How the Rise of the Camera Launched a Fight to Protect Gilded Age Americans’ Privacy

Article by Sohini Desai: “In 1904, a widow named Elizabeth Peck had her portrait taken at a studio in a small Iowa town. The photographer sold the negatives to Duffy’s Pure Malt Whiskey, a company that avoided liquor taxes for years by falsely advertising its product as medicinal. Duffy’s ads claimed the fantastical: that it cured everything from influenza to consumption, that it was endorsed by clergymen, that it could help you live until the age of 106. The portrait of Peck ended up in one of these dubious ads, published in newspapers across the country alongside what appeared to be her unqualified praise: “After years of constant use of your Pure Malt Whiskey, both by myself and as given to patients in my capacity as nurse, I have no hesitation in recommending it.”

Duffy’s lies were numerous. Peck (misleadingly identified as “Mrs. A. Schuman”) was not a nurse, and she had not spent years constantly slinging back malt beverages. In fact, she fully abstained from alcohol. Peck never consented to the ad.

The camera’s first great age—which began in 1888 when George Eastman debuted the Kodak—is full of stories like this one. Beyond the wonders of a quickly developing art form and technology lay widespread lack of control over one’s own image, perverse incentives to make a quick buck, and generalized fear at the prospect of humiliation and the invasion of privacy…(More)”.

A lack of data hampers efforts to fix racial disparities in utility cutoffs

Article by Akielly Hu: “Each year, nearly 1.3 million households across the country have their electricity shut off because they cannot pay their bill. Beyond risking the health, or even lives, of those who need that energy to power medical devices and inconveniencing people in myriad ways, losing power poses a grave threat during a heat wave or cold snap.

Such disruptions tend to disproportionately impact Black and Hispanic families, a point underscored by a recent study that found customers of Minnesota’s largest electricity utility who live in communities of color were more than three times as likely to experience a shutoff than those in predominantly white neighborhoods. The finding, by University of Minnesota researchers, held even when accounting for income, poverty level, and homeownership. 

Energy policy researchers say they consistently see similar racial disparities nationwide, but a lack of empirical data to illustrate the problem is hindering efforts to address the problem. Only 30 states require utilities to report disconnections, and of those, only a handful provide data revealing where they happen. As climate change brings hotter temperatures, more frequent cold snaps, and other extremes in weather, energy analysts and advocates for disadvantaged communities say understanding these disparities and providing equitable access to reliable power will become ever more important…(More)”.

Framework for Governance of Indigenous Data (GID)

Framework by The National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA): “Australian Public Service agencies now have a single Framework for working with Indigenous data.

The National Indigenous Australians Agency will collaborate across the Australian Public Service to implement the Framework for Governance of Indigenous Data in 2024.

Commonwealth agencies are expected to develop a seven-year implementation plan, guided by four principles:

  1. Partner with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  2. Build data-related capabilities
  3. Provide knowledge of data assets
  4. Build an inclusive data system

The Framework represents the culmination of over 18 months of co-design effort between the Australian Government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partners. While we know we have some way to go, the Framework serves as a significant step forward to improve the collection, use and disclosure of data, to better serve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander priorities.

The Framework places Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples at its core. Recognising the importance of authentic engagement, it emphasises the need for First Nations communities to have a say in decisions affecting them, including the use of data in government policy-making.

Acknowledging data’s significance in self-determination, the Framework provides a stepping stone towards greater awareness and acceptance by Australian Government agencies of the principles of Indigenous Data Sovereignty.

It offers practical guidance on implementing key aspects of data governance aligned with both Indigenous Data Sovereignty principles and the objectives of the Australian Government…(More)”.

Using ChatGPT to Facilitate Truly Informed Medical Consent

Paper by Fatima N. Mirza: “Informed consent is integral to the practice of medicine. Most informed consent documents are written at a reading level that surpasses the reading comprehension level of the average American. Large language models, a type of artificial intelligence (AI) with the ability to summarize and revise content, present a novel opportunity to make the language used in consent forms more accessible to the average American and thus, improve the quality of informed consent. In this study, we present the experience of the largest health care system in the state of Rhode Island in implementing AI to improve the readability of informed consent documents, highlighting one tangible application for emerging AI in the clinical setting…(More)”.

