Facial recognition needs a wider policy debate


Editorial Team of the Financial Times: “In his dystopian novel 1984, George Orwell warned of a future under the ever vigilant gaze of Big Brother. Developments in surveillance technology, in particular facial recognition, mean the prospect is no longer the stuff of science fiction.

In China, the government was this year found to have used facial recognition to track the Uighurs, a largely Muslim minority. In Hong Kong, protesters took down smart lamp posts for fear of their actions being monitored by the authorities. In London, the consortium behind the King’s Cross development was forced to halt the use of two cameras with facial recognition capabilities after regulators intervened. All over the world, companies are pouring money into the technology.

At the same time, governments and law enforcement agencies of all hues are proving willing buyers of a technology that is still evolving — and doing so despite concerns over the erosion of people’s privacy and human rights in the digital age. Flaws in the technology have, in certain cases, led to inaccuracies, in particular when identifying women and minorities.

The news this week that Chinese companies are shaping new standards at the UN is the latest sign that it is time for a wider policy debate. Documents seen by this newspaper revealed Chinese companies have proposed new international standards at the International Telecommunication Union, or ITU, a Geneva-based organisation of industry and official representatives, for things such as facial recognition. Setting standards for what is a revolutionary technology — one recently described as the “plutonium of artificial intelligence” — before a wider debate about its merits and what limits should be imposed on its use, can only lead to unintended consequences. Crucially, standards ratified in the ITU are commonly adopted as policy by developing nations in Africa and elsewhere — regions where China has long wanted to expand its influence. A case in point is Zimbabwe, where the government has partnered with Chinese facial recognition company CloudWalk Technology. The investment, part of Beijing’s Belt and Road investment in the country, will see CloudWalk technology monitor major transport hubs. It will give the Chinese company access to valuable data on African faces, helping to improve the accuracy of its algorithms….

Progress is needed on regulation. Proposals by the European Commission for laws to give EU citizens explicit rights over the use of their facial recognition data as part of a wider overhaul of regulation governing artificial intelligence are welcome. The move would bolster citizens’ protection above existing restrictions laid out under its general data protection regulation. Above all, policymakers should be mindful that if the technology’s unrestrained rollout continues, it could hold implications for other, potentially more insidious, innovations. Western governments should step up to the mark — or risk having control of the technology’s future direction taken from them….(More)”.

Machine Learning Technologies and Their Inherent Human Rights Issues in Criminal Justice Contexts


Essay by Jamie Grace: “This essay is an introductory exploration of machine learning technologies and their inherent human rights issues in criminal justice contexts. These inherent human rights issues include privacy concerns, the chilling of freedom of expression, problems around potential for racial discrimination, and the rights of victims of crime to be treated with dignity.

This essay is built around three case studies – with the first on the digital ‘mining’ of rape complainants’ mobile phones for evidence for disclosure to defence counsel. This first case study seeks to show how AI or machine learning tech might hypothetically either ease or inflame some of the tensions involved for human rights in this context. The second case study is concerned with the human rights challenges of facial recognition of suspects by police forces, using automated algorithms (live facial recognition) in public places. The third case study is concerned with the development of useful self-regulation in algorithmic governance practices in UK policing. This essay concludes with an emphasis on the need for the ‘politics of information’ (Lyon, 2007) to catch up with the ‘politics of public protection’ (Nash, 2010)….(More)”.

Appropriate use of data in public space


Collection of Essays by NL Digital Government: “Smart cities are urban areas where large amounts of data are collected using sensors to enable a range of processes in the cities to run smoothly. However, the use of data is only legally and ethically allowed if the data is gathered and processed in a proper manner. It is not clear to many cities what data (personal or otherwise) about citizens may be gathered and processed, and under what conditions. The main question addressed by this essay concerns the degree to which data on citizens may be reused in the context of smart cities.

