Technocracy: a short look at the impact of technology on modern political and power structures

Below is an essay I wrote for some study that I thought might be fun to share. If you like this, please see the other blog posts tagged as Gov 2.0. Please note, this is a personal essay and not representative of anyone else 🙂

In recent centuries we have seen a dramatic change in the world brought about by the rise of and proliferation of modern democracies. This shift in governance structures gives the common individual a specific role in the power structure, and differs sharply from more traditional top down power structures. This change has instilled in many of the world’s population some common assumptions about the roles, responsibilities and rights of citizens and their governing bodies. Though there will always exist a natural tension between those in power and those governed, modern governments are generally expected to be a benevolent and accountable mechanism that balances this tension for the good of the society as a whole.

In recent decades the Internet has rapidly further evolved the expectations and individual capacity of people around the globe through, for the first time in history, the mass distribution of the traditional bastions of power. With a third of the world online and countries starting to enshrine access to the Internet as a human right, individuals have more power than ever before to influence and shape their lives and the lives of people around them. It is easier that ever for people to congregate, albeit virtually, according to common interests and goals, regardless of their location, beliefs, language, culture or other age old barriers to collaboration. This is having a direct and dramatic impact on governments and traditional power structures everywhere, and is both extending and challenging the principles and foundations of democracy.

This short paper outlines how the Internet has empowered individuals in an unprecedented and prolific way, and how this has changed and continues to change the balance of power in societies around the world, including how governments and democracies work.

Democracy and equality

The concept of an individual having any implicit rights or equality isn’t new, let alone the idea that an individual in a society should have some say over the ruling of the society. Indeed the idea of democracy itself has been around since the ancient Greeks in 500 BCE. The basis for modern democracies lies with the Parliament of England in the 11th century at a time when the laws of the Crown largely relied upon the support of the clergy and nobility, and the Great Council was formed for consultation and to gain consent from power brokers. In subsequent centuries, great concerns about leadership and taxes effectively led to a strongly increased role in administrative power and oversight by the parliament rather than the Crown.

The practical basis for modern government structures with elected official had emerged by the 17th century. This idea was already established in England, but also took root in the United States. This was closely followed by multiple suffrage movements from the 19th and 20th centuries which expanded the right to participate in modern democracies from (typically) adult white property owners to almost all adults in those societies.

It is quite astounding to consider the dramatic change from very hierarchical, largely unaccountable and highly centralised power systems to democratic ones in which those in powers are expected to be held to account. This shift from top down power, to distributed, representative and accountable power is an important step to understand modern expectations.

Democracy itself is sustainable only when the key principle of equality is deeply ingrained in the population at large. This principle has been largely infused into Western culture and democracies, independent of religion, including in largely secular and multicultural democracies such as Australia. This is important because an assumption of equality underpins stability in a system that puts into the hands of its citizens the ability to make a decision. If one component of the society feels another doesn’t have an equal right to a vote, then outcomes other than their own are not accepted as legitimate. This has been an ongoing challenge in some parts of the world more than others.

In many ways there is a huge gap between the fearful sentiments of Thomas Hobbes, who preferred a complete and powerful authority to keep the supposed ‘brutish nature’ of mankind at bay, and the aspirations of John Locke who felt that even governments should be held to account and the role of the government was to secure the natural rights of the individual to life, liberty and property. Yet both of these men and indeed, many political theorists over many years, have started from a premise that all men are equal – either equally capable of taking from and harming others, or equal with regards to their individual rights.

Arguably, the Western notion of individual rights is rooted in religion. The Christian idea that all men are created equal under a deity presents an interesting contrast to traditional power structures that assume one person, family or group have more rights than the rest, although ironically various churches have not treated all people equally either. Christianity has deeply influenced many political thinkers and the forming of modern democracies, many of which which look very similar to the mixed regime system described by Saint Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Thelogiae essays:

Some, indeed, say that the best constitution is a combination of all existing forms, and they praise the Lacedemonian because it is made up of oligarchy, monarchy, and democracy, the king forming the monarchy, and the council of elders the oligarchy, while the democratic element is represented by the Ephors: for the Ephors are selected from the people.

The assumption of equality has been enshrined in key influential documents including the United States Declaration of Independence, 1776:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

More recently in the 20th Century, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights goes even further to define and enshrine equality and rights, marking them as important for the entire society:

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world… – 1st sentence of the Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. – Article 1 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)

The evolution of the concepts of equality and “rights” is important to understand as they provide the basis for how the Internet is having such a disruptive impact on traditional power structures, whilst also being a natural extension of an evolution in human thinking that has been hundreds of years in the making.

Great expectations

Although only a third of the world is online, in many countries this means the vast bulk of the population. In Australia over 88% of households are online as of 2012. Constant online access starts to drive a series of new expectations and behaviours in a community, especially one where equality has already been so deeply ingrained as a basic principle.

Over time a series of Internet-based instincts and perspectives have become mainstream, arguably driven by the very nature of the technology and the tools that we use online. For example, the Internet was developed to “route around damage” which means the technology can withstand technical interruption by another hardware or software means. Where damage is interpreted in a social sense, such as perhaps censorship or locking away access to knowledge, individuals instinctively seek and develop a work around and you see something quite profound. A society has emerged that doesn’t blindly accept limitations put upon them. This is quite a challenge for traditional power structures.

The Internet has become both an extension and an enabler of equality and power by massively distributing both to ordinary people around the world. How has power and equality been distributed? When you consider what constitutes power, four elements come to mind: publishing, communications, monitoring and enforcement.

Publishing – in times gone past the ideas that spread beyond a small geographical area either traveled word of mouth via trade routes, or made it into a book. Only the wealthy could afford to print and distribute the written word, so publishing and dissemination of information was a power limited to a small number of people. Today the spreading of ideas is extremely easy, cheap and can be done anonymously. Anyone can start a blog, use social media, and the proliferation of information creation and dissemination is unprecedented. How does this change society? Firstly there is an assumption that an individual can tell their story to a global audience, which means an official story is easily challenged not only by the intended audience, but by the people about whom the story is written. Individuals online expect both to have their say, and to find multiple perspectives that they can weigh up, and determine for themselves what is most credible. This presents significant challenges to traditional powers such as governments in establishing an authoritative voice unless they can establish trust with the citizens they serve.

Communications– individuals have always had some method to communicate with individuals in other communities and countries, but up until recent decades these methods have been quite expensive, slow and oftentimes controlled. This has meant that historically, people have tended to form social and professional relationships with those close by, largely out of convenience. The Internet has made it easy to communicate, collaborate with, and coordinate with individuals and groups all around the world, in real time. This has made massive and global civil responses and movements possible, which has challenged traditional and geographically defined powers substantially. It has also presented a significant challenge for governments to predict and control information flow and relationships within the society. It also created a challenge for how to support the best interests of citizens, given the tension between what is good for a geographically defined nation state doesn’t always align with what is good for an online and trans-nationally focused citizen.

Monitoring – traditional power structures have always had ways to monitor the masses. Monitoring helps maintain rule of law through assisting in the enforcement of laws, and is often upheld through self-reporting as those affected by broken laws will report issues to hold detractors to account. In just the last 50 years, modern technologies like CCTV have made monitoring of the people a trivial task, where video cameras can record what is happening 24 hours a day. Foucault spoke of the panopticon gaol design as a metaphor for a modern surveillance state, where everyone is constantly watched on camera. The panopticon was a gaol design wherein detainees could not tell if they were being observed by gaolers or not, enabling in principle, less gaolers to control a large number of prisoners. In the same way prisoners would theoretically behave better under observation, Foucault was concerned that omnipresent surveillance would lead to all individuals being more conservative and limited in themselves if they knew they could be watched at any time. The Internet has turned this model on its head. Although governments can more easily monitor citizens than ever before, individuals can also monitor each other and indeed, monitor governments for misbehaviour. This has led to individuals, governments, companies and other entities all being held to account publicly, sometimes violently or unfairly so.

Enforcement – enforcement of laws are a key role of a power structure, to ensure the rules of a society are maintained for the benefit of stability and prosperity. Enforcement can take many forms including physical (gaol, punishment) or psychological (pressure, public humiliation). Power structures have many ways of enforcing the rules of a society on individuals, but the Internet gives individuals substantial enforcement tools of their own. Power used to be who had the biggest sword, or gun, or police force. Now that major powers and indeed, economies, rely so heavily upon the Internet, there is a power in the ability to disrupt communications. In taking down a government or corporate website or online service, an individual or small group of individuals can have an impact far greater than in the past on power structures in their society, and can do so anonymously. This becomes quite profound as citizen groups can emerge with their own philosophical premise and the tools to monitor and enforce their perspective.

Property – property has always been a strong basis of law and order and still plays an important part in democracy, though perspectives towards property are arguably starting to shift. Copyright was invented to protect the “intellectual property” of a person against copying at a time when copying was quite a physical business, and when the mode of distributing information was very expensive. Now, digital information is so easy to copy that it has created a change in expectations and a struggle for traditional models of intellectual property. New models of copyright have emerged that explicitly support copying (copyleft) and some have been successful, such as with the Open Source software industry or with remix music culture. 3D printing will change the game again as we will see in the near future the massive distribution of the ability to copy physical goods, not just virtual ones. This is already creating havoc with those who seek to protect traditional approaches to property but it also presents an extraordinary opportunity for mankind to have greater distribution of physical wealth, not just virtual wealth. Particularly if you consider the current use of 3D printing to create transplant organs, or the potential of 3D printing combined with some form of nano technology that could reassemble matter into food or other essential living items. That is starting to step into science fiction, but we should consider the broader potential of these new technologies before we decide to arbitrarily limit them based on traditional views of copyright, as we are already starting to see.

