Drones and Aerial Observation: New Technologies for Property Rights, Human Rights, and Global Development

New America Foundation: “Clear and secure rights to property—land, natural resources, and other goods and assets—are crucial to human prosperity. Most people lack such rights. That lack is in part a consequence of political and social breakdowns, and in part driven by informational deficits. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones, are able to gather large amounts of information cheaply and efficiently by virtue of their aerial perspective, as can unpowered platforms like kites and balloons.

That information, in the form of images, maps, and other data, can be used by communities to improve the quality and character of their property rights. These same tools are also useful in other, related aspects of global development. Drone surveillance can help conservationists protect endangered wildlife and aid scientists in understanding the changing climate; drone imagery can be used by advocates and analysts to document and deter human rights violations; UAVs can be used by first responders to search for lost people or to evaluate the extent of damage after natural disasters like earthquakes or hurricanes.

This primer discusses the capabilities and limitations of unmanned aerial vehicles in advancing property rights, human rights and development more broadly. It contains both nuts-and-bolts advice to drone operators and policy guidance.

Click below to download the text of this primer, or on the corresponding link for a particular chapter…. (More)

Crowdfunding sites aim to make the law accessible to all

Jonathan Ford at the Financial Times: “Using the internet to harness the financial power of crowds is hardly novel. Almost since the first electronic impulse pinged its way across the world wide web, entrepreneurs have been dreaming up sites to facilitate everything from charitable donation to hard-nosed investment.

Peer-to-peer lending is now almost part of the mainstream. JustGiving, the charitable portal, has been going since 2000. But employing the web to raise money for legal actions remains a less well ploughed piece of virtual terrain.

At first glance, you might wonder why this is. There is already a booming offline trade in the commercial funding of litigation, especially in America and Britain, whether through lawyers’ no-win, no-fee arrangements or third party investment. And, indeed, a few pioneering crowdfunding vehicles have recently emerged in the US. One such is Invest4Justice, a site that boldly touts returns of “500 per cent plus in a few months”.

Whether these eye-catching figures are ultimately deliverable is — as lawyers like to say — moot. But there are risks in seeking to share the fruits of a third party’s action that can make it perilous for the crowdfunding investor. One is that when actions fail, those same backers might have to pay not only their own, but the successful party’s, costs….

But not all crowdfunding ventures seek to reward participants in the currency of cold financial return. Crowdjustice, Britain’s first legal crowdfunding website, seeks to scratch quite a different itch in the psyches of its participants….Among the causes it has taken up are a criminal appeal and a planning dispute in Lancashire involving a landfill site. The only real requirement for consideration is that the legal David confronting the corporate or governmental Goliath must have already engaged a lawyer to take on their case….This certainly means the risk of being dragged into proceedings is far lower. But it also raises a question: why would the public want to donate money to lawyers in the first place?

Ms Salasky thinks it ranges from a sense of justice to enlightened self-interest. “Donors can be people who take human rights seriously, but they could also be those who worry that something which is happening to someone else could also happen to them,” she says. It is one reason why perhaps the most potent application is seen to be in the fields of environmental and planning law. …(More)”


Four things policy-makers need to know about social media data and real time analytics.

Ella McPherson at LSE’s Impact Blog: “I recently gave evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee. This was based on written evidence co-authored with my colleague, Anne Alexander, and submitted to their ongoing inquiry into social media data and real time analytics. Both Anne and I research the use of social media during contested times; Anne looks at its use by political activists and labour movement organisers in the Arab world, and I look at its use in human rights reporting. In both cases, the need to establish facticity is high, as is the potential for the deliberate or inadvertent falsification of information. Similarly to the case that Carruthers makes about war reporting, we believe that the political-economic, methodological, and ethical issues raised by media dynamics in the context of crisis are bellwethers for the dynamics in more peaceful and mundane contexts.

From our work we have learned four crucial lessons that policy-makers considering this issue should understand:

1.  Social media information is vulnerable to a variety of distortions – some typical of all information, and others more specific to the characteristics of social media communications….

2.  If social media information is used to establish events, it must be verified; while technology can hasten this process, it is unlikely to ever occur real time due to the subjective, human element of judgment required….


3.  Verifying social media information may require identifying its source, which has ethical implications related to informed consent and anonymisation….

