The Atlas of Surveillance

Electronic Frontier Foundation: “Law enforcement surveillance isn’t always secret. These technologies can be discovered in news articles and government meeting agendas, in company press releases and social media posts. It just hasn’t been aggregated before.

That’s the starting point for the Atlas of Surveillance, a collaborative effort between the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the University of Nevada, Reno Reynolds School of Journalism. Through a combination of crowdsourcing and data journalism, we are creating the largest-ever repository of information on which law enforcement agencies are using what surveillance technologies. The aim is to generate a resource for journalists, academics, and, most importantly, members of the public to check what’s been purchased locally and how technologies are spreading across the country.

We specifically focused on the most pervasive technologies, including drones, body-worn cameras, face recognition, cell-site simulators, automated license plate readers, predictive policing, camera registries, and gunshot detection. Although we have amassed more than 5,000 datapoints in 3,000 jurisdictions, our research only reveals the tip of the iceberg and underlines the need for journalists and members of the public to continue demanding transparency from criminal justice agencies….(More)”.

Four Principles for Integrating AI & Good Governance

Oxford Commission on AI and Good Governance: “Many governments, public agencies and institutions already employ AI in providing public services, the distribution of resources and the delivery of governance goods. In the public sector, AI-enabled governance may afford new efficiencies that have the potential to transform a wide array of public service tasks.
But short-sighted design and use of AI can create new problems, entrench existing inequalities, and calcify and ultimately undermine government organizations.

Frameworks for the procurement and implementation of AI in public service have widely remained undeveloped. Frequently, existing regulations and national laws are no longer fit for purpose to ensure
good behaviour (of either AI or private suppliers) and are ill-equipped to provide guidance on the democratic use of AI.
As technology evolves rapidly, we need rules to guide the use of AI in ways that safeguard democratic values. Under what conditions can AI be put into service for good governance?

We offer a framework for integrating AI with good governance. We believe that with dedicated attention and evidence-based policy research, it should be possible to overcome the combined technical and organizational challenges of successfully integrating AI with good governance. Doing so requires working towards:

Inclusive Design: issues around discrimination and bias of AI in relation to inadequate data sets, exclusion of minorities and under-represented
groups, and the lack of diversity in design.
Informed Procurement: issues around the acquisition and development in relation to due diligence, design and usability specifications and the assessment of risks and benefits.
Purposeful Implementation: issues around the use of AI in relation to interoperability, training needs for public servants, and integration with decision-making processes.
Persistent Accountability: issues around the accountability and transparency of AI in relation to ‘black box’ algorithms, the interpretability and explainability of systems, monitoring and auditing…(More)”

Tackling the misinformation epidemic with “In Event of Moon Disaster”

MIT Open Learning: “Can you recognize a digitally manipulated video when you see one? It’s harder than most people realize. As the technology to produce realistic “deepfakes” becomes more easily available, distinguishing fact from fiction will only get more challenging. A new digital storytelling project from MIT’s Center for Advanced Virtuality aims to educate the public about the world of deepfakes with “In Event of Moon Disaster.”

This provocative website showcases a “complete” deepfake (manipulated audio and video) of U.S. President Richard M. Nixon delivering the real contingency speech written in 1969 for a scenario in which the Apollo 11 crew were unable to return from the moon. The team worked with a voice actor and a company called Respeecher to produce the synthetic speech using deep learning techniques. They also worked with the company Canny AI to use video dialogue replacement techniques to study and replicate the movement of Nixon’s mouth and lips. Through these sophisticated AI and machine learning technologies, the seven-minute film shows how thoroughly convincing deepfakes can be….

Alongside the film, features an array of interactive and educational resources on deepfakes. Led by Panetta and Halsey Burgund, a fellow at MIT Open Documentary Lab, an interdisciplinary team of artists, journalists, filmmakers, designers, and computer scientists has created a robust, interactive resource site where educators and media consumers can deepen their understanding of deepfakes: how they are made and how they work; their potential use and misuse; what is being done to combat deepfakes; and teaching and learning resources….(More)”.