By massively distributing publishing, communications, monitoring and enforcement, and with the coming potential massive distribution of property, technology and the Internet has created an ad hoc, self-determined and grassroots power base that challenges traditional power structures and governments.

With great power…

Individuals online find themselves more empowered and self-determined than ever before, regardless of the socio-political nature of their circumstances. They can share and seek information directly from other individuals, bypassing traditional gatekeepers of knowledge. They can coordinate with like-minded citizens both nationally and internationally and establish communities of interest that transcend geo-politics. They can monitor elected officials, bureaucrats, companies and other individuals, and even hold them all to account.

To leverage these opportunities fully requires a reasonable amount of technical literacy. As such, many technologists are on the front line, playing a special role in supporting, challenging and sometimes overthrowing modern power structures. As technical literacy is permeating mainstream culture more individuals are able to leverage these disrupters, but technologist activists are often the most effective at disrupting power through the use of technology and the Internet.

Of course, whilst the Internet is a threat to traditional centralised power structures, it also presents an unprecedented opportunity to leverage the skills, knowledge and efforts of an entire society in the running of government, for the benefit of all. Citizen engagement in democracy and government beyond the ballot box presents the ability to co-develop, or co-design the future of the society, including the services and rules that support stability and prosperity. Arguably, citizen buy-in and support is now an important part of the stability of a society and success of a policy.

Disrupting the status quo

The combination of improved capacity for self-determination by individuals along with the increasingly pervasive assumptions of equality and rights have led to many examples of traditional power structures being held to account, challenged, and in some cases, overthrown.

Governments are able to be held more strongly to account than ever before. The Open Australia Foundation is a small group of technologists in Australia who create tools to improve transparency and citizen engagement in the Australian democracy. They created Open Australia, a site that made the public parliamentary record more accessible to individuals through making it searchable, subscribable and easy to browse and comment on. They also have projects such as Planning Alerts which notifies citizens of planned development in their area, Election Leaflets where citizens upload political pamphlets for public record and accountability, and Right to Know, a site to assist the general public in pursuing information and public records from the government under Freedom of Information. These are all projects that monitor, engage and inform citizens about government.

Wikileaks is a website and organisation that provides an anonymous way for individuals to anonymously leak sensitive information, often classified government information. Key examples include video and documents from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, about the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, United States diplomatic cables and million of emails from Syrian political and corporate figures. Some of the information revealed by Wikileaks has had quite dramatic consequences with the media and citizens around the world responding to the information. Arguably, many of the Arab Spring uprisings throughout the Middle East from December 2010 were provoked by the release of the US diplomatic cables by Wikileaks, as it demonstrated very clearly the level of corruption in many countries. The Internet also played a vital part in many of these uprisings, some of which saw governments deposed, as social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook provided the mechanism for massive coordination of protests, but importantly also provided a way to get citizen coverage of the protests and police/army brutality, creating global audience, commentary and pressure on the governments and support for the protesters.

Citizen journalism is an interesting challenge to governments because the route to communicate with the general public has traditionally been through the media. The media has presented for many years a reasonably predictable mechanism for governments to communicate an official statement and shape public narrative. But the Internet has facilitated any individual to publish online to a global audience, and this has resulted in a much more robust exchange of ideas and less clear cut public narrative about any particular issue, sometimes directly challenging official statements. A particularly interesting case of this was the Salam Pax blog during the 2003 Iraq invasion by the United States. Official news from the US would largely talk about the success of the campaign to overthrown Suddam Hussein. The Salam Pax blog provided the view of a 29 year old educated Iraqi architect living in Baghdad and experiencing the invasion as a citizen, which contrasted quite significantly at times with official US Government reports. This type of contrast will continue to be a challenge to governments.

On the flip side, the Internet has also provided new ways for governments themselves to support and engage citizens. There has been the growth of a global open government movement, where governments themselves try to improve transparency, public engagement and services delivery using the Internet. Open data is a good example of this, with governments going above and beyond traditional freedom of information obligations to proactively release raw data online for public scrutiny. Digital services allow citizens to interact with their government online rather than the inconvenience of having to physically attend a shopfront. Many governments around the world are making public commitments to improving the transparency, engagement and services for their citizens. We now also see more politicians and bureaucrats engaging directly with citizens online through the use of social media, blogs and sophisticated public consultations tools. Governments have become, in short, more engaged, more responsive and more accountable to more people than ever before.

Conclusion

Only in recent centuries have power structures emerged with a specific role for common individual citizens. The relationship between individuals and power structures has long been about the balance between what the power could enforce and what the population would accept. With the emergence of power structures that support and enshrine the principles of equality and human rights, individuals around the world have come to expect the capacity to determine their own future. The growth of and proliferation of democracy has been a key shift in how individuals relate to power and governance structures.

New technologies and the Internet has gone on to massively distribute the traditionally centralised powers of publishing, communications, monitoring and enforcement (with property on the way). This distribution of power through the means of technology has seen democracy evolve into something of a technocracy, a system which has effectively tipped the balance of power from institutions to individuals.

References

Hobbes, T. The Leviathan, ed. by R. Tuck, Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Aquinas, T. Sum. Theol. i-ii. 105. 1, trans. A. C. Pegis, Whether the old law enjoined fitting precepts concerning rulers?

Uzgalis, William, “John Locke”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2012/entries/locke/.

See additional useful references linked throughout essay.

The new citizenship: digital citizenship

Recently I was invited to give a TEDx talk at a Canberra event for women speakers. It was a good opportunity to have some fun with some ideas I’ve been playing with for a while around the concept of being a citizen in the era of the Internet, and what that means for individuals and traditional power structures in society, including government. A snipped transcript below. Enjoy and comments welcome 🙂 I’ve put a few links that might be of interest throughout and the slides are in the video for reference.

Video is at http://www.youtube.com/embed/iqjM_HU0WSw

Digital Citizenship

I want to talk to you about digital citizenship and how, not only the geek will inherit the earth but, indeed, we already have. All the peoples just don’t know it yet.

Powerful individuals

We are in the most exciting of times. People are connected from birth and are engaged across the world. We are more powerful as individuals than ever before. We have, particularly in communities and societies like Australia, we have a population that has all of our basic needs taken care of. So we have got time to kill. And we’ve got resources. Time and resources gives a greater opportunity for introspection which has led over the last hundred years in particular, to enormous progress. To the establishment of the concept of individual rights and strange ideas like the concept that animals might actually have feelings and perhaps maybe shouldn’t be treated awfully or just as a food source.

We’ve had these huge, enormous revolutions and evolutions of thought and perspective for a long, long time but it’s been growing exponentially. It’s a combination of the growth in democracy, the rise of the concept of individual rights, and the concept of individuals being able to participate in the macro forces that shape their world.

But it’s also a combination of technology and the explosion in what an individual can achieve both as a individual but also en mass collaborating dynamically across the globe. It’s the fact that many of us are kind of fat, content and happy and now wanting to make a bit of a difference, which is quite exciting. So what we’ve got is a massive and unprecedented distribution of power.

Distributed power

We’ve got the distribution of publishing. The ability to publish whatever you want. Whether you do it through formal mechanisms or anonymously. You can distribute to a global audience with less barriers to entry than ever before. We have the distribution of the ability to communicate with whomever your please. The ability to monitor, which has traditionally been a top down thing for ensuring laws are followed and taxes are paid. But now people can monitor sideways, they can monitor up. They can monitor their governments. They can monitor companies. There is the distribution of enforcement. This gets a little tricky because if anyone can enforce than anyone can enforce any thing. And you start to get a little bit of active concerns there but it is an interesting time. Finally with the advent of 3D printing starting to get mainstream, we’re seeing the massive distribution of, of property.

And if you think about these five concepts – publishing, communications, monitoring, enforcement and property – these five power bases have traditionally been centralised. We usually look at the industrial revolution and the broadcast age as two majors periods in history but arguably they’re both actually part of the same era. Because both of them are about the centralised creation of stuff – whether it’s physical or information – by a small number of people that could afford to do so, and then distributed to the rest of the population.

The idea that anyone can create any of these things and distribute it to anyone else, or indeed for their own purposes is a whole new thing and very exciting. And what that means is that the relationship between people and governments and industry has changed quite fundamentally. Traditional institutions and bastions of any sort of power are struggling with this and are finding it rather scary but it is creating an imperative to change. It is also creating new questions about legitimacy and power relations between people, companies and governments.

Individuals however, are thriving in this environment. There’s always arguments about trolls and about whether the power’s being used trivially. The fact is the Internet isn’t all unicorns or all doom. It is something different, it is something exciting and it is something that is empowering people in a way that’s unprecedented and often unexpected.

The term singularity is one of those fluffy things that’s been touted around by futurists but it does have a fairly specific meaning which is kind of handy. The concept of the distance between things getting smaller. Whether that’s the distance between you and your publisher, you and your food, you and your network or you and your device. The concept of approaching the singularity is about reducing those distances between. Now, of course the internet has reduced the distance between people quite significantly and I put to you that we’re in a period of a “democratic singularity” because the distance between people and power has dramatically reduced.

