Data & Policy: A new venue to study and explore policy–data interaction

Opening editorial by Stefaan G. Verhulst, Zeynep Engin and Jon Crowcroft: “…Policy–data interactions or governance initiatives that use data have been the exception rather than the norm, isolated prototypes and trials rather than an indication of real, systemic change. There are various reasons for the generally slow uptake of data in policymaking, and several factors will have to change if the situation is to improve. ….

  • Despite the number of successful prototypes and small-scale initiatives, policy makers’ understanding of data’s potential and its value proposition generally remains limited (Lutes, 2015). There is also limited appreciation of the advances data science has made the last few years. This is a major limiting factor; we cannot expect policy makers to use data if they do not recognize what data and data science can do.
  • The recent (and justifiable) backlash against how certain private companies handle consumer data has had something of a reverse halo effect: There is a growing lack of trust in the way data is collected, analyzed, and used, and this often leads to a certain reluctance (or simply risk-aversion) on the part of officials and others (Engin, 2018).
  • Despite several high-profile open data projects around the world, much (probably the majority) of data that could be helpful in governance remains either privately held or otherwise hidden in silos (Verhulst and Young, 2017b). There remains a shortage not only of data but, more specifically, of high-quality and relevant data.
  • With few exceptions, the technical capacities of officials remain limited, and this has obviously negative ramifications for the potential use of data in governance (Giest, 2017).
  • It’s not just a question of limited technical capacities. There is often a vast conceptual and values gap between the policy and technical communities (Thompson et al., 2015; Uzochukwu et al., 2016); sometimes it seems as if they speak different languages. Compounding this difference in world views is the fact that the two communities rarely interact.
  • Yet, data about the use and evidence of the impact of data remain sparse. The impetus to use more data in policy making is stymied by limited scholarship and a weak evidential basis to show that data can be helpful and how. Without such evidence, data advocates are limited in their ability to make the case for more data initiatives in governance.
  • Data are not only changing the way policy is developed, but they have also reopened the debate around theory- versus data-driven methods in generating scientific knowledge (Lee, 1973; Kitchin, 2014; Chivers, 2018; Dreyfuss, 2017) and thus directly questioning the evidence base to utilization and implementation of data within policy making. A number of associated challenges are being discussed, such as: (i) traceability and reproducibility of research outcomes (due to “black box processing”); (ii) the use of correlation instead of causation as the basis of analysis, biases and uncertainties present in large historical datasets that cause replication and, in some cases, amplification of human cognitive biases and imperfections; and (iii) the incorporation of existing human knowledge and domain expertise into the scientific knowledge generation processes—among many other topics (Castelvecchi, 2016; Miller and Goodchild, 2015; Obermeyer and Emanuel, 2016; Provost and Fawcett, 2013).
  • Finally, we believe that there should be a sound under-pinning a new theory of what we call Policy–Data Interactions. To date, in reaction to the proliferation of data in the commercial world, theories of data management,1 privacy,2 and fairness3 have emerged. From the Human–Computer Interaction world, a manifesto of principles of Human–Data Interaction (Mortier et al., 2014) has found traction, which intends reducing the asymmetry of power present in current design considerations of systems of data about people. However, we need a consistent, symmetric approach to consideration of systems of policy and data, how they interact with one another.

All these challenges are real, and they are sticky. We are under no illusions that they will be overcome easily or quickly….

During the past four conferences, we have hosted an incredibly diverse range of dialogues and examinations by key global thought leaders, opinion leaders, practitioners, and the scientific community (Data for Policy, 2015201620172019). What became increasingly obvious was the need for a dedicated venue to deepen and sustain the conversations and deliberations beyond the limitations of an annual conference. This leads us to today and the launch of Data & Policy, which aims to confront and mitigate the barriers to greater use of data in policy making and governance.

Data & Policy is a venue for peer-reviewed research and discussion about the potential for and impact of data science on policy. Our aim is to provide a nuanced and multistranded assessment of the potential and challenges involved in using data for policy and to bridge the “two cultures” of science and humanism—as CP Snow famously described in his lecture on “Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution” (Snow, 1959). By doing so, we also seek to bridge the two other dichotomies that limit an examination of datafication and is interaction with policy from various angles: the divide between practice and scholarship; and between private and public…

So these are our principles: scholarly, pragmatic, open-minded, interdisciplinary, focused on actionable intelligence, and, most of all, innovative in how we will share insight and pushing at the boundaries of what we already know and what already exists. We are excited to launch Data & Policy with the support of Cambridge University Press and University College London, and we’re looking for partners to help us build it as a resource for the community. If you’re reading this manifesto it means you have at least a passing interest in the subject; we hope you will be part of the conversation….(More)”.