The emphasis here is on the reuse of data. Among the aspects featured are smart cities, the Internet of Things, big data, and nudging. Diferent types of data reuse will also be identifed using a typology that helps clarify and assess the desirability of data reuse. The heart of this essay is an examination of the most relevant legal and ethical frameworks for data reuse.

The most relevant legal frameworks are privacy and human rights, the protection of personal data and administrative law (in particular, the general principles of sound administration). The most relevant ethical frameworks are deontology, utilitarianism, and value ethics. The ethical perspectives ofer assessment frameworks that can be used within the legal frameworks, for drawing up codes of conduct, for example, and other forms of self-regulation. Observance of the legal and ethical frameworks referred to in this essay very probably means that data is being used and reused in an appropriate manner. Failure to observe these frameworks means that such use and reuse is not appropriate.

Four recommendations are made on the basis of these conclusions. Local authorities in smart cities must commit themselves to the appropriate reuse of data through public-private partnerships, actively involve citizens in their considerations of what factors are relevant, ensure transparency on data-related matters and in such considerations, and gradually continue the development of smart cities through pilot schemes….(More)”.

Artificial Intelligence and National Security


CRS Report: “Artificial intelligence (AI) is a rapidly growing field of technology with potentially significant implications for national security. As such, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and other nations are developing AI applications for a range of military functions. AI research is underway in the fields of intelligence collection and analysis, logistics, cyber operations, information operations, command and control, and in a variety of semiautonomous and autonomous vehicles.

Already, AI has been incorporated into military operations in Iraq and Syria. Congressional action has the potential to shape the technology’s development further, with budgetary and legislative decisions influencing the growth of military applications as well as the pace of their adoption.

AI technologies present unique challenges for military integration, particularly because the bulk of AI development is happening in the commercial sector. Although AI is not unique in this regard, the defense acquisition process may need to be adapted for acquiring emerging technologies like AI. In addition, many commercial AI applications must undergo significant modification prior to being functional for the military.

A number of cultural issues also challenge AI acquisition, as some commercial AI companies are averse to partnering with DOD due to ethical concerns, and even within the department, there can be resistance to incorporating AI technology into existing weapons systems and processes.

Potential international rivals in the AI market are creating pressure for the United States to compete for innovative military AI applications. China is a leading competitor in this regard, releasing a plan in 2017 to capture the global lead in AI development by 2030. Currently, China is primarily focused on using AI to make faster and more well-informed decisions, as well as on developing a variety of autonomous military vehicles. Russia is also active in military AI development, with a primary focus on robotics.

Although AI has the potential to impart a number of advantages in the military context, it may also introduce distinct challenges. AI technology could, for example, facilitate autonomous operations, lead to more informed military decisionmaking, and increase the speed and scale of military action. However, it may also be unpredictable or vulnerable to unique forms of manipulation. As a result of these factors, analysts hold a broad range of opinions on how influential AI will be in future combat operations. While a small number of analysts believe that the technology will have minimal impact, most believe that AI will have at least an evolutionary—if not revolutionary—effect….(More)”.

Defining concepts of the digital society


A special section of Internet Policy Review edited by Christian Katzenbach and Thomas Christian Bächle: “With this new special section Defining concepts of the digital society in Internet Policy Review, we seek to foster a platform that provides and validates exactly these overarching frameworks and theories. Based on the latest research, yet broad in scope, the contributions offer effective tools to analyse the digital society. Their authors offer concise articles that portray and critically discuss individual concepts with an interdisciplinary mindset. Each article contextualises their origin and academic traditions, analyses their contemporary usage in different research approaches and discusses their social, political, cultural, ethical or economic relevance and impact as well as their analytical value. With this, the authors are building bridges between the disciplines, between research and practice as well as between innovative explanations and their conceptual heritage….(More)”

Algorithmic governance
Christian Katzenbach, Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society
Lena Ulbricht, Berlin Social Science Center

Datafication
Ulises A. Mejias, State University of New York at Oswego
Nick Couldry, London School of Economics & Political Science

Filter bubble
Axel Bruns, Queensland University of Technology

Platformisation
Thomas Poell, University of Amsterdam
David Nieborg, University of Toronto
José van Dijck, Utrecht University

Privacy
Tobias Matzner, University of Paderborn
Carsten Ochs, University of Kassel

The people, not governments, should exercise digital sovereignty


John Thornhill at the Financial Times: “European politicians who have been complaining recently about the loss of “digital sovereignty” to US technology companies are like children grumbling in the back of a car about where they are heading. …

Sovereign governments used to wield exclusive power over validating identity, running critical infrastructure, regulating information flows and creating money. Several of those functions are being usurped by the latest tech.

Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, recently told The Economist that Europe had inadvertently abandoned the “grammar” of sovereignty by allowing private companies, rather than public interest, to decide on digital infrastructure. In 10 years’ time, he feared, Europe would no longer be able to guarantee the soundness of its cyber infrastructure or control its citizens’ and companies’ data.

The instinctive response of many European politicians is to invest in grand, state-led projects and to regulate the life out of Big Tech. A recent proposal to launch a European cloud computing company, called Gaia-X, reflects the same impulse that lay behind the creation of Quaero, the Franco-German search engine set up in 2008 to challenge Google. That you have to Google “Quaero” rather than Quaero “Quaero” tells you how that fared. The risk of ill-designed regulation is that it can stifle innovation and strengthen the grip of dominant companies.

Rather than just trying to shore up the diminishing sovereignty of European governments and prop up obsolete national industrial champions, leaders may do better to reshape the rules of the data economy to empower users and stimulate a new wave of innovation. True sovereignty, after all, lies in the hands of the people. To this end, Europe should encourage greater efforts to “re-decentralise the web”, as computer scientists say, to accelerate the development of the next generation internet. The principle of privacy by design should be enshrined in the next batch of regulations, following the EU’s landmark General Data Protection Regulation, and written into all public procurement contracts. …(More).

The Right to Be Seen


Anne-Marie Slaughter and Yuliya Panfil at Project Syndicate: “While much of the developed world is properly worried about myriad privacy outrages at the hands of Big Tech and demanding – and securing – for individuals a “right to be forgotten,” many around the world are posing a very different question: What about the right to be seen?

Just ask the billion people who are locked out of services we take for granted – things like a bank account, a deed to a house, or even a mobile phone account – because they lack identity documents and thus can’t prove who they are. They are effectively invisible as a result of poor data.

The ability to exercise many of our most basic rights and privileges – such as the right to vote, drive, own property, and travel internationally – is determined by large administrative agencies that rely on standardized information to determine who is eligible for what. For example, to obtain a passport it is typically necessary to present a birth certificate. But what if you do not have a birth certificate? To open a bank account requires proof of address. But what if your house doesn’t have an address?

The inability to provide such basic information is a barrier to stability, prosperity, and opportunity. Invisible people are locked out of the formal economy, unable to vote, travel, or access medical and education benefits. It’s not that they are undeserving or unqualified, it’s that they are data poor.

In this context, the rich digital record provided by our smartphones and other sensors could become a powerful tool for good, so long as the risks are acknowledged. These gadgets, which have become central to our social and economic lives, leave a data trail that for many of us is the raw material that fuels what Harvard’s Shoshana Zuboff calls “surveillance capitalism.” Our Google location history shows exactly where we live and work. Our email activity reveals our social networks. Even the way we hold our smartphone can give away early signs of Parkinson’s.

But what if citizens could harness the power of these data for themselves, to become visible to administrative gatekeepers and access the rights and privileges to which they are entitled? Their virtual trail could then be converted into proof of physical facts.

That is beginning to happen. In India, slum dwellers are using smartphone location data to put themselves on city maps for the first time and register for addresses that they can then use to receive mail and register for government IDs. In Tanzania, citizens are using their mobile payment histories to build their credit scores and access more traditional financial services. And in Europe and the United States, Uber drivers are fighting for their rideshare data to advocate for employment benefits….(More)”.