4.  Another way to think about social media information is as what Hermida calls an ‘awareness system,’ which reduces the need to collect source identities; under this approach, researchers look at volume rather than veracity to recognise information of interest… (More)

Democratising the Data Revolution

Jonathan Gray at Open Knowledge: “What will the “data revolution” do? What will it be about? What will it count? What kinds of risks and harms might it bring? Whom and what will it serve? And who will get to decide?

Today we are launching a new discussion paper on “Democratising the Data Revolution”, which is intended to advance thinking and action around civil society engagement with the data revolution. It looks beyond the disclosure of existing information, towards more ambitious and substantive forms of democratic engagement with data infrastructures.1

It concludes with a series of questions about what practical steps institutions and civil society organisations might take to change what is measured and how, and how these measurements are put to work.

You can download the full PDF report here, or continue to read on in this blog post.

What Counts?

How might civil society actors shape the data revolution? In particular, how might they go beyond the question of what data is disclosed towards looking at what is measured in the first place? To kickstart discussion around this topic, we will look at three kinds of intervention: changing existing forms of measurement, advocating new forms of measurement and undertaking new forms of measurement.

Changing Existing Forms of Measurement

Rather than just focusing on the transparency, disclosure and openness of public information, civil society groups can argue for changing what is measured with existing data infrastructures. One example of this is recent campaigning around company ownership in the UK. Advocacy groups wanted to unpick networks of corporate ownership and control in order to support their campaigning and investigations around tax avoidance, tax evasion and illicit financial flows.

While the UK company register recorded information about “nominal ownership”, it did not include information about so-called “beneficial ownership”, or who ultimately benefits from the ownership and control of companies. Campaigners undertook an extensive programme of activities to advocate for changes and extensions to existing data infrastructures – including via legislation, software systems, and administrative protocols.2

Advocating New Forms of Measurement

As well as changing or recalibrating existing forms of measurement, campaigners and civil society organisations can make the case for the measurement of things which were not previously measured. For example, over the past several decades social and political campaigning has resulted in new indicators about many different issues – such as gender inequality, health, work, disability, pollution or education.3 In such cases activists aimed to establish a given indicator as important and relevant for public institutions, decision makers, and broader publics – in order to, for example, inform policy development or resource allocation.

Undertaking New Forms of Measurement

Historically, many civil society organisations and advocacy groups have collected their own data to make the case for action on issues that they work on – from human rights abuses to endangered species….(More)”

Data, Human Rights & Human Security

Paper by Mark Latonero and  Zachary Gold“In today’s global digital ecosystem, mobile phone cameras can document and distribute images of physical violence. Drones and satellites can assess disasters from afar. Big data collected from social media can provide real-time awareness about political protests. Yet practitioners, researchers, and policymakers face unique challenges and opportunities when assessing technological benefit, risk, and harm. How can these technologies be used responsibly to assist those in need, prevent abuse, and protect people from harm?”

Mark Latonero and Zachary Gold address the issues in this primer for technologists, academics, business, governments, NGOs, intergovernmental organizations — anyone interested in the future of human rights and human security in a data-saturated world….(Download PDF)”

Lawsuits In The Public Interest Now Have Their Own Crowdfunding Site

Jessica Leber at Fast CoExist: “…Crowdjustice, …aims to serve as a replacement for those who can no longer get help launching a lawsuit. It’s crowdfunding platform where anyone can donate to fund cases that have been vetted by the site.

Operating in the U.K. for now, Crowdjustice will be reserved for civil cases that involve a community interest (rather than a dispute between two people), such as a disability discrimination or human rights case or a fight to save nature from development. Litigants must already have a lawyer who has accepted the case in order to be listed on the platform, which is for now invitation-only.

Niche crowdfunding sites aren’t new, but they’ve had varying success. Salasky believes a site dedicated to legal campaigns is useful because litigation varies from country to country. Another reasons is that on Crowdjustice, the funds raised will go directly into a trust account held by the lawyer for the case—not the individual. “There’s more oversight of what’s happening,” she says. Campaigns will only be funded if the full goal is met, and Crowdjustice takes a 5% cut.

The first case on the site right now is that of Colombian petroleum engineer and whistleblower Gilberto Torres, who wants to hold the oil company BP responsible for his 2002 kidnapping. Though his lawyer will only get a fee if the case wins, the $7,800 crowdfunding campaign is to cover various other costs and court fees….(More).