Cyberdiplomacy: Managing Security and Governance Online

Book by Shaun Riordan: “The world has been sleep-walking into cyber chaos. The spread of misinformation via social media and the theft of data and intellectual property, along with regular cyberattacks, threaten the fabric of modern societies. All the while, the Internet of Things increases the vulnerability of computer systems, including those controlling critical infrastructure. What can be done to tackle these problems? Does diplomacy offer ways of managing security and containing conflict online?

In this provocative book, Shaun Riordan shows how traditional diplomatic skills and mindsets can be combined with new technologies to bring order and enhance international cooperation. He explains what cyberdiplomacy means for diplomats, foreign services and corporations and explores how it can be applied to issues such as internet governance, cybersecurity, cybercrime and information warfare. Cyberspace, he argues, is too important to leave to technicians. Using the vital tools offered by cyberdiplomacy, we can reduce the escalation and proliferation of cyberconflicts by proactively promoting negotiation and collaboration online….(More)”.

Five myths about whistleblowers

Dana Gold in the Washington Post: “When a whistleblower revealed the Trump administration’s decision to overturn 25 security clearance denials, it was the latest in a long and storied history of insiders exposing significant abuses of public trust. Whistles were blown on U.S. involvement in Vietnam, the Watergate coverupEnron’s financial fraud, the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance of domestic electronic communications and, during the Trump administration, the corruption of former Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt , Cambridge Analytica’s theft of Facebook users’ data to develop targeted political ads, and harm to children posed by the “zero tolerance” immigration policy. Despite the essential role whistleblowers play in illuminating the truth and protecting the public interest, several myths persist about them, some pernicious.

MYTH NO. 1 Whistleblowers are employees who report problems externally….

MYTH NO. 2 Whistleblowers are either disloyal or heroes….

MYTH NO. 3 ‘Leaker’ is another term for ‘whistleblower.’…

MYTH NO. 4 Remaining anonymous is the best strategy for whistleblowing….

MYTH NO. 5 Julian Assange is a whistleblower….(More)”.

Trustworthy Privacy Indicators: Grades, Labels, Certifications and Dashboards

Paper by Joel R. Reidenberg et al: “Despite numerous groups’ efforts to score, grade, label, and rate the privacy of websites, apps, and network-connected devices, these attempts at privacy indicators have, thus far, not been widely adopted. Privacy policies, however, remain long, complex, and impractical for consumers. Communicating in some short-hand form, synthesized privacy content is now crucial to empower internet users and provide them more meaningful notice, as well as nudge consumers and data processors toward more meaningful privacy. Indeed, on the basis of these needs, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Federal Trade Commission in the United States, as well as lawmakers and policymakers in the European Union, have advocated for the development of privacy indicator systems.

Efforts to develop privacy grades, scores, labels, icons, certifications, seals, and dashboards have wrestled with various deficiencies and obstacles for the wide-scale deployment as meaningful and trustworthy privacy indicators. This paper seeks to identify and explain these deficiencies and obstacles that have hampered past and current attempts. With these lessons, the article then offers criteria that will need to be established in law and policy for trustworthy indicators to be successfully deployed and adopted through technological tools. The lack of standardization prevents user-recognizability and dependability in the online marketplace, diminishes the ability to create automated tools for privacy, and reduces incentives for consumers and industry to invest in a privacy indicators. Flawed methods in selection and weighting of privacy evaluation criteria and issues interpreting language that is often ambiguous and vague jeopardize success and reliability when baked into an indicator of privacy protectiveness or invasiveness. Likewise, indicators fall short when those organizations rating or certifying the privacy practices are not objective, trustworthy, and sustainable.

Nonetheless, trustworthy privacy rating systems that are meaningful, accurate, and adoptable can be developed to assure effective and enduring empowerment of consumers. This paper proposes a framework using examples from prior and current attempts to create privacy indicator systems in order to provide a valuable resource for present-day, real world policymaking….(More)”.

Mapping the challenges and opportunities of artificial intelligence for the conduct of diplomacy

DiploFoundation: “This report provides an overview of the evolution of diplomacy in the context of artificial intelligence (AI). AI has emerged as a very hot topic on the international agenda impacting numerous aspects of our political, social, and economic lives. It is clear that AI will remain a permanent feature of international debates and will continue to shape societies and international relations.

