News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending July 23, 2021

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending July 23, 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, Amnesty International, Citizen Lab, Communia, EFF, R3D.


Leaked Database Shows Global Targets of Cybersurveillance
The "Pegasus" phone hacking software developed by Israel-based NSO Group is is being used by authoritarian governments to target human rights activists, business executives, religious figures, academics, journalists, lawyers, and union and government officials around the world, Stephanie Kirchgaessner, Paul Lewis, David Pegg, and Sam Cutler report at the Guardian. The report is based on an investigation by the Guardian and 16 other media outlets into a database of 50,000 phone numbers that was first seen by Amnesty International and the Paris-based non-profit Forbidden Stories. The numbers are believed to belong to people of interest to NSO clients since 2016, but it is not clear if the devices were the objects of successful or attempted hacks. Media outlets are slowly releasing the names. At Rappler, Gelo Gonzales reports that NSO spyware can successfully infect even the latest, most secure iPhones. At Citizen Lab, Bill Marczak, John Scott-Railton, Siena Anstis, and Ron Deibert publish the results of the independent review Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories requested, which validates the organizations' forensic methodology, and notes that Citizen Lab's own research has independently reached similar conclusions. In a second new report, Citizen Lab reveals details of the secretive Israel-based company Candiru, whose software, which sells spyware exclusively to governments, can infect and monitor iPhones, Androids, Macs, PCs, and cloud accounts. After recovering a copy of Candiru's Windows spyware from a victim, Citizen Lab, working with Microsoft, found more than 100 victims including human rights defenders, dissidents, journalists, activists, and politicians in a host of countries in the Middle East and Western Europe.

Austrian Supreme Court Refers Schrems' Facebook Complaint to CJEU
Austria's Supreme Court has referred key issues in Max Schrems' complaint questioning the legal basis on which Facebook collects user data to the Court of Justice of the European Union and awarded Schrems €500 in symbolic damages, Douglas Busvine reports at Reuters. Schrems' complaint argues that by treating consent as a contract instead of a fundamental right, Facebook deprives users of the rights and protections afforded by the General Data Protection Regulation. At, Schrems gives details of the referred questions.

Mexico Internet Guidelines Threaten Network Neutrality
Seven years after being issued a mandate, the Mexican Federal Institute of Communications has approved guidelines for internet traffic management that jeopardize network neutrality, Access Now reports at its blog. The guidelines provide some minor improvements to privacy safeguards and bars the government from mandating internet shutdowns or requesting disruptions to the internet or mobile apps. R3D had to take the government to court to force it to publish the guidelines and says it will continue fighting for network neutrality in Mexico.

CJEU Advocate General Partially Upholds Platform Liability
In a non-binding recommendation in a case brought by the Polish government, the Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the European Union has declined to strike down Article 17 of the EU Copyright Directive, which holds platforms liable for infringing content users post (the "upload filter"), Christoph Schmon reports at the EFF Deeplinks blog. However, Communia explains in a Twitter thread, the AG also recommends ensuring that implementations include safeguards to protect legal uploads from automated filters. If the CJEU follows the AG's recommendation, EU member states will have to amend their national implementations.

Canadian Border Agency Tested Facial Recognition to Find Previous Deportees
Over a period of six months in 2016, the Canada Border Services Agency quietly tested automated facial recognition on millions of travelers through Toronto's Pearson Airport to try to match them to a list of 5,000 people who had previously been deported, Tom Cardoso and Colin Freeze report at The Global and Mail. When the system returned a match from one of the 31 cameras pointed at international arrivals in Terminal 3, a border official would review the data and dispatch a floor officer to pull the traveler in for secondary inspection. Presentation slides from the system's supplier, Face4Systems, say that the pilot led to 47 hits; it is not clear whether any were deported.


Hong Kong and Chinese Wikipedians Battle over Protest Articles
In this article at the Hong Kong Free Press, Selina Cheng reports that dissenting editors are competing to control the content of the Wikipedia pages relating to Hong Kong political events. Mainland Chinese counterparts have threatened to report them, and Hong Kong-based editors are struggling to find reliable news sources to cite since the closure of Apple Daily and the disappearance of its news archive, and can't agree on the reliability of Chinese media.

The Dangers of Evidentiary Software
In this article at Lawfare, Susan Landau discusses the dangers posed by software used to produce evidence, based on work with Matt Blaze, Steve Bellovin, and Brian Owsley. Evidentiary software frequently fails due to bugs and other technical issues in operating systems, software, or hardware, or may introduce uncertainty when it hasn't been sufficiently tested. As an example, Landau cites the probabilistic DNA analysis software TrueAllele. Landau recommends that defendants should have the right to adversarial audits; software, she argues, should be subject to cross-examination just like human witnesses.

European Data Protection Authorities Call for Ban on AI Biometric Recognition
In a joint statement, the European Data Protection Supervisor and the European Data Protection Board have called for a ban on using AI to automatically recognize people via biometrics such as scans of face, gait, fingerprints, DNA, voice, keystrokes, ethnicity, and emotion, Matt Burgess reports at Wired. In April, the EU announced rules that permitted remote biometric identification but, calling it "high-risk", proposed stricter controls than some other types of AI. While facial recognition has had the most attention, the market for other biometrics is booming, partly due to EU research funding.

Facebook Withdraws Access to Data Analysis Tool CrowdTangle
In this article at the New York Times, Kevin Roose tells the story of Facebook's data analytics tool, CrowdTangle, which was withdrawn from access for journalists and researchers in favor of selective disclosure of in-house results using the tool. Facebook says it is still committed to increasing transparency. CrowdTangle was the tool journalists and researchers used to show that pro-Trump commentators were spreading misinformation and hyperpartisan commentary during the 2020 US presidential election.