Measuring ‘governance’ to improve lives

Robert Rotberg at the Conversation: “…Citizens everywhere desire “good governance” – to be governed well within their nation-states, their provinces, their states and their cities.

Governance is more useful than “democracy” if we wish to understand how different political rulers and ruling elites satisfy the aspirations of their citizens.

But to make the notion of “governance” useful, we need both a practical definition and a method of measuring the gradations between good and bad governance.

What’s more, if we can measure well, we can diagnose weak areas of governance and, hence, seek ways to make the weak actors strong.

Governance, defined as “the performance of governments and the delivery of services by governments,” tells us if and when governments are in fact meeting the expectations of their constituents and providing for them effectively and responsibly.

Democracy outcomes, by contrast, are much harder to measure because the meaning of the very word itself is contested and impossible to measure accurately.

For the purposes of making policy decisions, if we seek to learn how citizens are faring under regime X or regime Y, we need to compare governance (not democracy) in those respective places.

In other words, governance is a construct that enables us to discern exactly whether citizens are progressing in meeting life’s goals.

Measuring governance: five bundles and 57 subcategories

Are citizens of a given country better off economically, socially and politically than they were in an earlier decade? Are their various human causes, such as being secure or being free, advancing? Are their governments treating them well, and attempting to respond to their various needs and aspirations and relieving them of anxiety?

Just comparing national gross domestic products (GDPs), life expectancies or literacy rates provides helpful distinguishing data, but governance data are more comprehensive, more telling and much more useful.

Assessing governance tells us far more about life in different developing societies than we would learn by weighing the varieties of democracy or “human development” in such places.

Government’s performance, in turn, is according to the scheme advanced in my book On Governance and in my Index of African Governance, the delivery to citizens of five bundles (divided into 57 underlying subcategories) of political goods that citizens within any kind of political jurisdiction demand.

The five major bundles are Security and Safety, Rule of Law and Transparency, Political Participation and Respect for Human Rights, Sustainable Economic Opportunity, and Human Development (education and health)….(More)”

Ways to practice responsible development data

Responsible Data Forum Primer: “This book is offered as a first attempt to understand what responsible data means in the context of international development programming. We have taken a broad view of development, opting not to be prescriptive about who the perfect “target audience” for this effort is within the space. We also anticipate that some of the methods and lessons here may have resonance for related fields and practitioners.

We suggest a number of questions and issues to consider, but specific responsible data challenges will always be identified through individual project contexts. As such, this book is not authoritative, but is intended to support thoughtful and responsible thinking as the development community grapples with relatively new social and ethical challenges stemming from data use.

This book builds on a number of resources and strategies developed in academia, human rights and advocacy, but aims to focus on international development practitioners. As such, we touch upon issues specifically relevant to development practitioners and intermediaries working to improve the lives and livelihoods of people.

The group of contributors working on this book brings together decades of experience in the sector of international development; our first hand experiences of horrific misuse of data within the sector, combined with anecdotal stories of (mis)treatment and usage of data having catastrophic effects within some of the world’s most vulnerable communities, has highlighted for us the need for a book tackling issues of how we can all deal with data in a responsible and respectful way….(More)”

What’s gone wrong with democracy

Essay in The Economist: “Democracy was the most successful political idea of the 20th century. Why has it run into trouble, and what can be done to revive it?….

Even those lucky enough to live in mature democracies need to pay close attention to the architecture of their political systems. The combination of globalisation and the digital revolution has made some of democracy’s most cherished institutions look outdated. Established democracies need to update their own political systems both to address the problems they face at home, and to revitalise democracy’s image abroad. Some countries have already embarked upon this process. America’s Senate has made it harder for senators to filibuster appointments. A few states have introduced open primaries and handed redistricting to independent boundary commissions. Other obvious changes would improve matters. Reform of party financing, so that the names of all donors are made public, might reduce the influence of special interests. The European Parliament could require its MPs to present receipts with their expenses. Italy’s parliament has far too many members who are paid too much, and two equally powerful chambers, which makes it difficult to get anything done.

But reformers need to be much more ambitious. The best way to constrain the power of special interests is to limit the number of goodies that the state can hand out. And the best way to address popular disillusion towards politicians is to reduce the number of promises they can make. The key to a healthier democracy, in short, is a narrower state—an idea that dates back to the American revolution. “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men”, Madison argued, “the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” The notion of limited government was also integral to the relaunch of democracy after the second world war. The United Nations Charter (1945) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) established rights and norms that countries could not breach, even if majorities wanted to do so.