It is impossible to ignore the challenges – and opportunities – AI is bringing to the diplomatic realm. Its relevance as a topic for diplomats and others working in international relations will only increase….(More)”.

A Behavioral Economics Approach to Digitalisation

Paper by Dirk Beerbaum and Julia M. Puaschunder: “A growing body of academic research in the field of behavioural economics, political science and psychology demonstrate how an invisible hand can nudge people’s decisions towards a preferred option. Contrary to the assumptions of the neoclassical economics, supporters of nudging argue that people have problems coping with a complex world, because of their limited knowledge and their restricted rationality. Technological improvement in the age of information has increased the possibilities to control the innocent social media users or penalise private investors and reap the benefits of their existence in hidden persuasion and discrimination. Nudging enables nudgers to plunder the simple uneducated and uninformed citizen and investor, who is neither aware of the nudging strategies nor able to oversee the tactics used by the nudgers (Puaschunder 2017a, b; 2018a, b).

The nudgers are thereby legally protected by democratically assigned positions they hold. The law of motion of the nudging societies holds an unequal concentration of power of those who have access to compiled data and coding rules, relevant for political power and influencing the investor’s decision usefulness (Puaschunder 2017a, b; 2018a, b). This paper takes as a case the “transparency technology XBRL (eXtensible Business Reporting Language)” (Sunstein 2013, 20), which should make data more accessible as well as usable for private investors. It is part of the choice architecture on regulation by governments (Sunstein 2013). However, XBRL is bounded to a taxonomy (Piechocki and Felden 2007).

Considering theoretical literature and field research, a representation issue (Beerbaum, Piechocki and Weber 2017) for principles-based accounting taxonomies exists, which intelligent machines applying Artificial Intelligence (AI) (Mwilu, Prat and Comyn-Wattiau 2015) nudge to facilitate decision usefulness. This paper conceptualizes ethical questions arising from the taxonomy engineering based on machine learning systems: Should the objective of the coding rule be to support or to influence human decision making or rational artificiality? This paper therefore advocates for a democratisation of information, education and transparency about nudges and coding rules (Puaschunder 2017a, b; 2018a, b)…(More)”.

The Inevitability of AI Law & Policy: Preparing Government for the Era of Autonomous Machines

Public Knowledge: “Today, we’re happy to announce our newest white paper, “The Inevitability of AI Law & Policy: Preparing Government for the Era of Autonomous Machines,” by Public Knowledge General Counsel Ryan Clough. The paper argues that the rapid and pervasive rise of artificial intelligence risks exploiting the most marginalized and vulnerable in our society. To mitigate these harms, Clough advocates for a new federal authority to help the U.S. government implement fair and equitable AI. Such an authority should provide the rest of the government with the expertise and experience needed to achieve five goals crucial to building ethical AI systems:

  • Boosting sector-specific regulators and confronting overarching policy challenges raised by AI;
  • Protecting public values in government procurement and implementation of AI;
  • Attracting AI practitioners to civil service, and building durable and centralized AI expertise within government;
  • Identifying major gaps in the laws and regulatory frameworks that govern AI; and
  • Coordinating strategies and priorities for international AI governance.

“Any individual can be misjudged and mistreated by artificial intelligence,” Clough explains, “but the record to date indicates that it is significantly more likely to happen to the less powerful, who also have less recourse to do anything about it.” The paper argues that a new federal authority is the best way to meet the profound and novel challenges AI poses for us all….(More)”.

Deep Fakes: A Looming Challenge for Privacy, Democracy, and National Security

Paper by Robert Chesney and Danielle Keats Citron: “Harmful lies are nothing new. But the ability to distort reality has taken an exponential leap forward with “deep fake” technology. This capability makes it possible to create audio and video of real people saying and doing things they never said or did. Machine learning techniques are escalating the technology’s sophistication, making deep fakes ever more realistic and increasingly resistant to detection.

Deep-fake technology has characteristics that enable rapid and widespread diffusion, putting it into the hands of both sophisticated and unsophisticated actors. While deep-fake technology will bring with it certain benefits, it also will introduce many harms. The marketplace of ideas already suffers from truth decay as our networked information environment interacts in toxic ways with our cognitive biases. Deep fakes will exacerbate this problem significantly. Individuals and businesses will face novel forms of exploitation, intimidation, and personal sabotage. The risks to our democracy and to national security are profound as well.