An Unseen Industry Links Unique Phone IDs to Real Identities
In this article at Vice, Joseph Cox explores the behind-the-scenes industry that links phones' unique IDs ("MAIDs") to the real name, physical address, and other personal information of their owners. Advertisers say the IDs are anonymous - or at least pseudonymous - but the reality is that apps collect MAIDs and provide them to third parties that offer identity resolution and identity graphs.

Tool Finds Geographical Differences in Google Search Results
In this article at Wired, Tom Simonite tries the new tool SearchAtlas, created by PhD students Rodrigo Ochigame (MIT) and Katherine Ye (Carnegie-Mellon), which exposes the geographical differences in Google's search results. While SearchAtlas can't reveal how the company's search engine algorithms work, it does show expose the varying cultural prejudices and government preferences that may be embedded in them. The work was partly inspired by Safia Noble's 2018 book, Algorithms of Oppression.

Covid-Related Government Data Collection Lacks Transparency
In this article at Slate, Ben Ballard finds that public health officials' sources of data and the methods they and their commercial partners use to analyze it during the pandemic have been kept secret at the expense of public trust. Although numerous initiatives have tried to catalogue these efforts, public health officials have not adopted post-Snowden norms such as transparency reports.


*** 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


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.

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

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.

September 6-10, 2021
Online from Geneva, Switzerland
The Geneva Workshop on Innovations in Scholarly Communication will focus on     scholarly publishing, digital research data, reproducibility and research integrity, diversity, inclusivity and collaboration, and the future of open science.

ALPSP Annual Conference
September 15-17, 2021
Online from UK
The Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers' annual conference provides a friendly forum to share information, learn about new initiatives and engage in open discussion on the challenges and opportunities facing the scholarly publishing community. The main themes for 2021 are "Discoverability and Accessibility" and "The Great Reset: Scenario planning for life after COVID".

We Robot 2021
September 23-25, 2021
Miami, Florida, USA
We Robot is the leading North American conference on robotics law and policy.  It is designed to foster conversation between the people designing, building, and deploying robots and the people who design or influence the legal and social structures in which robots will operate. Papers and presentations are often interdisciplinary collaborations relating to how citizens and officials are or will be using robots, AI, and related technologies, and the implications of those technologies for policy and law.

Open Education Global
September 27-October 1, 2021
Each day of the 2021 2021 conference program will have webinars comprised of five presentations and interactive asynchronous activities focused on that day's action area. Sessions may be in any of the six official languages of the United Nations - Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, or Spanish.

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.

Web Summit
November 1-4, 2021
Lisbon, Portugal
At a time of great uncertainty for many industries, Web Summit will gather  founders and CEOs of technology companies, fast-growing startups, policymakers, and heads of state to ask a simple question: Where to next?

Tech for Democracy
November 9, 2021
Copenhagen, Denmark
The Danish Government will host an international conference, Tech for Democracy, to bring states, tech sector representatives, media, academia, and civil society around the same table to focus on concrete ways to make technology support - and not undermine - democracy and civil society.

Policy & AI
November 9-10, 2021
Palo Alto, California, USA
With artificial intelligence rapidly transforming every aspect of our world, calls for regulation, governance, and oversight are on the rise. HAI's 2021 fall conference will consider four radical proposals for policies that respond to the challenges and opportunities of an AI-powered future. Can basic income address the future of automated work? Should a public agency certify algorithms? How would we regulate AI-based decisions on platforms? Should there be ownership rights in data that fuel algorithms?  Each substantive session will feature the short presentation of one radical proposal with discussion by a panel of experts from multiple disciplines and backgrounds.

Internet Governance Forum
December 6-10, 2021
Katowice, Poland
The Internet Governance Forum is an international meeting, held at the initiative of the United Nations, that enables a global discussion on the development of the Internet. It is a place for exchanging thoughts and experiences in the field of Internet governance.

Computers, Privacy, and Data Protection
January 26-28, 2022
Brussels, Belgium
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 gathers academics, lawyers, practitioners, policy-makers, industry and civil society from all over the world in Brussels, offering them an arena to exchange ideas and discuss the latest emerging issues and trends. This unique multidisciplinary formula has served to make CPDP one of the leading data protection and privacy conferences in Europe and around the world.

Mozilla Festival
March, 2022
MozFest is a unique hybrid: part art, tech and society convening, part maker festival, and the premiere gathering for activists in diverse global movements fighting for a more humane digital world.


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.

Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs
The Carnegie Council runs frequent events on topics such as illiberal threats to democracy, the societal limits of AI ethics, AI and ethics in Africa, and inclusion. The Council posts audio and a transcript after each event.

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.

The Research Group on Data, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Law & Society is presenting a series of discussions on topics such as robotics (Frank Pasquale, April 1), rights, technology, and society (Anne-Sophie Hulin, May 19), and justifiability and contestability of algorithmic decision systems (Daniel Le Métayer, June 1).

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.

Geneva Internet Platform
The Geneva Internet Platform (GIP), a Swiss initiative run by DiploFoundation is organizing monthly briefings on internet governance, providing updates and news and projections of how they will influence future developments.

Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence at Stanford
HAI's series of events covers AI-related topics such as upcoming regulation, issues with algorithms, health, and AI and society.

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.

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 July 30, 2021 2:08 PM.

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