December 11, 2009

The Goldilocks Problem of Privacy in Public

Filed under: commons, events, musings, networks, politics, privacy — wseltzer @ 8:55 am

One of the very interesting sessions at Supernova featured a pair of speakers on aspects of privacy and publicity: danah boyd on “visibility” and Adam Greenfield on “urban objects.” Together, I found their talks making me think about the functions of privacy: how can we steer the course between too much and too little information-sharing?

danah pointed out the number of places we don’t learn enough. We “see” others on social media but fail to follow through on what we learn. She described a teen whose MySpace page chronicled abuse at her mother’s hands for months before the girl picked up a weapon. After the fact, the media jumped on “murder has a MySpace,” but before, none had used that public information to help her out of the abuse. In a less dramatic case of short-sighted vision, danah showed Twitter users responding to trending black names after the BET Awards with “what’s happening to the neighborhood?” Despite the possibilities networked media offer, we often fail to look below the surface, to learn about those around us and make connections.

Adam, showing the possibilities of networked sensors in urban environments, described a consequence of “learning too much.” Neighbors in a small apartment building had been getting along just fine until someone set up a web forum. In the half year thereafter, most of the 6 apartments turned over. People didn’t want to know so much about those with whom they shared an address. Here, we might see what Jeffrey Rosen and Lawrence Lessig have characterized as the problem of “short attention spans.” We learn too much to ignore, but not enough to put the new factoid in context. We don’t pay attention long enough to understand.

How do we get the “just right” level of visibility to and from others? and what is “just right”? danah notes that we participate in networked publics, Helen Nissenbaum talks of contexts. One challenge is tuning our message and understanding to the various publics in which we speak and listen; knowing that what we put on Facebook or MySpace may be seen by many and understood by few. Like danah, Kevin Marks points out the asymmetry of the publics to which we speak and listen.

Another challenge is to find connections among publics and build upon them to engage with those who seem different, Ethan Zuckerman’s xenophilia. The ‘Net may have grown past the stage where just Internet use could be conversation-starter enough but spaces within it take common interest and create community. Socializing in World of Warcraft or a blog’s comments section can make us more willing to hear our counterparts’ context.

Finally, our largest public, here in the United States, is our democracy. We need to live peacefully with our neighbors and reach common decisions. Where our time is too limited to bestow attention on all, do we need to deliberately look away? John Rawls, in Political Liberalism, discusses political choices supported by an “overlapping consensus” from people with differing values and comprehensive views of “the good.” I wonder whether this overlapping consensus depends on a degree of privacy and a willingness to look away from differences outside the consensus.

November 3, 2008

Skype for Obama, from Cairo to Colorado

Filed under: Internet, politics — wseltzer @ 12:14 pm

I’m spending this election season in Cairo, Egypt, attending an ICANN meeting. Thanks to the Internet, that hasn’t stopped me from some final get-out-the-vote efforts. The time zones mesh up so that after meetings conclude here, I’ve been able to log in to, find a list of voters and a calling script, and call via Skype to remind them of polling places and encourage them to vote.

Isn’t the Internet grand? I’m at the ICANN meeting trying to keep ICANN from interfering with the flexibility that allowed that unexpected political outreach.

October 14, 2008

McCain’s YouTube Takedown Inspires Fair Use Fervor

Filed under: Chilling Effects, DMCA, censorship, copyright, politics — wseltzer @ 9:28 pm

There’s nothing like a misfired copyright claim to make a presidential campaign see the value of fair use. After finding several of its campaign videos removed from YouTube for copyright claims, the McCain-Palin campaign has fired off an eloquent defense of fair use — and another illustration of where the DMCA’s counter-notification process falls short.

The McCain campaign complains that its ads and web videos posted to YouTube have been removed on the complaint of news organizations whose footage was quoted:

[O]verreaching copyright claims have resulted in the removal of non-infringing campaign videos from YouTube, thus silencing political speech. Numerous times during the course of the campaign, our advertisements or web videos have been the subject of DMCA takedown notices regarding uses that are clearly privileged under the fair use doctrine. The uses at issue have been the inclusion of fewer than ten seconds of footage from news broadcasts in campaign ads or videos, as a basis for commentary on the issues presented in the news reports, or on the reports themselves. These are paradigmatic examples of fair use…

Of course the McCain-Palin team could counter-notify, but the DMCA’s 10-14 business day waiting period makes that option next to useless, when “10 days can be a lifetime in a political campaign.”

The campaign proposes an expedited process for political campaigns. EFF’s Fred von Lohmann calls for a broader solution, to protect the bottom-up political expression of citizens, not just those who would be our leaders. We shouldn’t have to battle bogus copyright claims to debate the debates. And we shouldn’t exempt politicians from the effects of their laws, so perhaps their copyright misadventures can give them a bit more sympathy for the rest of us. Let’s hope this fair use defense lasts longer than a DMCA waiting period.

June 28, 2007

Digging in to Illegal Wiretaps

Filed under: politics, privacy — Wendy @ 10:16 am

The Senate Judiciary Committee has sent subpoenas to the White House to investigate the administration’s warrantless wiretaps.

WASHINGTON (Wednesday, June 27) — Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), in consultation with Ranking Member Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), issued subpoenas Wednesday for documents relating to the authorization and legal justification for the Administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.

Chairman Leahy issued subpoenas to the Department of Justice, the Office of the White House, the Office of the Vice President and the National Security Council for documents relating to the Committee’s inquiry into the warrantless electronic surveillance program. The subpoenas seek documents related to authorization and reauthorization of the program or programs; the legal analysis or opinions about the surveillance; orders, decisions, or opinions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) concerning the surveillance; agreements between the Executive Branch and telecommunications or other companies regarding liability for assisting with or participating in the surveillance; and documents concerning the shutting down of an investigation of the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) relating to the surveillance.

More via the NYT. I hope they’ll do a vigorous investigation, including debate on the public record to blow down the “state secrets” screen that’s been thrown up against private lawsuits against the spying.

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