The Coronavirus and Innovation

Essay by Scott E. Page: “The total impact of the coronavirus pandemic—the loss of life and the economic, social, and psychological costs arising from both the pandemic itself and the policies implemented to prevent its spread—defy any characterization. Though the pandemic continues to unsettle, disrupt, and challenge communities, we might take a moment to appreciate and applaud the diversity, breadth, and scope of our responses—from individual actions to national policies—and even more important, to reflect on how they will produce a post–Covid-19 world far better than the world that preceded it.

In this brief essay, I describe how our adaptive responses to the coronavirus will lead to beneficial policy innovations. I do so from the perspective of a many-model thinker. By that I mean that I will use several formal models to theoretically elucidate the potential pathways to creating a better world. I offer this with the intent that it instills optimism that our current efforts to confront this tragic and difficult challenge will do more than combat the virus now and teach us how to combat future viruses. They will, in the long run, result in an enormous number of innovations in policy, business practices, and our daily lives….(More)”.

Why Hundreds of Mathematicians Are Boycotting Predictive Policing

Courtney Linder at Popular Mechanics: “Several prominent academic mathematicians want to sever ties with police departments across the U.S., according to a letter submitted to Notices of the American Mathematical Society on June 15. The letter arrived weeks after widespread protests against police brutality, and has inspired over 1,500 other researchers to join the boycott.

These mathematicians are urging fellow researchers to stop all work related to predictive policing software, which broadly includes any data analytics tools that use historical data to help forecast future crime, potential offenders, and victims. The technology is supposed to use probability to help police departments tailor their neighborhood coverage so it puts officers in the right place at the right time….

a flow chart showing how predictive policing works


According to a 2013 research briefing from the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit think tank in Santa Monica, California, predictive policing is made up of a four-part cycle (shown above). In the first two steps, researchers collect and analyze data on crimes, incidents, and offenders to come up with predictions. From there, police intervene based on the predictions, usually taking the form of an increase in resources at certain sites at certain times. The fourth step is, ideally, reducing crime.

“Law enforcement agencies should assess the immediate effects of the intervention to ensure that there are no immediately visible problems,” the authors note. “Agencies should also track longer-term changes by examining collected data, performing additional analysis, and modifying operations as needed.”

In many cases, predictive policing software was meant to be a tool to augment police departments that are facing budget crises with less officers to cover a region. If cops can target certain geographical areas at certain times, then they can get ahead of the 911 calls and maybe even reduce the rate of crime.

But in practice, the accuracy of the technology has been contested—and it’s even been called racist….(More)”.

Monitoring Corruption: Can Top-down Monitoring Crowd-Out Grassroots Participation?

Paper by Robert M Gonzalez, Matthew Harvey and Foteini Tzachrista: “Empirical evidence on the effectiveness of grassroots monitoring is mixed. This paper proposes a previously unexplored mechanism that may explain this result. We argue that the presence of credible and effective top-down monitoring alternatives can undermine citizen participation in grassroots monitoring efforts. Building on Olken’s (2009) road-building field experiment in Indonesia; we find a large and robust effect of the participation interventions on missing expenditures in villages without an audit in place. However, this effect vanishes as soon as an audit is simultaneously implemented in the village. We find evidence of crowding-out effects: in government audit villages, individuals are less likely to attend, talk, and actively participate in accountability meetings. They are also significantly less likely to voice general problems, corruption-related problems, and to take serious actions to address these problems. Despite policies promoting joint implementation of top-down and bottom-up interventions, this paper shows that top-down monitoring can undermine rather than complement grassroots efforts….(More)”.

What Ever Happened to Digital Contact Tracing?

Chas Kissick, Elliot Setzer, and Jacob Schulz at Lawfare: “In May of this year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged the United Kingdom would develop a “world beating” track and trace system by June 1 to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. But on June 18, the government quietly abandoned its coronavirus contact-tracing app, a key piece of the “world beating” strategy, and instead promised to switch to a model designed by Apple and Google. The delayed app will not be ready until winter, and the U.K.’s Junior Health Minister told reporters that “it isn’t a priority for us at the moment.” When Johnson came under fire in Parliament for the abrupt U-turn, he replied: “I wonder whether the right honorable and learned Gentleman can name a single country in the world that has a functional contact tracing app—there isn’t one.”