People are in many ways now as powerful as a lot of the institutions which frame and shape their lives. So to paraphrase and slightly turn on it’s head the quote by William Gibson: the future is here and it is already widely distributed. So we’ve approached the democratic singularity and it’s starting to make democracy a lot more participatory, a lot more democratic.

Changing expectations

So, what does this mean in reality? What does this actually translate to for us as people, as a society, as a “global village”, to quote Marshall McLuhan. There’s quite massive changing expectations of individual. I see a lot of people focused on the shift in power from the West to the East. But I believe the more interesting shift is the shift in power from institutions to individuals.

That is the more fascinating shift not just because individuals have power but because it is changing our expectations as a society. And when you start to get a massive change of expectations across an entire community of people, that starts to change behaviors, change economics, change socials patterns, change social norms. 

What are those changing expectations? Well, the internet teaches us a lot of things. The foundation technical principles of the internet are effectively shaping the social characteristics of this new society. This distributed society or “Society 5” if you will.

Some of the expectations are the ability to access what you want. The ability to talk to whom you want. The ability to cross reference. When I was a kid and you did a essay on anything you had to go look at Encyclopedia Britannica. It was a single source of truth. The concept that you could get multiple perspectives, some of which might be skewed by the way, but still to concept of getting the context of those different perspectives and a little comparison was hard and alien for the average person. Now you can often talk to someone who is there right now let alone find myriad sources to help inform your view. You can get a point of comparison against traditionally official sources like a government source or media report. People online start to intuitively understand that the world’s actually a lot more gray than we are generally taught in school and such. Learning that the world is gray is great because you start to say, “you know what? You could be right and I could be right and that doesn’t make either perspective necessarily invalid, and that isn’t a terrible thing.” It doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive or a zero sum game, or a single view of history. We can both have a perspective and be mutually respectful in a lot of cases and actually have a more diverse and interesting world as a result.

Changing expectations are helping many people overcome barriers that traditionally stopped them from being socially successful: economically, reputationally, etc. People are more empowered to basically be a superhero which is kinda cool. Online communities can be one of the most exciting and powerful places to be because it starts to transcend limitations and make it possible for people to excel in a way that perhaps traditionally they weren’t able to. So, it’s very exciting. 

Individual power also brings a lot of responsibility. We’ve got all these power structures but at the end of the day there’s usually a techie implementing the big red button so the role of geeks in this world is very important. We are the ones who enable technology to be used for any agenda. Everything is basically based on technology, right? So everything is reliant upon technology. Well, this means we are exactly as free as the tools that we use. 

Technical freedom

If the tool that you’re using for social networking only allows you to talk to people in the same geographic area as you then you’re limited. If the email tool you’re using only allows you to send to someone who has another secure network then you’re only as free as that tool. Tech literacy becomes an enabler or an inhibitor, and it defines an individuals privacy. Because you might say to yourself, oh you know, I will never tell anyone where I am at a particular point in time cause I don’t want someone to rob my house while I’m out on holiday. But you’ll still put a photo up that you’re Argentina right now, because that’s fun, so now people know. Technical literacy for the masses is really important but largely, at this point, confined to the geeks. So hacker ethos ends up being a really important part of this.

For those that don’t know, hacker is not a rude word. It’s not a bad word. It’s the concept of having a creative and clever approach to technology and applying tech in cool and exciting ways. It helps people scratch an itch, test their skills, solve tricky problems collaboratively. Hacker ethos is a very important thing because you start to say freedom, including technical freedom is actually very, very important. It’s very high on the list. And with this ethos, technologists know that to implement and facilitate technologies that actually hobble our fellow citizens kind of screws them over.

Geeks will always be the most free in a digital society because we will always know how to route around the damage. Again, going back to the technical construct of the internet. But fundamentally we have a role to play to actually be leaders and pioneers in this society and to help lead the masses into a better future.

Danger!

There’s also a lot of other sorts of dangers. Tools don’t discriminate. The same tools that can lead a wonderful social revolution or empower individuals to tell their stories is the same technology that can be used by criminals or those with a nefarious agenda. This is an important reason to remember we shouldn’t lock down the internet because someone can use it for a bad reason in the same way we don’t ban cars just because someone used a vehicle to rob a bank. The idea of hobbling technology because it’s used in a bad way is a highly frustrating one.

Another danger is “privilege cringe”. In communities like Australia we’re sort of taught to say, well, you’ve got privilege because you’ve been brought up in a safe stable environment, you’ve got an education, you’ve got enough money, you’ve got a sense of being able to go out and conquer the world. But you’ve got to hide that because you should be embarrassed of your opportunities when so many others have so little. I suggest to you all that you in this room, and pretty much anyone that would probably come and watch a TED event or go to a TED talk or watch it online, is the sort of person who is probably reasonably privileged in a lot of ways and you can use your privilege to influence the world in a powerful and positive way.

You’ve got access to the internet which makes you part of the third of the world that has access. So use your privilege for the power of good! This is the point. We are more powerful than ever before so if you’re not using your power for the power of good, if you’re not actually contributing to making the world a better place, what are you doing?

Hipsters are a major danger. Billy Bragg made the perfect quote which is, cynicism is the perfect enemy of progress. There is nothing more frustrating than actually making progress and having people tear you down because you haven’t done it exactly so.

Another danger is misdirection. We have a lot of people in Australia who want to do good. That’s very exciting and really cool. But Australians tend to say, I’m going to go to another country and feed some poor people and that’ll make me feel good, that’ll be doing some good and that’ll be great. Me personally, that would really not be good for people because I don’t cook very well. Deciding how you can actually contribute to making the world a better place in a way is like finding a lever? You need to identify what you are good at, what real differences you can make when you apply your skills very specifically. Where do you push to get a major change rather than, rather than contributing to actually maintaining the status quo? How do you rewrite the rules? How do you actually help those people that need help all around the world, including here in Australia, in a way that actually helps them sustainably? Enthused misdirection is I guess where I’m getting at.

And of course, one of the most frustrating dangers is hyperbole. It is literally destroying us. Figuratively speaking 😉

So there’s a lot of dangers, there’s a lot of issues but there is a lot of opportunities and a lot of capacities to do awesome. How many people here have been to a TED talk of some sort before? So keep your hand up if, after that, you went out and did something world changing. OK. So now you’re gonna do that, yeah? Right. So next time we do this all of those hands will stay up.

Progress

I’ll make couple of last points. My terrible little diagram here maps the concept that if you look at the last 5,000 years. The quality of life for individuals in a many societies has been down here fairly low for a long time. In millennia past, kings come and go, people get killed, properties taken. All sorts of things happen and individuals were very much at the behest of the powers of the day but you just keep plowing your fields and try to be all right. But is has slowly improved over a long time time, and the collective epiphany of the individual starts to happen, the idea of having rights, the idea that things could be better and that the people could contribute to their own future and democracy starts to kick off. The many suffrage movements addressing gender, ethnicity and other biases with more and more individuals in societies starting to be granted more equal recognition and rights.

The last hundred years, boom! It has soared up here somewhere. And I’m not tall enough to actually make the point, right? This is so exciting! So where are we going to go next?

How do we contribute to the future if we’re not involved in shaping the future. If we aren’t involved, then other powerful individuals are going to shape it for us. And this, this is the thing I’ve really learned by working in government, but working in the Minister’s office, by working in the public service. I specifically went to work in for a politician – even though I’m very strongly apolitical – to work in the government and in the public service because I wanted to understand the executive, legislative, and administrative arms of the entity that shapes our lives so much. I feel like I have a fairly good understanding of that now and there’s a lot of people who influence your lives every day.

Tipping point

Have we really hit this tipping point? You know, is it, is it really any different today than it was yesterday? Well, we’ve had this exponential progress, we’ve got a third of the world online, we’ve got these super human powerful individuals in a large chunk of different societies around the world. I argue that we have hit and passed the tipping point but the realisation hasn’t hit everyone yet.

So, the question is for you to figure out your super power. How do you best contribute it to making the world a better place?

Powers and kryptonite

For me, going and working in a soup kitchen will not help anybody. I could possibly design a robot that creates super delicious and nutritional food to actually feed people. But me doing it myself would actually probably give them food poisoning and wouldn’t help anyone. You need to figure out your specific super powers so you can deploy them to some effect. Figure out how you can contribute to the world. Also figure out your kryptonite.

What biases do you have in place? What weaknesses do you have? What things will actually get in the way of you trying to do what you’re doing? I quite often see people apply critical analysis and critical thinking tools without any self-awareness and the problem is that we are super clever beings and we can rationalize anything we want if, emotionally, we like it or dislike it.

So try and have both self-awareness and critical analysis and now you’ve got a very powerful way to do some good. So I’m going to just finish with a quote.

JFDI

What better place than here? What better time than now? All hell can’t stop us now — RATM

The future is being determined whether you like it or not. But it’s not really being determined by the traditional players in a lot of ways. The power’s been distributed. It’s not just the politicians or the scholars or the researchers or corporates. It’s being invented right here, right now. You are contributing to that future either passively or actively. So you may as well get up and be active about it.

We’re heading towards this and we’ve possibly even hit the tipping point of a digital singularity and a democratic singularity. So, what are you going do about it? I invite you to share with me in the creating the future together.