Our aim is to provide the first in-depth assessment of the causes and consequences of this disruptive technological change, and to explore the existing and potential tools for responding to it. We survey a broad array of responses, including: the role of technological solutions; criminal penalties, civil liability, and regulatory action; military and covert-action responses; economic sanctions; and market developments. We cover the waterfront from immunities to immutable authentication trails, offering recommendations to improve law and policy and anticipating the pitfalls embedded in various solutions….(More)”.

Babbage among the insurers: big 19th-century data and the public interest.

Wilson, D. C. S.  at the History of the Human Sciences: “This article examines life assurance and the politics of ‘big data’ in mid-19th-century Britain. The datasets generated by life assurance companies were vast archives of information about human longevity. Actuaries distilled these archives into mortality tables – immensely valuable tools for predicting mortality and so pricing risk. The status of the mortality table was ambiguous, being both a public and a private object: often computed from company records they could also be extrapolated from quasi-public projects such as the Census or clerical records. Life assurance more generally straddled the line between private enterprise and collective endeavour, though its advocates stressed the public interest in its success. Reforming actuaries such as Thomas Rowe Edmonds wanted the data on which mortality tables were based to be made publicly available, but faced resistance. Such resistance undermined insurers’ claims to be scientific in spirit and hindered Edmonds’s personal quest for a law of mortality. Edmonds pushed instead for an open actuarial science alongside fellow-travellers at the Statistical Society of London, which was populated by statisticians such as William Farr (whose subsequent work, it is argued, was influenced by Edmonds) as well as by radical mathematicians such as Charles Babbage. The article explores Babbage’s little-known foray into the world of insurance, both as a budding actuary but also as a fierce critic of the industry. These debates over the construction, ownership, and accessibility of insurance datasets show that concern about the politics of big data did not begin in the 21st century….(More)”.

The Administrative State

Interview with Paul Tucker by Benedict King: “Iyour book, you place what you call the “administrative state” at the heart of the political dilemmas facing the liberal political order. Could you tell us what you mean by ‘the administrative state’ and the dilemmas it poses for democratic societies?

This is about the legitimacy of the structure of government that has developed in Western democracies. The ‘administrative state’ is simply the machinery for implementing policy and law. What matters is that much of it—including many regulators and central banks—is no longer under direct ministerial control. They are not part of a ministerial department. They are not answerable day-to-day, minute-by-minute to the prime minister or, in other countries, the president.

When I was young, in Europe at least, these arm’s-length agencies were a small part of government, but now they are a very big part. Over here, that transformation has come about over the past thirty-odd years, since the 1990s, whereas in America it goes back to the 1880s, and especially the 1930s New Deal reforms of President Roosevelt.

“The ‘administrative state’ is simply the machinery for implementing policy and law. ”

In the United Kingdom we used to call these agencies ‘quangos’, but that acronym trivialises the issue. Today, many—in the US, probably most—of the laws to which businesses and even individuals are subject are written and enforced by regulatory agencies, part of the administrative state, rather than passed by Parliament or Congress and enforced by the elected executive. That would surprise John Locke, Montesquieu and James Madison, who developed the principles associated with the separation of powers and constitutionalism.

To some extent, these changes were driven by a perceived need to turn to ‘expertise’. But the effect has been to shift more of our government away from our elected representatives and to unelected technocrats. An underlying premise at the heart of my book (although not something that I can prove) is that, since any and every part of government eventually fails—and may fail very badly, as we saw with the collapse of the financial system in 2008—there is a risk that people will get fed up with this shift to governance by unelected experts. The people will get fed up with their lives being affected so much by people who they didn’t have a chance to vote for and can’t vote out. If that happened, it would be dangerous as the genius of representative democracy is that it separates how we as citizens feel about the system of government from how we feel about the government of the day. So how can we avoid that without losing the benefits of delegation? That is what the debate about the administrative state is ultimately about: its dryness belies its importance to how we govern ourselves.

“The genius of representative democracy is that it separates how we as citizens feel about the system of government from how we feel about the government of the day”

It matters, therefore, that the array of agencies in the administrative state varies enormously in the degree to which they are formally insulated from politics. My book Unelected Power is about ‘independent agencies’, by which I mean an agency that is insulated day-to-day from both the legislative branch (Parliament or Congress) and also from the executive branch of government (the prime minister or president). Central banks are the most important example of such independent agencies in modern times, wielding a wide range of monetary and regulatory powers….(More + selection of five books to read)”.