Johnson’s rebuttal is perhaps a bit reductive, but he’s not that far off.

You probably remember the idea of contact-tracing apps: the technological intervention that seemed to have the potential to save lives while enabling a hamstrung economy to safely inch back open; it was a fixation of many public health and privacy advocates; it was the thing that was going to help us get out of this mess if we could manage the risks.

Yet nearly three months after Google and Apple announced with great fanfare their partnership to build a contact-tracing API, contact-tracing apps have made an unceremonious exit from the front pages of American newspapers. Countries, states and localities continue to try to develop effective digital tracing strategies. But as Jonathan Zittrain puts it, the “bigger picture momentum appears to have waned.”

What’s behind contact-tracing apps’ departure from the spotlight? For one, there’s the onset of a larger pandemic apathy in the U.S; many politicians and Americans seem to have thrown up their hands or put all their hopes in the speedy development of a vaccine. Yet, the apps haven’t even made much of a splash in countries that havetaken the pandemic more seriously. Anxieties about privacy persist. But technical shortcomings in the apps deserve the lion’s share of the blame. Countries have struggled to get bespoke apps developed by government technicians to work on Apple phones. The functionality of some Bluetooth-enabled models vary widely depending on small changes in phone positioning. And most countries have only convinced a small fraction of their populace to use national tracing apps.

Maybe it’s still possible that contact-tracing apps will make a miraculous comeback and approach the level of efficacy observers once anticipated.

But even if technical issues implausibly subside, the apps are operating in a world of unknowns.

Most centrally, researchers still have no real idea what level of adoption is required for the apps to actually serve their function. Some estimates suggest that 80 percent of current smartphone owners in a given area would need to use an app and follow its recommendations for digital contact tracing to be effective. But other researchers have noted that the apps could slow the rate of infections even if little more than 10 percent of a population used a tracing app. It will be an uphill battle even to hit the 10 percent mark in America, though. Survey data show that fewer than three in 10 Americans intend to use contact-tracing apps if they become available…(More).

Adolescent Mental Health: Using A Participatory Mapping Methodology to Identify Key Priorities for Data Collaboration

Blog by Alexandra Shaw, Andrew J. Zahuranec, Andrew Young, Stefaan G. Verhulst, Jennifer Requejo, Liliana Carvajal: “Adolescence is a unique stage of life. The brain undergoes rapid development; individuals face new experiences, relationships, and environments. These events can be exciting, but they can also be a source of instability and hardship. Half of all mental conditions manifest by early adolescence and between 10 and 20 percent of all children and adolescents report mental health conditions. Despite the increased risks and concerns for adolescents’ well-being, there remain significant gaps in availability of data at the country level for policymakers to address these issues.

In June, The GovLab partnered with colleagues at UNICEF’s Health and HIV team in the Division of Data, Analysis, Planning & Monitoring and the Data for Children Collaborative — a collaboration between UNICEF, the Scottish Government, and the University of Edinburgh — to design and apply a new methodology of participatory mapping and prioritization of key topics and issues associated with adolescent mental health that could be addressed through enhanced data collaboration….

The event led to three main takeaways. First, the topic mapping allows participants to deliberate and prioritize the various aspects of adolescent mental health in a more holistic manner. Unlike the “blind men and the elephant” parable, a topic map allows the participants to see and discuss  the interrelated parts of the topic, including those which they might be less familiar with.

Second, the workshops demonstrated the importance of tapping into distributed expertise via participatory processes. While the topic map provided a starting point, the inclusion of various experts allowed the findings of the document to be reviewed in a rapid, legitimate fashion. The diverse inputs helped ensure the individual aspects could be prioritized without a perspective being ignored.