The tensions of data sharing for human rights: A modern slavery case study

Paper by Jamie Hancock et al: “There are calls for greater data sharing to address human rights issues. Advocates claim this will provide an evidence-base to increase transparency, improve accountability, enhance decision-making, identify abuses, and offer remedies for rights violations. However, these well-intentioned efforts have been found to sometimes enable harms against the people they seek to protect. This paper shows issues relating to fairness, accountability, or transparency (FAccT) in and around data sharing can produce such ‘ironic’ consequences. It does so using an empirical case study: efforts to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK. We draw on a qualitative analysis of expert interviews, workshops, ecosystem mapping exercises, and a desk-based review. The findings show how, in the UK, a large ecosystem of data providers, hubs, and users emerged to process and exchange data from across the country. We identify how issues including legal uncertainties, non-transparent sharing procedures, and limited accountability regarding downstream uses of data may undermine efforts to tackle modern slavery and place victims of abuses at risk of further harms. Our findings help explain why data sharing activities can have negative consequences for human rights, even within human rights initiatives. Moreover, our analysis offers a window into how FAccT principles for technology relate to the human rights implications of data sharing. Finally, we discuss why these tensions may be echoed in other areas where data sharing is pursued for human rights concerns, identifying common features which may lead to similar results, especially where sensitive data is shared to achieve social goods or policy objectives…(More)”.

Uganda’s Sweeping Surveillance State Is Built on National ID Cards

Article by Olivia Solon: “Uganda has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the past decade on biometric tools that document a person’s unique physical characteristics, such as their face, fingerprints and irises, to form the basis of a comprehensive identification system. While the system is central to many of the state’s everyday functions, as Museveni has grown increasingly authoritarian over nearly four decades in power, it has also become a powerful mechanism for surveilling politicians, journalists, human rights advocates and ordinary citizens, according to dozens of interviews and hundreds of pages of documents obtained and analyzed by Bloomberg and nonprofit investigative newsroom Lighthouse Reports.

It’s a cautionary tale for any country considering establishing a biometric identity system without rigorous checks and balances and input from civil society. Dozens of global south countries have adopted this approach as part of an effort to meet sustainable development goals from the UN, which considers having a legal identity to be a fundamental human right. But, despite billions of dollars of investment, with backing from organizations including the World Bank, those identity systems haven’t always lived up to expectations. In many cases, the key problem is the failure to register large swathes of the population, leading to exclusion from public services. But in other places, like Uganda, inclusion in the system has been weaponized for surveillance purposes.

A year-long investigation by Bloomberg and Lighthouse Reports sheds new light on the ways in which Museveni’s regime has built and deployed this system to target opponents and consolidate power. It shows how the underlying software and data sets are easily accessed by individuals at all levels of law enforcement, despite official claims to the contrary. It also highlights, in some cases for the first time, how senior government and law enforcement officials have used these tools to target individuals deemed to pose a political threat…(More)”.

We don’t need an AI manifesto — we need a constitution

Article by Vivienne Ming: “Loans drive economic mobility in America, even as they’ve been a historically powerful tool for discrimination. I’ve worked on multiple projects to reduce that bias using AI. What I learnt, however, is that even if an algorithm works exactly as intended, it is still solely designed to optimise the financial returns to the lender who paid for it. The loan application process is already impenetrable to most, and now your hopes for home ownership or small business funding are dying in a 50-millisecond computation…

In law, the right to a lawyer and judicial review are a constitutional guarantee in the US and an established civil right throughout much of the world. These are the foundations of your civil liberties. When algorithms act as an expert witness, testifying against you but immune to cross examination, these rights are not simply eroded — they cease to exist.