Thank you very much.

You might also be interested in my blog post on Creating Open Government for a Digital Society and I think the old nugget of noblesse oblige applies here very well.

So you want to change the world?

Recently I spoke at BarCamp Canberra about my tips and tricks to changing the world. I thought it might be useful to get people thinking about how they can best contribute to the world, according to their skills and passions.

Completely coincidentally, my most excellent boss did a talk a few sessions ahead of me which was the American Civil War version of the same thing 🙂 I highly recommend it. John Sheridan – Lincoln, Lee and ICT: Lessons from the Civil War.

So you want to change the world?

Here are the tactics I use to some success. I heartily recommend you find what works for you. Then you will have no excuse but to join me in implementing Operation World Awesomeness.

The Short Version:

No wasted movement.

The Long Version:

1) Pick your battles: there are a million things you could do. What do you most care about? What can you maintain constructive and positive energy about even in the face of towering adverseries and significant challenges? What do you think you can make a difference in? There is a subtle difference between choosing to knock down a mountain with your forehead, and renting a bulldozer. If you find yourself expending enormous energy on something, but not making a difference, you need to be comfortable to change tactics.

2) Work to your strengths: everyone is good at something. If you choose to contribute to your battle in a way that doesn’t work to your strengths, whatever they are, then you are wasting energy. You are not contributing in the best way you can. You need to really know yourself, understand what you can and can’t do, then do what you can do well, and supplement your army with the skills of others. Everyone has a part to play and a meaningful way to contribute. FWIW, I work to know myself through my martial arts training, which provides a useful cognitive and physical toolkit to engage in the world with clarity. Find what works for you. As Sun Tzu said: know yourself.

3) Identify success: Figure out what success actually looks like, otherwise you don’t have either a measurement of progress, nor a measurement of completion. I’ve seen too many activists get caught up on a battle and continued fighting well beyond the battle being won, or indeed keep hitting their heads against a battle that can’t be won. It’s important to continually be monitoring and measuring, holding yourself to account, and ensuring you are making progress. If not, change tactics.

4) Reconnaissance: do your research. Whatever your area of interest there is likely a body of work that has come before you that you can build upon. Learn about the environment you are working in, the politics, the various motivations and interests at play, the history and structure of your particular battlefield. Find levers in the system that you can press for maximum effect, rather than just straining against the weight of a mountain. Identify the various moving parts of the system and you have the best chance to have a constructive and positive influence.

5) Networks & Mentors: identify all the players in your field. Who is involved, influential, constructive, destructive, effective, etc. It is important to understand the motivations at play so you can engage meaningfully, collaboratively and build a mutually beneficial network in the persuit of awesomeness. Strong mentors are a vital asset and they will teach you how to navigate the rapids and make things happen. A strong network of allies is also vital to keep you on track, and accountable, and true to your own purpose. People usually strive to meet the expectations of those around them, so surround yourself with high expectations. Knowing your network also helps you identify issues and opportunities early.

6) Sustainability: have you put in place a succession plan? How will your legacy continue on without you? It’s important if your work is to continue on that it not be utterly reliant upon one individual. You need to share your vision, passion and success. Glory shared is glory sustained, so bring others on board, encourage and support them to succeed. Always give recognition and thanks to people who do great stuff.

7) Patience: remember the long game. Nothing changes overnight. It always take a lot of work and persistence, and remembering the long game will help during those times when it doesn’t feel like you are making progress. Again, your network is vital as it will help you maintain your strength, confidence and patience 🙂 Speaking of which, a huge thanks to Geoff Mason for reminding me of this one on the day.

8) Shifting power: it is worth noting that we are living in the most exciting of times. Truly. Individuals are more empowered than ever before to do great things. The Internet has created a mechanism for the mass distribution of power, but putting into the hands of all people (all those online anyway), the tools to:

  1. publish and access knowledge;
  2. communicate and collaborate with people all around the world;
  3. monitor and hold others to account including companies, governments and individuals;
  4. act as enforcers for whatever code or law they uphold. This is of course quite controversial but fascinating nonetheless; and
  5. finally, with the advances in 3D printing and nanotechnology, we are on the cusp of all people having unprecedented access to property.

Side note: Poverty and hunger, we shall overcome you yet! Then we just urgently need to prioritise education of all the people. But that is a post for another day 🙂 Check out my blog post on Unicorns and Doom, which goes into my thoughts on how online culture is fundamentally changing society.

This last aspect is particularly fascinating as it changes the game from one between the haves and the have nots, to one between those with and those without skills and knowledge. We are moving from a material wealth differentiation in society towards an intellectual wealth differentiation. Arguable we always had the latter, but the former has long been a bastion for law, structures, power and hierarchies. And it is all changing.

“What better place than here, what better time than now?” — RATM

My talk on Data Liberation at Ignite Sydney

Ignite Sydney is like an evening version of TEDx with 5 min talks, 20 slides automatically progressed every 15 seconds. A lot of pressure I can tell you, but I think I did ok 🙂 Talking at a millions miles an hour, as usual. Rough transcript (with a few edits) below.

Hello

I’m here to speak to you about the legend of data liberation. It’s an important story, it’s a story about society, about people, about geeks, and it’s a story about government. Of course I am not here representing any of the government people that I work for here tonight.

So I do think I believe I represent a new generation of public servant that will transform things, but by the by.

Most people when they think of government think of garbage. They think about what is it this entity does for us? They take out our garbage, they build our roads, they build our education. But what’s happening is that the Internet is leading us to a period of discontentment. People are more empowered than we’ve ever been before and we’re seeing government make mistakes, like the NSW Transport issue (2011 issue mentioned by earlier speaker) and we’re just going “come on! We can do this better”.

So what’s starting to happen is people want the data, we’re seeing a new thing called Gov 2.0 (I know, “2.0” is stupid) but it’s around transparency, participation and citizen-based approach to government. I’m going to run through these three things very quickly.

Transparency in the first instance is about raw data. You need access to the raw materials to make new and interesting things. It’s one thing to have someone say to you “the water is rising” but it’s another thing to actually have information over the last 200 years about how much it’s rising and be able to do your own analysis.

Having access to the raw data means we can better trust the outcomes. I mean how would it be if we got the outcome of elections, but didn’t have the capacity to have scrutineers and have people look at the raw information. We need raw data to be able to trust outcomes and to be able to provide our own analysis.

Analysis is a really important part when we get access to raw data. We need access to economic data, environmental data, biological data, demographic, government. The Human Genome project, who has heard of that? Come on, I met the guy who runs that project very recently, I also got to meet Hans Rosling, was very cool.

Another type of transparency is parliamentary transparency. So the Italian Government has this huge glass room to let the sun shine in. Cool idea. then they covered it up. Not so cool.

Really good metaphor for the fact though that people want access to the information so that they can participate in the democracy, they can participate in the policy, they can participate in the process. If people aren’t able to get information, then they aren’t able to get educated, then they aren’t able to get an informed view, then they aren’t able to participate effectively.

So basically where we’re going is a period of time where how government operates is it actually starts to co-develop the policy with the people. Because you know there are a lot of skills out there, there’s a lot of us that know stuff that can contribute to making government do things better. So why wouldn’t they talk to us?

Well, it’s not because they’re bad or evil or nefarious, generally speaking, it’s usually just because it’s not the way things are done. Things are starting to be done differently now.

Open data and raw data also gives us new opportunities to innovation. I actually ran a thing called GovHack which was really awesome. Raw data, competition, people making heaps of projects over 48 hours.

You also have the opportunity to crowdsource. So this was the spike when the floods hit Queensland of the number of people who liked the Queensland Police Facebook page. And what the police found, and this is fascinating, was that not only were they able to get information out, but people were able to get information to the police. Because of course they took over trying to coordinate emergency responses.

So when people were able to take “oh, 10 people have said this bridge has gone down”, well that gives you a fairly good indication how to deploy your resources so crowdsourcing gives a new type of raw data that can help government do things better and help people work with government better.

So: iterative, collaborate government. That’s what Gov 2.0 is about. Transparency, Participation and a Citizen Focus in how we do things.

The Government of the future is something we have to do collaboratively. If we can’t create the blueprint for the future as a whole society then we’re going to end up running into troubles and we do run into troubles. We can’t respond in a quick manner, we can’t respond in an effective manner. And then we end up just becoming – government itself – ends up becoming out of date, irrelevant, and not able to respond to the changing needs of society and of it’s citizens.

So basically, we need to change or we’re gonna die. Woo.

A couple of things in Australia. There’s a bunch of raw data things happening. There’s dataACT which I’m actually working on which is the first actual open data platform. It does transcoding, it does APIs, it does all the cool technical stuff. data.gov.au and dataVIC and some of the other ones are mostly just content management systems but they’re starting to change and this weekend I think is a hackfest on the NSW transport data as well.

A couple of considerations, people thing about privacy but people don’t think about fish privacy. If you release the data about all the flora and fauna above the ocean, and then someone  goes in and fishes a particular fish to extinction, then what does that mean about privacy.

Geek culture and tech skills give us the capacity for privacy, for analysis, for doing all the cool stuff that leads to education and empowerment which leads to digital democracy.

And frankly, everyone here sees themselves as a geek right? Those who don’t should because geeks are the future.

So, thank you for coming with me on my little journey on data liberation. I will continue to fight the war and please, come with me, embrace your geek if you haven’t yet already, free the data and let’s get a better society together.