European E-Democracy in Practice


Book by Hennen, Leonhard (et al.): “This open access book explores how digital tools and social media technologies can contribute to better participation and involvement of EU citizens in European politics. By analyzing selected representative e-participation projects at the local, national and European governmental levels, it identifies the preconditions, best practices and shortcomings of e-participation practices in connection with EU decision-making procedures and institutions. The book features case studies on parliamentary monitoring, e-voting practices, and e-publics, and offers recommendations for improving the integration of e-democracy in European politics and governance. Accordingly, it will appeal to scholars as well as practitioners interested in identifying suitable e-participation tools for European institutions and thus helps to reduce the EU’s current democratic deficit….(More)”.

A Republic of Equals: A Manifesto for a Just Society


Book by Jonathan Rothwell: “Political equality is the most basic tenet of democracy. Yet in America and other democratic nations, those with political power have special access to markets and public services. A Republic of Equals traces the massive income inequality observed in the United States and other rich democracies to politicized markets and avoidable gaps in opportunity—and explains why they are the root cause of what ails democracy today.

In this provocative book, economist Jonathan Rothwell draws on the latest empirical evidence from across the social sciences to demonstrate how rich democracies have allowed racial politics and the interests of those at the top to subordinate justice. He looks at the rise of nationalism in Europe and the United States, revealing how this trend overlaps with racial prejudice and is related to mounting frustration with a political status quo that thrives on income inequality and inefficient markets. But economic differences are by no means inevitable. Differences in group status by race and ethnicity are dynamic and have reversed themselves across continents and within countries. Inequalities persist between races in the United States because Black Americans are denied equal access to markets and public services. Meanwhile, elite professional associations carve out privileged market status for their members, leading to compensation in excess of their skills.

A Republic of Equals provides a bold new perspective on how to foster greater political and social equality, while moving societies closer to what a true republic should be….(More)”.

Belgian experiment that Aristotle would have approved of


The Economist: “In a sleepy corner of Belgium, a democratic experiment is under way. On September 16th, 24 randomly chosen Germanophones from the country’s eastern fringe took their seats in a Citizens’ Council. They will have the power to tell elected officials which issues matter, and for each such issue to task a Citizens’ Assembly (also chosen at random) with brainstorming ideas on how to solve them. It’s an engaged citizen’s dream come true.

Belgium’s German-speakers are an often-overlooked minority next to their Francophone and Flemish countrymen. They are few in number—just 76,000 people out of a population of 11m—yet have a distinct identity, shaped by their proximity to Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Thanks to Belgium’s federal system the community is thought to be the smallest region of the EU with its own legislative powers: a parliament of 25 representatives and a government of four decides on policies related to issues including education, sport, training and child benefits.

This new system takes democracy one step further. Based on selection by lottery—which Aristotle regarded as real democracy, in contrast to election, which he described as “oligarchy”—it was trialled in 2017 and won enthusiastic reviews from participants, officials and locals.

Under the “Ostbelgien Model”, the Citizens’ Council and the assemblies it convenes will run in parallel to the existing parliament and will set its legislative agenda. Parliamentarians must consider every proposal that wins support from 80% of the council, and must publicly defend any decision to take a different path.

Some see the project as a tool that could counter political discontent by involving ordinary folk in decision-making. But for Alexander Miesen, a Belgian senator who initiated the project, the motivation is cosier. “People would like to share their ideas, and they also have a lot of experience in their lives which you can import into parliament. It’s a win-win,” he says.

Selecting decision-makers by lottery is unusual these days, but not unknown: Ireland randomly selected the members of the Citizens’ Assembly that succeeded in breaking the deadlock on abortion laws. Referendums are a common way of settling important matters in several countries. But in Eupen, the largest town in the German-speaking region, citizens themselves will come up with the topics and policies which parliamentarians then review, rather than expressing consent to ideas proposed by politicians. Traditional decision-makers still have the final say, but “citizens can be sure that their ideas are part of the process,” says Mr Miesen….(More)”.