People aren’t perfect. Neither ethics training for AI engineers nor legislation by woefully uninformed politicians can change that simple truth. I don’t need to assume that Big Tech chief executives are bad actors or that large companies are malevolent to understand that what is in their self-interest is not always in mine. The framers of the US Constitution recognised this simple truth and sought to leverage human nature for a greater good. The Constitution didn’t simply assume people would always act towards that greater good. Instead it defined a dynamic mechanism — self-interest and the balance of power — that would force compromise and good governance. Its vision of treating people as real actors rather than better angels produced one of the greatest frameworks for governance in history.

Imagine you were offered an AI-powered test for post-partum depression. My company developed that very test and it has the power to change your life, but you may choose not to use it for fear that we might sell the results to data brokers or activist politicians. You have a right to our AI acting solely for your health. It was for this reason I founded an independent non-profit, The Human Trust, that holds all of the data and runs all of the algorithms with sole fiduciary responsibility to you. No mother should have to choose between a life-saving medical test and her civil rights…(More)”.

The Human Rights Data Revolution

Briefing by Domenico Zipoli: “… explores the evolving landscape of digital human rights tracking tools and databases (DHRTTDs). It discusses their growing adoption for monitoring, reporting, and implementing human rights globally, while also pinpointing the challenge of insufficient coordination and knowledge sharing among these tools’ developers and users. Drawing from insights of over 50 experts across multiple sectors gathered during two pivotal roundtables organized by the GHRP in 2022 and 2023, this new publication critically evaluates the impact and future of DHRTTDs. It integrates lessons and challenges from these discussions, along with targeted research and interviews, to guide the human rights community in leveraging digital advancements effectively..(More)”.

Murky Consent: An Approach to the Fictions of Consent in Privacy Law

Paper by Daniel J. Solove: “Consent plays a profound role in nearly all privacy laws. As Professor Heidi Hurd aptly said, consent works “moral magic” – it transforms things that would be illegal and immoral into lawful and legitimate activities. As to privacy, consent authorizes and legitimizes a wide range of data collection and processing.

There are generally two approaches to consent in privacy law. In the United States, the notice-and-choice approach predominates; organizations post a notice of their privacy practices and people are deemed to consent if they continue to do business with the organization or fail to opt out. In the European Union, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) uses the express consent approach, where people must voluntarily and affirmatively consent.

Both approaches fail. The evidence of actual consent is non-existent under the notice-and-choice approach. Individuals are often pressured or manipulated, undermining the validity of their consent. The express consent approach also suffers from these problems – people are ill-equipped to decide about their privacy, and even experts cannot fully understand what algorithms will do with personal data. Express consent also is highly impractical; it inundates individuals with consent requests from thousands of organizations. Express consent cannot scale.

In this Article, I contend that most of the time, privacy consent is fictitious. Privacy law should take a new approach to consent that I call “murky consent.” Traditionally, consent has been binary – an on/off switch – but murky consent exists in the shadowy middle ground between full consent and no consent. Murky consent embraces the fact that consent in privacy is largely a set of fictions and is at best highly dubious….(More)”. See also: The Urgent Need to Reimagine Data Consent

The Secret Life of Data

Book by Aram Sinnreich and Jesse Gilbert: “…explore the many unpredictable, and often surprising, ways in which data surveillance, AI, and the constant presence of algorithms impact our culture and society in the age of global networks. The authors build on this basic premise: no matter what form data takes, and what purpose we think it’s being used for, data will always have a secret life. How this data will be used, by other people in other times and places, has profound implications for every aspect of our lives—from our intimate relationships to our professional lives to our political systems.

With the secret uses of data in mind, Sinnreich and Gilbert interview dozens of experts to explore a broad range of scenarios and contexts—from the playful to the profound to the problematic. Unlike most books about data and society that focus on the short-term effects of our immense data usage, The Secret Life of Data focuses primarily on the long-term consequences of humanity’s recent rush toward digitizing, storing, and analyzing every piece of data about ourselves and the world we live in. The authors advocate for “slow fixes” regarding our relationship to data, such as creating new laws and regulations, ethics and aesthetics, and models of production for our datafied society.

Cutting through the hype and hopelessness that so often inform discussions of data and society, The Secret Life of Data clearly and straightforwardly demonstrates how readers can play an active part in shaping how digital technology influences their lives and the world at large…(More)”