Thank you very much.

Privacy and Internet Policy at Internet Government Forum Australia

A couple of weeks ago I participated in the Australian Internet Governance Forum, both on a panel about Internet privacy (which also delved into the murky waters of data retention) and I also ran a 90 minute session on Government and Internet Policy. Both were fascinating. Below I’ve briefly wrapped each one up.

Privacy Panel

I sat on the IGF privacy panel as an open government person, and it was a fascinating discussion. Other panelist

You can watch the Privacy Panel video on the auIGF website, but you (quite ironically) have to provide your name and email address. If you just want to get the gist of the panel, check out the IGF session captions. I’ve copied the caption service transcript at the end of this post for my archives. They did a really good job on the day, but we all spoke quite fast, so it’ll give you a good but rough idea of what was said.

Government and Internet Policy session

My personal goal in this space is to have a more nuanced public dialogue on Internet policy such that we make more informed, collaborative and inclusive debate on where we as a society, want from the Internet, and such that we can avoid government policies having unintended results that inhibit the social or economic opportunities we have enjoyed to date.

I thought it would be interesting to get some of our Internet policy and practise luminaries to discuss Internet policy. It was a robust and fascinating discussion resulting in some great insights and ideas. Core ideas that came out where a) the Internet cannot be defined because the moment you do so, the technology changes, but b) there are some core values/principles that underpin the Internet that could be used to assess policy. It was interesting to have some, at times, quite contrary thoughts in the room, but to see that by the end of the session, the different perspectives were largely two sides of the same coin.

What I rapidly realised during the session was that most people in this space are focused on a very narrowly defined patch, and each patch is being dealt with largely in isolation from the rest. For example, the idea that “we don’t need to worry about policies that deal with content (such as Internet filtering) because we are focused on the domain name space”. In my opinion this is somewhat problematic because it makes it too easy to play divide and conquer by policy.

As a result of this session I’m writing a short paper on some core values of the Internet that migh be a good basis for reviewing government policies around the world so we can start to reframe Internet policy in terms of what is good for society, rather than the relatively unhelpful and specialised “open vs closed Internet” debate we have seen completely fill the airwaves recently. I’m going to do some policy analysis on some of the big ones against this list of values to see how the model stacks up.

Check out the wiki page where we captured the ideas contributed to this session.

As part of setting up the wikipage for this session, I also invited other sessions to use the wiki. Two other sessions decided to use the wiki and you can check them out at http://auigf.wikispaces.com/

Below are the outcomes of the session, and below that all the content that led us to this outcome.

Values of the Internet

Potential list of values, perhaps “public good” aspects we take for granted, things “on the net”? Perhaps government should be able to confirm they agree with? Perhaps “please make a commitment”. Perhaps the values could be then compared and contrasted with policy positions:

  • Coordination not control– committing to protecting coordination efforts and commitment to participate in coordination:
    • Social: more collaborative approach which might lead to more citizen centric policy.
    • Economic: capacity to tap into other efforts, more effective policy outcomes that align with how the Internet is actually run/managed/governed.
  • Interoperability– open standards, no undisclosed/forced gated communities
    • Social: avoids lock in or out, people can make informed decisions, increased usability, accessibility,
    • Economic: fair market competition,
  • Peer to peer global connectivity– people/devices/all ports/all teh things/any to any – connecting directly to each other
    • Social: free expression, non discriminatory
    • Economic: freedom to provide and accept and service, facilitates innovation, we don’t know what the next killer protocol is going to be, so freedom for future opportnuities,
  • Route around damage– capacity to deal with issues
    • Social: gete around censorship,
    • Economic: resilience, high availability, availability during natural disasters,
  • Distributed control– no single point of failure or control, eg multi-source networks of trust
    • Social: uncapturable, ability for civil disobedience and dissent,
    • Economic: no single point of failure, avoiding damage of monopoly rents
  • Non-discriminatory approach– users, devices, content, jurisdiction, technology neutral/common access, free flowing data
    • Social: affordability, accessibility, availability
    • Economic: free market

Perhaps some point about public information, gov role in providing public infrastructure/information/emergency information/open data (bushfires)? Maybe this is more a policy recommendation than a core value?

Additional comments and points:

Internet must have the capacity to deliver:
All ports, protocols, content, origins and all destinations.

What is the different between the Internet and public roads?
NBN as a policy example where there is a a purposefully neutral policy approach.
Technology doesn’t limit the application. Public communications. Will a private market service the need and if not, then public investment. What are the parameters for determining a market factor. Is it accessible for everybody? Eg comparison with electricity grid.
Consistent addressing structure
Consistent naming structure
Availability, predictability, stability
Government needs to commit to an Internet that is coordinated and not controlled.

Below is the rest of the content of the wiki from my session (for my archive, from the date of this post):

Session Info

Facilitated by Pia Waugh, this workshop looked at the role of governments in Internet management, policy development and regulation. Participants were invited to exchange views on the pressures and issues that could drive governments to take an increased regulatory role, the areas in which meaningful government engagement would be of benefit, and the areas where the open and multi-stakeholder model should be retained. Topics included current parliamentary deliberations on reforming national security legislation and the potential impact on business and end-user rights.

Session Methodology

We kicked off the session by, as a group, trying to identify the high level categories of problem spaces that the plethora of Internet related policies, legislation, codes and trade agreements are trying to deal with. As part of this we had a first shot at identifying the various mechanisms these approaches adopt in trying to achieve their goals.

Then we dived into a discussion about the technical characteristics of the Internet and their social/economic implications. That discussion had some healthy debate that resulting in some consensus that the technical characteristics of the Internet are constantly changing and shouldn’t be pinned down. However, that there *are* some overriding principles/values that underpin the Internet as it was, is, and should continue to be.

We ran out of time to compare and contrast our key categories and the various mechanisms of enforcement, with the model of how we define the characteristics of the Internet. Hopefully this can be part of an ongoing discussion in this community.
The outcome of the session is captured in this wiki, which forms the basis of a paper that can be fine tuned over the coming month in the lead up to the International IGF meeting in Baku and is a part of the Australian contribution to the international discussions.

Where people identify specific tangible policy recommendations for the Australian Government, please add them below. Feel free to copy and paste from existing working this space so long as you give attribution. This will be presented to the Australian Government along with a copy of the paper above.

Policy & Legislation

Please contribute to the Internet related policy/legislation page as this list is far too long to be on this page. From this rather extensive list of policies, legislation, codes and even trade agreements, we can see a number of categories of problem spaces emerging:

Summary of Issue Categories

Policies tend to have one or a number of theme categories inherent (please add/modify this list as it’ll be basis of discussion):

  • Individual interests
    • personal safety (eg cyberbullying)
    • market meeting the needs of the community public vs private?
    • privacy
    • identity astroturfing
    • free expression (and thought, limiting behaviour on the internet?)
      • illegal vs inappropriate behaviour
    • rights? access, usability,
    • consumer safeguards role of gov? market distortion questions?
    • net neutrality
  • National interests
    • skills
    • economic growth
    • national/economic security (eg cyberwarfare)
    • sovereignty
    • knowledge
    • trust and confidence – transactional confidence as well as who
  • Culture & democracy
    • shifting cultural norms can and often respond to shifting cultural norms
    • social inclusion languages, accessibility, access, (need definition)
    • use of the internet in democracy evoting, astroturfing
  • Market challenges
    • intellectual property (copyright for copyright sake? international sake, software patents, trademarks domain name policy)
    • creative/digital industries in Australia
    • innovation (?)
    • competition
  • Legal challenges
    • prejudice and justice on trial proceedings
    • local jurisdiction vs international scope of the Internet difficulty of local enforcement on an international thing, some people chosing selectively the jurisdictional that suits their purposes

It was suggested the above ideas might boil down to the two categories of Ownership and Accountability. Thoughts?

Summary of Implementation Mechanisms

The tools and mechanisms used in policies range from (please add/modify this list as it’ll be basis of discussion):

Government Mechanisms

  • Social
    • Education/marketing of an idea of information
    • Civil remedies
  • Legal
    • Judicial oversight as requirement for legal enforcement mechanisms?
    • Tweaking of criminal acts (personal and corporate)
    • Media law
    • Injunctive takedown orders, suppressions,
    • Contract law
  • Regulation & industry
    • Content regulation
    • Industry regulation imposed, co-regulation (relegatory framework designed to be administered by industry framework) or self/community regulated
    • Codes of conduct
    • Private arrangements eg changes to services, filtering
    • Standards
    • International coordination needs more consideration
    • Public/private partnerships collaborating to achieve an outcomes
  • Gov investment strategies
    • Taxes to accelerate or retard particular behaviours
  • Technology mechanisms
    • Copyright protection
  • Enforcement & Monitoring
    • What role should gov play in both/either?
    • The scope of intelligence agencies
    • Monitoring/management:
    • Monitoring is in all directions including sideways
    • Monitoring of networks, publicising/disclosing network performances
    • Forensics of online information get context on issues
    • Evaluation and analysis of policy values and metrics chosen, evidence
    • Enforcement and publicity of enforcement related to the capacity for an enforcement agency to do its job it directly related to its visibility

Citizen mechanisms
The tools and mechanisms used by citizens to protect themselves (please add/modify this list as it’ll be basis of discussion):

  • Countermeasures how easy it is to work around the enforcement, race to the bottom
  • FOI

Further Policy Recommendations for Australia

Any specific Australian Government policy recommendations you have for the Australian Government, please feel free to link to existing papers, but pragmatic and tangible policy suggestions would be much appreciated.

