the digital rights movement needs to prioritize the mental health and well-being of activists or risk losing them to burnout. Digital rights campaigns always seem more urgent, but given the years they take and the frequency of setbacks, facilitating well-being is increasingly important.

Documentaries Lose Editorial Independence
In this article at Columbia Journalism Review, Danny Funt examines the rise of TV documentaries as streaming services embrace the genre. Although many are solid investigative journalistic work, the producers of the highest-profile, biggest-budget titles, such as Hulu's "Hillary" (Clinton), have surrendered their editorial independence in return for access and exclusive footage. Global streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Apple, HBO, and Showtime do not vet financiers, restrict who can participate in production, nor have rules limiting who can receive compensation.

Market Manipulation and the Gamestop Share Price Spike
In this article at the Washington Post, Matt O'Brien examines the wild spike in the price of Gamestop shares that has been attributed to the activism of the WallStreetBets subReddit. While some of the forum's old-timers undoubtedly profited, later, smaller buyers are likely to have lost money. At Washington Monthly, Robert J. Shapiro's detailed study of trading data leads him to attribute the spike to market manipulation by competing hedge funds. At City Journal, Bruno Maçães contends that the incident has laid bare the departure of the financial markets from shared reality, the latest casualty in the "truth wars".


*** 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.

Open Data Day
March 6, 2021
Local events worldwide
Organized by the Open Knowledge Foundation, Open Data Day is an annual celebration of open data. Groups from around the world create local events on the day where they will use open data in their communities. It is an opportunity to show the benefits of open data and encourage the adoption of open data policies in government, business and civil society.

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 Netherlands
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.

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).

Modern Law Review: Are We Owned?
October 8, 2021
Stirling, Scotland, UK
The Modern Law Review will present a one-day conference, "Are We Owned? A Multidisciplinary and Comparative Conversation on Intellectual Property in the Algorithmic Society". The conference will discuss the future of autonomy as the terms of service that apply to phones and computers become embedded in "smart" physical objects throughout our environment and within our bodies.

October 8-9, 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.


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.

The Communication and Media Institute (CAMRI) at London's University of Westminster hosts a series of online events presenting the work of sociologists, historians, economists, and activists studying online developments around the world. Spring 2021 offerings include a reassessment of the 2010 Arab Spring and studies of internal communication connections within the Global South, the changing role of public service media, decolonizing the curriculum, and using Facebook to reduce polarization.

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 February 26, 2021 1:15 PM.

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