These checks and balances were motivated by fear of tyranny. But today, particularly in the West, the big dangers to democracy are harder to spot. One is the growing size of the state. The relentless expansion of government is reducing liberty and handing ever more power to special interests. The other comes from government’s habit of making promises that it cannot fulfil, either by creating entitlements it cannot pay for or by waging wars that it cannot win, such as that on drugs. Both voters and governments must be persuaded of the merits of accepting restraints on the state’s natural tendency to overreach. Giving control of monetary policy to independent central banks tamed the rampant inflation of the 1980s, for example. It is time to apply the same principle of limited government to a broader range of policies. Mature democracies, just like nascent ones, require appropriate checks and balances on the power of elected government….

Several places are making progress towards getting this mixture right. The most encouraging example is California. Its system of direct democracy allowed its citizens to vote for contradictory policies, such as higher spending and lower taxes, while closed primaries and gerrymandered districts institutionalised extremism. But over the past five years California has introduced a series of reforms, thanks in part to the efforts of Nicolas Berggruen, a philanthropist and investor. The state has introduced a “Think Long” committee to counteract the short-term tendencies of ballot initiatives. It has introduced open primaries and handed power to redraw boundaries to an independent commission. And it has succeeded in balancing its budget—an achievement which Darrell Steinberg, the leader of the California Senate, described as “almost surreal”.

Similarly, the Finnish government has set up a non-partisan commission to produce proposals for the future of its pension system. At the same time it is trying to harness e-democracy: parliament is obliged to consider any citizens’ initiative that gains 50,000 signatures. But many more such experiments are needed—combining technocracy with direct democracy, and upward and downward delegation—if democracy is to zigzag its way back to health.

John Adams, America’s second president, once pronounced that “democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” He was clearly wrong. Democracy was the great victor of the ideological clashes of the 20th century. But if democracy is to remain as successful in the 21st century as it was in the 20th, it must be both assiduously nurtured when it is young—and carefully maintained when it is mature….(More)

User Experience is a Social Justice Issue

Sumana Harihareswara at code4lib: “…Before I worked in open source, I worked in customer service. I saw first-hand how design flaws (in architecture, signage, and websites) could frustrate and drive away customers and make more work for me. Every time I participated in an open source project — AltLaw, GNOME, MediaWiki, and more — I’ve brought that experience with me. I found it particularly striking that small changes on Wikipedia could cause large changes in user behavior, as I discuss in this essay, which is adapted from my keynote speech.
This issue goes beyond software, as I explain with the healthcare and banking examples. The spark that caused me to write the speech was reading Professor Lisa J. Servon’s piece in The Atlantic about the usability of storefront check cashing services; I saw a pattern where poor user experience repels people from crucial and empowering services, and decided, in a flash of anger and inspiration, to write “User Experience is a Human Rights Issue.”…

The Last Mile Problem

The largest hurdles we as technologists face are choosing to make the right things in the first place and choosing to make them usable. In the 1990’s, telecommunications companies laid down a lot of fiber to connect big hubs to one another, but often it took years to connect those hubs to the actual houses and schools and shops and offices, because it was expensive, or because companies were not creative enough to do it well. This is called the “last mile problem,” and I think usability has a similar problem. We have to be creative and disciplined enough to actually provide services in a way that people can use them.
When we’re building services for people, we often have a lot more practice seeing things from the computer’s point of view or from the data’s point of view than from another person’s point of view. In tech, we understand how to build arteries better than we understand how to build capillaries. Personally, I think capillaries are more interesting than arteries. Maybe it’s just personal temperament, but I like all the little surprising details of how people end up experiencing the ripple effects of big new systems, and how users actually interact with the user interface of a service, especially ones that we don’t really think of as having a user interface. Like taxes, or healthcare, or hotels. All these big systems end in little capillaries, where people exchange information or get healed or get whatever they need. And when those capillaries aren’t working correctly, then those people just don’t get what they need. The hubs are connected to each other, but people aren’t connected to the hubs.
Over and over, in lots of different fields, we see that bad usability makes a huge difference. When choosing between two services, people will make very different choices, depending on which service actually seems designed around the user’s needs….(More)”