  • Have official Australian Government participation and active voice in international Internet policy, representing the best interests of Australians

7) Further Contributions Post Session

Canberra Manifesto (contributed by Bret Treasure after the event)

The Internet is our most powerful communication, business and innovation tool. Although it is disruptive and although it may challenge individual governments, institutions, industries and businesses, its overall benefit to the people of the world is clear. The Internet is a path to a more connected and improved society; we look to governments to plan for that future.

So we make these requests:

  • That prior to legislating, Governments take into account the self-expression, community, efficiency and innovation that a decentralized collaborative regulatory structure has delivered
  • That prior to legislating, governments look to existing laws
  • That governments support a globally focused, multi-stakeholder, open approach to Internet regulation
  • That governments foster competition in the delivery of Internet services and access
  • That governments enact principles-based law rather than technology-specific law
  • That governments facilitate inclusion and accessibility
  • That governments respect such fundamental human rights as privacy and freedom of expression
  • That governments address the challenging issues that arise without using them as political tools.

auIGF Privacy Panel Transcript

auIGF 11 October 2012 Session time 2:30pm-3:30pm

[Welcome to Red Bee Media Australia’s Live Remote Captioning Service.]

UNKNOWN SPEAKER: In order to watch it. I think it’s those kinds of copyright restrictions on access to content – it seems cruel to me in an age of digital abundance we have these types of issues for the visually impaired and me as a consumer, if I want to read a book on my iPad, I got a voucher, eBook, which is the only format it’s compatible is kindle fire. These are the digital restrictions, the types attached.
UNKNOWN SPEAKER: I think a lot of us would continue to continue the discussion, but we are eating into the AGM times, the next panel – thank you to all of our panellists and for your questions and contributions. Thank you.
(APPLAUSE)
CHAIR: Can I ask the next panel to come up and those that are staying to stay. If this panel could move t next could come up. We will get going straight away.
The most vehement about openness are the ones who want the strictest rules about privacy, which strikes me as being slightly odd.
For what it’s worth, I’m happy to pay for content. I think I should be allowed to choose the content I watch, rather than have Channel 9 or 10 or 7 decide what they want to import from the UK.
We will do a quick panel switch and move to privacy. Let me read you what we said about privacy. We wrote this three months ago: things have moved on a bit since then. As with the copyright debate, the massive social and commercial changes brought about by the growth of the Internet over the last decade are also forcing law-makers… (reading .).
So they said a lot’s happened in the last three months since I wrote that and we can probably start and finish this discussion with three words – mandatory, data retention. The changes to national security legislation currently delivered by the joint parliamentary committee on changes are a hot topic when it comes to privacy, evidenced by the in excess of 200 submissions. We will come back to it later on.

Firstly, I want to set the scene folks, more broadly. What is privacy today? Does it mean the same things as it means to an 18- year-old? I said I was talking with curt and I said earlier on, for me it’s privacy I want to be able to tell you you’re allowed to know nothing about me. For the Facebook generation, privacy is, I want to publish everything about myself where ever I want to but you’re not allowed to do anything with that information. Those are two fundamentally opposed views. Let’s talk about that with the panel. I will briefly run down the introductions. Curt Wimmer you met, he was here. And Cheryl Landon is the director of auDA, and is the former Chair of the ICAANN advisory committee thing.
This is Craig Ng, General Crown sil for APNIC. This is Roger Clarke, the Chair of the Australian Privacy foundation. This is Pia Waugh, Open Government advocate, former ICT policy adviser to Senator Kate Lundy.
And… Adam is not here. Your name is not on my list.
ADAM.. I am here.
CHAIR: Never mind. I was going to do a pirate thing, but I won’t. It wouldn’t be fair. Okay. What do we mean by privacy?
What do we mean by privacy, Cheryl?
CHERYL: everything I will say in no way reflects upon or is to be seen as the views of any of the organisations that I represent.
I’m a member of or have been a director prior or currently to.

Future I will reserve my judgement on. I think privacy is a dream. I think we lost it. I think privacy was something that may all want to and perhaps in a glazed-eyed moment dream that we could have again, but we walk around with these things, w are geo locating ourselves. We have huge amounts of data collected and we do so willingly. So to say that we have a level of privacy, I think, is a pipe dream. What I do have, however, and we can get back to that later, Chris, is very firm views on what happens with it.

CHRIS: good excellent. Craig, you’re a Facebook junkie, you put anything up on Facebook, given the chance. What do you think? CRAIG: That’s true. I think that the Privacy Act in Australia is a misnomer. For us to be comforted by the fact there is a Privacy Act, to think we are protected, our privacy is protected is totally wrong, because our Privacy Act is so limited in its scope that the traditional concept of privacy to people on the street, you know, privacy not to be photographed; you know privacy not to be put up on Facebook and for your picture to appear and tagged immediately, there is no protection against it. So, you know, and I’ll be interested to talk about privacy act in a moment, but our Privacy Act protects us from such a minute scope, that it’s virtually ineffective.

CHRIS: curt, from an American perspective?
KURT: We don’t even have a privacy act. We entirely react. To specific problems. I think privacy is an agreement. It depends upon, you know, what you can work out with whoever you are giving up voluntarily your privacy to and whatever pledges and promises that are made or basically that we enforce through the act, I think.
CHRIS: Okay, Pia?

PIA: all right. Basically, privacy is whatever an individual perceives it to be. The problem is that of course that depends on your technical literacy. With a relatively technical ill literate population, you have no privacy. People want to protect themselves as much as as little as they want but because the IT skills have gone so down, those people are not aware of what privacy they have. A lot of people don’t think about environmental policy. There was a case study where data was published that looked at floa and fauna in the northern seas of Australia and in a couple of weeks a particular species of fish was almost done to extinction. I think there’s a huge amount of optimism that I have, which is…

CHRIS: can you slow down a little bit… These guys are really good, but…
PIA: Sorry, weirdly enough, it’s ten timings as fast in my head. I will try.

CHRIS: I have to stop you – I have the concept on fish privacy, which I think we could spend hours discussing!

(LAUGHTER) PIA: Environmental privacy is what people don’t think about. And there is the panoptic of things going on about the state of being able to see into the lives of the people, one of the cool things is the people can see back into the lives of the state. That’s interesting, though I think there is a lot less privacy than there was simply because there is the capacity to get to data, it creates possibilities for better democracy as well. The final point I will make is that there is a disturbing trend towards looking at inappropriate behaviour as opposed to illegal behaviour. The enormous amount of data available from people who are not technically literate enough to turn it off means that there is a whole judgement call going on inappropriate behaviour, rather than illegal and I’m concerned about that.

CHRIS: Adam?

ADAM: The cyber punk manifesto says that privacy is the right to selectively reveal oneself to the world. It is about saying this is a piece of information about me and this is the audience in which I give authorisation to view that piece of information.

There are lots of talk of the young generation these days putting all this information on Facebook and how they are giving up their privacy and they don’t care and it’s fine. They do care. They care quite a lot. We know that, because when things like Facebook’s timeline update came to and people in France realised there was a discrepancy between the intended audience of some messages that were posted on people’s walls, or in their inboxes, it’s not 100% clear if that was a bug replicating that information. There was certainly people who said that message was private. Now it’s public. That’s not okay. There are heaps of examples of people actually saying there is no way that would have been intended for a public audience, like a young woman who called up Triple J and said: “I wrote a dirty poem to my boyfriend”. His parents were able to read it because it was on her wall. The assumption that we are giving up our rights and saying we don’t care about it is false and we do care.

CHRIS: I’m sure you do, I agree. Roger.

ROGER: where to start. A privacy is the interest individuals have in a private space. We have a fair bit of con sis ten – – consistency. That’s abstract. The only people who are interested in that kind of abstract rubbish are people like me who publish articles on it. Privacy is a specific gut feeling every individual has and each individual has it differently at different times. It is utterly situational and utterly personal. If we have a list running down the screen of a privacy breaches reported in Australia this week, there would be enormous diversity and we would react differently to the examples as they came across the screen. That is how it is. And yes, it would be nice if we could divide it up and tackle just some of the things, the Privacy Foundation is so stretched across that great list. That’s not the reality. Now, the critical thing that you’ve been raising, the assumption that’s built into the wording we were given, has to do with the “privacy is dead” proposition. It’s not dead because people demand it. They don’t walk in the streets saying: “We want a real Privacy Act instead of this rubbish semi-data protection act”. They don’t do that kind of thing. It’s the abstract. People are only interested in the spefpbg. — specific. They will walk against an Australia card and against an access card and they will walk against data protection and a range of specific things. People demand it. Privacy ain’t dead. Privacy pauses in between flurries. One thing I that will hammer, but I won’t give you the explanation because I will get more air time later, won’t I Chris? (LAUGHTER)

The igeneration, the digital natives, that lot, I call them the igeneration for obvious reasons because “i” stands for everything in this conference, the igeneration will be more privacy sensitive than previous generations. I will explain when I get the chance.