Lastly, the approach showed the importance of data initiatives being driven and validated by those individuals representing the demand. By soliciting the input of those who would actually use the data, the methodology ensured data initiatives focused on the aspects thought to be most relevant and of greatest importance….(More)”

Governing in a pandemic: from parliamentary sovereignty to autocratic technocracy

Paper by Eric Windholz: “Emergencies require governments to govern differently. In Australia, the changes wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic have been profound. The role of lawmaker has been assumed by the executive exercising broad emergency powers. Parliaments, and the debate and scrutiny they provide, have been marginalised. The COVID-19 response also has seen the medical-scientific expert metamorphose from decision-making input into decision-maker. Extensive legislative and executive decision-making authority has been delegated to them – directly in some jurisdictions; indirectly in others. Severe restrictions on an individual’s freedom of movement, association and to earn a livelihood have been declared by them, or on their advice. Employing the analytical lens of regulatory legitimacy, this article examines and seeks to understand this shift from parliamentary sovereignty to autocratic technocracy. How has it occurred? Why has it occurred? What have been the consequences and risks of vesting significant legislative and executive power in the hands of medical-scientific experts; what might be its implications? The article concludes by distilling insights to inform the future design and deployment of public health emergency powers….(More)”.

Addressing trust in public sector data use

Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation: “Data sharing is fundamental to effective government and the running of public services. But it is not an end in itself. Data needs to be shared to drive improvements in service delivery and benefit citizens. For this to happen sustainably and effectively, public trust in the way data is shared and used is vital. Without such trust, the government and wider public sector risks losing society’s consent, setting back innovation as well as the smooth running of public services. Maximising the benefits of data driven technology therefore requires a solid foundation of societal approval.

AI and data driven technology offer extraordinary potential to improve decision making and service delivery in the public sector – from improved diagnostics to more efficient infrastructure and personalised public services. This makes effective use of data more important than it has ever been, and requires a step-change in the way data is shared and used. Yet sharing more data also poses risks and challenges to current governance arrangements.

The only way to build trust sustainably is to operate in a trustworthy way. Without adequate safeguards the collection and use of personal data risks changing power relationships between the citizen and the state. Insights derived by big data and the matching of different data sets can also undermine individual privacy or personal autonomy. Trade-offs are required which reflect democratic values, wider public acceptability and a shared vision of a data driven society. CDEI has a key role to play in exploring this challenge and setting out how it can be addressed. This report identifies barriers to data sharing, but focuses on building and sustaining the public trust which is vital if society is to maximise the benefits of data driven technology.

There are many areas where the sharing of anonymised and identifiable personal data by the public sector already improves services, prevents harm, and benefits the public. Over the last 20 years, different governments have adopted various measures to increase data sharing, including creating new legal sharing gateways. However, despite efforts to increase the amount of data sharing across the government, and significant successes in areas like open data, data sharing continues to be challenging and resource-intensive. This report identifies a range of technical, legal and cultural barriers that can inhibit data sharing.

Barriers to data sharing in the public sector

Technical barriers include limited adoption of common data standards and inconsistent security requirements across the public sector. Such inconsistency can prevent data sharing, or increase the cost and time for organisations to finalise data sharing agreements.

While there are often pre-existing legal gateways for data sharing, underpinned by data protection legislation, there is still a large amount of legal confusion on the part of public sector bodies wishing to share data which can cause them to start from scratch when determining legality and commit significant resources to legal advice. It is not unusual for the development of data sharing agreements to delay the projects for which the data is intended. While the legal scrutiny of data sharing arrangements is an important part of governance, improving the efficiency of these processes – without sacrificing their rigour – would allow data to be shared more quickly and at less expense.

Even when legal, the permissive nature of many legal gateways means significant cultural and organisational barriers to data sharing remain. Individual departments and agencies decide whether or not to share the data they hold and may be overly risk averse. Data sharing may not be prioritised by a department if it would require them to bear costs to deliver benefits that accrue elsewhere (i.e. to those gaining access to the data). Departments sharing data may need to invest significant resources to do so, as well as considering potential reputational or legal risks. This may hold up progress towards finding common agreement on data sharing. When there is an absence of incentives, even relatively small obstacles may mean data sharing is not deemed worthwhile by those who hold the data – despite the fact that other parts of the public sector might benefit significantly….(More)”.