PIA: I want to make a comment. I always find it funny, a lot of my peers didn’t get computers until they were in late High School or university. I had a computer since I was four because my mum was a geek. Now when I was a kid there was an active campaign called “stranger danger”. It taught you all the basics and so when I was on, you know, when I was dialling into remote servers and having chats with people in the mid-90s and running up huge STD phone bills for my school, I, you know, you applied those principles t principles applied directly. One of the myths we face is that online privacy is somehow a completely different thing from meet space. I never call it in real life, because I believe online is real life as well, but meet space privacy is not that different. I think part of the problem we have is that we’re trying to treat it like something different, whereas the basics of stranger danger and tech literacy, chose things combined give us the tools to maintain our personal level of privacy to our satisfaction.

CRAIG: A small point. I think privacy is something that moves with time as well, just like copyright. I think it’s a balance. It’s a balance between society that wants to protect privacy verses safety. So you know, those of you in Australia would be familiar with the case of Jill Meagher who recently passed away. CCTV suddenly is acceptable and encouraged and well, I haven’t heard a lot of…

UNKNOWN SPEAKER: I will disagree.

CHRIS: on CCTV – in the UK, where I’m from, it is almost universally loved. Everyone thinks it is fantastic, not everybody, but general people, society, thinks it is great. And it is in fact supported and promoted by all of the great British detective modern detective programs who, which refer constantly to the fact that almost every crime is solved due to CCTV.

CHERYL: What are the statistics on the crime solution, it’s infinitesimally small.

CHRIS: I’m not suggesting being a fan of it, but it can be embraced. In Melbourne it is happening now because of an individual event. You said you violently disagree. Go ahead and violently disagree.

CRAIG: I didn’t say violently. The statistic that was out after the case was that in the UK one in 1,000 cases are solved with the aid of CCTV, and another report that was put out said that the amount of money that gets poured into CCTV could be better spent putting in street lights.

CHRIS: I agree. Still loved though.

PIA: Sorry, I saw a brilliant speech by, can I can’t remember his name, I will remember it, but about the difference between security theatre and security reality. This is part of the problem. There is a lot of theatre going on. The talk is on the Linux website from a couple of years ago. But the, but I think this is a big issue. And data logging is a really good example of theatre verses reality as well. So we will get to that one.

CHRIS: do we have CCTV in the states publicly?

CURT KLS: NOT TO THE EXTEND AS IN — NOT TO THE EXTEPBLT AS IN THE STATES.

CHRIS: do you want to say something, Josh? We will get on to data retention. I know you want to talk about it. Yes, Josh?

JOSH: With regards to the CCTV stats on solving crimes, one may have to ask: does the presence of CCTV prevent or prevent crimes happening in the first place?

I don’t know.

UNKNOWN SPEAKER: Initially there is a lull when people see that there is an increase in surveillance of them. But they get used to it. And that deterrent fades a away and then it gets used for tracking people.

CHRIS: I will get to you.

UNKNOWN SPEAKER: More fine-grained than that. Crimes of passion are uninfluenced. Crimes are maybe briefly deterred, but there are still thieves who do it in front and get photographs taken of them. Mostly it is displaced, almost all of the effect of CCTV that’s been measured in the States is dace placement of behaviour.

CHRIS: you’re all talking about facts.

(LAUGHTER)

UNKNOWN SPEAKER: We’re not talking about data retention.

CHRIS: it makes people feel better.

Paul Evans, you had something in I have a remote comment from Tom.

PAUL: I want to smile for the camera. Hi.

(LAUGHTER)

20 years ago, Roger, you and I were implemented the Privacy Act. Do you agree with Craig that it is almost a piece of relic-try? Do we need to revive it?

CRAIG: The privacy act is distinct from the amendments and was worth having. It’s since been cut away by a myriad of slashes. Obviously every successive act overrides it in many respects. It’s never been adapted to take account of technological change. There’s been many end runs and every loophole has been used and many loopholes have been found that weren’t designed in the first place. It’s become poor. Fit was enforced, if it was enforceable it would help but the limited power that the Privacy Commissioner has got are not used either. I think the Privacy Foundation protects you better than the Comigtser. — Commissioner, I would say that.

CHRIS: Tom, do you have a remote thing?

TOM.. Yes, this is from ‘Dude D’. He says: “If privacy is a dream, why do you have curtains?”

(LAUGHTER)

CHERYL: I’m happy to respond to that. Chris knows I’m happy to respond to that because I’ve given up my right to privacy. There is not a single curtain in house. There are not doors in my house.

UNKNOWN SPEAKER: She lives on top of a mountain.

CHERYL: there are also no neighbours. We’re all wearing curtains right now. I can change that.

CHRIS: all right. Now, back away… Thank you.

All right.

So there’s a wander through the joys of what privacy means or may mean or may not mean.

(Pause). There’s obviously a balance required, right? Between privacy and, let’s just call it security. We could argue about the term. Let’s call it security. We will get on in a minute to data retention. There’s a balance required between security and privacy, some of our information has to be available. How do we, what’s the perfect, is there a way of striking that balance? Who should decide? How should we decide? Yo go ahead. You waved at me.

Slowly.

PIA: I will articulate madly, will do that to slow myself down. You see, it’s funny. I see the balance as not necessarily between – there is a balance between security and privacy, but the balance between openness and privacy is challenging. I think the only way to strike that balance is firstly to not assume that any one group or any group in isolation can make that decision, there needs to be an ongoing dialogue and debate in the society and community and done in a transparent way and it needs to be done in an iterative way. One of the things I’ve thought about and I’ve started to look at ways, have started doing projects to implement is looking at policy from an iterative approach – how can we have, dare I say it, an agile approach to policy development, where rather than the policy developers in isolation with a smaller group of stakeholders, you have open policy development and then in the first instance, so you get more peer review, more transparency and then upon implementation, it’s constantly being monitored, to use the term, and reviewed and recommendations made and fed back to the policy. It’s only through having that ongoing approach to policy can government policy maintain flexibility and be able to respond quickly to new challengers and opportunities. So in a way our entire approach to policy needs to fundamentally shift to answer that specific question. In the question about managing the balance between openness and privacy, the part of that debate ends up being, well, you know, we need to have a certain amount of low, you know, you can’t goo too high res into a lot of data stats because it is very easy, with age location to identify 80 per cent of people from a data set, so you need to make sure it’s low grain enough to protect privacy, but high grain enough to still get policy outcomes, research outcomes, transparency, and to help the society and the different aspects of that society make well-informed decisions.

CHRIS: I have Cheryl and Roger. But I want to check in with Kurt. You said a little while ago you tended to be over reactive in the States. A lot of, it’s hard to go back, once you’ve taken a step forward with legislation.

P9/11 example is a good one.

KURT: There is a balance between privacy and security, but that is your right of privacy as against the state. There is another balance that’s sort of a balance between privacy and maybe free content, which might be your balance as against commercial operators. You know what, as to the first balance, I think you are right. I think once you sort of change that calculus, you never get it back. September 11 I think did that to us as a society, and it’s very hard to get it back. We have the Patriot Act passed in moments after September 11.

CHRIS: Sounds like a demine act that says you should be patriotic to America.

KURT.. We’re great at acronyms.

CHERYL: I read a — made a couple of notes. One thing I want to come back to were Pia’s words that there shouldn’t be this big difference between the digital world and the cloud, our second lives and thirds verses the hard copy one that we’re all used to and historically perhaps have our benchmarks from. But when we make a choice on privacy or what I’m going to expose or not expose to whatever audience in the, inverted commas “non-digital” and, therefore, some people believe “real world”. There are those of us who think that is the opposite. I’m making an informed choice. I decide as suggested whether I put up curtains or not; whether I walk down the street with my credit card number printed on my T-shirt or not. These are things that I would decide I should or should not do. So I know what I’m doing. And who has access to the material I’m exposing or allowing to be collected. So what I would like to also bring into the table for the panel is how we ensure that the individual or perhaps small community or group or state knows what information is connected – is assured of the accuracy of that information. You know what, typos happen; wrong bits get connected to the wrong name. Do we have ability to redress and repeal and write these errors when they occur? It’s basically what’s been used, how it’s being used, why it is being used and that you know about it. It’s informed consent and control.

CHRIS: can I will go to Roger and then I have a comment from over here and then there.

ROGER: Pia joined my board and may be following me as chair. Everything she said a few more things as well. Privacy protection is the process of achieving balance among multiple constituents. It is the APF works with. There is no privacy absolutism, that is nonsense. What is the balance among? Among interests of the individual themselves, you have to trade off multiples. Interests of the group, interests of community, of society, and unfortunately, terribly powerfully, interest of corporations. There is all sorts of balances that have to be done. A further factor is that the four dimensions of privacy I’ve always used are the weakness of the so- called Privacy Act. It’s only a data protection act. The other three are behavioural privacy, privacy of individual communications, and privacy of the physical person. When you go on television on the news straight after the announcement that $3 million of CCTV cameras are going to be strewn across Melbourne because Jill Meagher’s been murdered, you have to think through very carefully the balances. Physical privacy is sufficient that such that about the worst invasion of privacy you can suffer is to be killed, about the second worse is to suffer serious violence to yourself. They are all part of privacy. There’s many different balances. How do we do it? There’s a small set of principles which government agencies, legislators and corporations try hard to avoid. If they would work on these principles x we would get somewhere. The first is justification. Why are you doing this? How is this going to work, what is the problem you’re trying to solve and what is the mechanism whereby the change will occur? It is proportion natural, taking into account the side effects it will have? Is it transparent? Do we have the information to work with, or are you hiding things from us? Are there controls in place, which includes mitigating measures in order to overcome the necessary negative effects on privacy, and is there accountability? Can we clobber the people who play the game badly. If those things would be applied, if privacy impact assessments were forced on organisations, public and private sector, we would address these problems.

CHRIS: that solves the problem, we can all go home. Perfectly fine. Rob.

ROB: One of the balanced points I think is between privacy and free speech and freedom. There’s discussion about the right of the individual to choose how much of them about themselves will be revealed. But three comments made in private comments in recent weeks I think illustrate that there is more than just the choice involved. Mitt Romney and his 47% comment made at a private dinner, Alan Jones’ comments about the Prime Minister’s father, made at possibly, possibly not, a private function. And the former Speaker’s texts clearly intended by him to remain private. Each of those things are things that do have, there is a genuine public interest. People may disagree as to what extent the public interest probably for Romney’s cases, it is clearly relevant to probably the most important election that will happen in the next four years.

CHRIS: that is unfair!

ROG — ROB: in each case there is potential public interests. The balance about not always having the right of individual to choose how much privacy is revealed is important.

CHERYL: I need to respond briefly to Rob. I think what you made is an important point. I think there are times when one knowing what one is doing, and a public person is one of these categories, they should assume that they are giving up certain likelihoods of the right to privacy. I’m not a particularly public person, but I do believe and mostly it happens, that just about everything I say, do, or otherwise, is probably going to be recorded, photographed, taken down, in many cases transcribeed into three or four languages. And and it will be searched on the Internet. Because of that, I would be incredibly stupid and I’m not, to do anything, say anything, or transmit anything that I would not have published on the front page of the following morning’s newspapers. I’m not saying it may not make interesting reading from time to time, but you do it informed. So it’s just dumb to think that if you are public, you should do that.

CHRIS: Now I understand why you often speak in headlines. I will go to this gentleman here.
PAUL: I’m retired, so can say anything I like. This is the fourth session today, and three out of the four I think had the same message that we’re all missing. And that is the education of the young. I’m not talking about High School students. I’m talking about peer, stranger danger, walked past a daycare centre and a little kid said, “Hello stranger”. I thought, there you go, he’s got the message. I didn’t speak to him. I kept going.

(LAUGHTER)

There was a camera there, I didn’t tell you.

The reference to the igeneration and I call them exactly the same is probably right. When you start out in primary school, what are you, five? Six years old, thereabouts, and half the tackers have got telephones already. So why aren’t we teaching them that this telephone is communication device which can get you in a lot of hot water. They’ve all got mum and dad’s computer to play, learning games on, and/or I’m a small bugger I can do all sorts of thing t why are we not teaching them from that age onwards that these are devices that are tools that you can use that have inherent dangers and you need to learn about them? Then you have an informed choice to be an absolute idiot on Facebook, or Twitter or any of those other devices. I, like quite a lot of people in this room, came to computers in the middle of our working careers, so that we were already suspicious of the damn things. You know, we looked at these square boxes and went, “I don’t know about that”. Like most of us, I think we all do our electronic banking and all that sort of stuff and…

CHRIS: what’s your password again?

PPAUL.. I write it on a poet-it note! We’re all fairly bleary about things like that. So we inherently have that privacy attached to us because I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, I was seen and not heard at the dinner table. Until a certain age. Whereas now the kids probably sit in the dinner table bloody texting somebody. So who knows.

CHERYL — PIA: you’re still carrying your phone around, that’s meta data.

PAUL: Mine is turned off unless the AFP has the triangles on the towers running. We need to educate the young ones, so they are the generation coming forward and they will carry the privacy, they will understand what digital rights are; they will know where to go with copyright, and all of those other ones linked together, that’s where it ought to be.

CHRIS: speaking at a young one, I’m looking forward to being educated. I’m sure that will happen.

Now, Craig wants to say something, hold on.

I’ve got this gentleman here, comments at the back. I had Narell and John, and Geoff and we are still, we still haven’t got to data retention. That is kind of my ultimate goal was that we wouldn’t get there. You want to bring data retention in? I promise we will get to data retention. Narell; you want to deal with this point before we go to data retention? Let me take that off you. Don’t worry guys, I will do it myself. You relax.

NARELL. What was it, 100 or so years ago and this funny electricity thing happened. People were terrified the kiddys would be burned and the adults, the parents, were terrified because they could see how dangerous it was. There were very real dangers. And over time we figured it out and we incorporate that into our parents practising and we rapidly teach children not to stick things in power points and occasionally we miss out the occasional kiddy. (LAUGHTER)

CHRIS: how occasion — how nicely put…

(LAUGHTER)

CRAIG: I agree with the education point, but the erosion of privacy is the function of technology. You know, once upon time when, you know, when I was a younger kid, when you receive a letter it’s private to you. You ep it, you lock it, no-one sees it. You know, today my email is hosted by Google. My, I use Chrome, and I synchronise my website together, and…

CHRIS: what’s your password again!

CRAIG: I trade convenience for having my information in the Cloud. I trust Google to some extent, but do I trust the Government not to access my data at some point? We will talk about data retention. My data is everywhere. Every time I step on a tram, my electronic Miki card tracks it. Every time I use my credit card it’s tracked. And my credit card company keeps it for more than seven years. We’re worried about two years of, you know, it’s a balance. We’re talking about what sort of data we’re talking about, but you know, I used to be a partner in a law firm and you know, record retention policies, everything is kept for seven years, so your interaction with your banks, other commercial entities, those records are kept for seven years. So it’s a bit of a balance.

CHRIS: Quickly, then we will go to data retention. Geoff you’re on.

GEOFF. I thought we lived in a society that believed in redemption. I did something wrong, I went to court and got tried by a jury of my peers, I served the time and then I was erased, I could start again. Even the jurists who tried me are not meant to have knowledge of my previous heinous misdemeanours before this particular one. Privacy is about time as much as it is about now. What we’re seeing now is the data logged is never, ever, erased. The person I was when I was 16 is not the person I am now. I’m a different person. There are things I did then that I really rather no- one would know about. Oddly enough, I it was pre-Google. You guys don’t know about it. But my children can’t do that. I think that’s really sad. I think that’s incredibly bad. I think it’s bad that we’re trying to impose standards on our children that we as children never had. I’m not sure they’re capable of doing that. I would like to understand your views. I’m not concerned about privacy. I have nothing I’m ashamed about. When you think about yourself, when you were 13, and does that still apply to you now?

CHERYL: I didn’t have nothing I’m ashamed about. Education has been pointed out and a number of our users. And when we put things out on Google, to be fair, that you know, it’s going to be there forever.
CHRIS: I’m going to go to certain people desperate to speak. I want you to please be crisp.

PIA.. We’ve had a period of tile. I will say00 years, of pretending to be something we’re not. We’ve all drunk the Machiavelli Cool Aid, we pretend we’re pristine and norm Mall. I think that is a big opportunity for us to become more mature as a society and realise that we aren’t, you know, pristine little Stepford lives and that’s a good thing. Though in the short term there will be pain and there will be pain, I think in the long- term it is good for us. That’s it.

ADAM.. One of the problems with that is that there are still regimes in the world who like to kill people. For dissenting views. And when you start saying that privacy in the West is something that we don’t really care about, that much, and we should be a little bit more open and we should be allowing a little bit more access to we can grow as a society, it’s dangerous, because we start allowing companies like Fin fisher and CISCO to build devices that get placed into Syria and end up being very damaging.

CHRIS: you end up being killed precisely because you’re not private. You say stuff you’re not…Should you be saying it? I wasn’t being literal, I was, but it doesn’t mean it’s my view. Roger?

ROGER.. I say that the identification would be more privacy sensitive. No-one — the indie case would be more privacy sensitive — the igeneration would be more privacy sensitive. Young kids are risk-takers. It’s a function of age. It becomes more risk-adverse as it gets older.

They accumulate more things to hide. They had some when they were young, but not many, they get a lot more as time goes by. The current generation habit ten much earlier and bit ten more often than our generations were bit ten. Their indiscretions, carrying on from Cheryl, we can see they’re record which yours and mine weren’t. And they’re seen by more people again later than ever was the case in the past. Guess what? Each generation each generation is becoming more savvy. We need them to teach that way around, not that way around. And each, the igeneration will, as a result, be much more sensitive…

UNKNOWN SPEAKER: This is why groups like the crypto party has been a success. After the cyber Crime Bill was passed recently, there was no party like a crypto-app install party. So someone started the hashtag and said let’s get people together, drink beer and teach each other how to increase your communications so that data logging is difficult.

PIA: There was a case study of people who had kids. We’re very security conscious. Maybe bad people could take them and you know take our children. Here is this story on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald with the parents, holding the children in swim suits and talking about how much they care about their privacy. Come on.

CHRIS.. What do we have from the ether? What will the wireless tell us? If you can get a microphone that works?

Technology is fantastic.

A question from Liam Comford from the Pirate Party Australia. He asked: are consumers making informed trade-offs. Do consumers have proper appreciation for how far-reaching the risks of their information of self- disclosure are. If not, what can be done about this?”

CHRIS: they’re not. I have basically no clue what the apps, what information the apps I use on my phone are giving to whoever it is, I don’t have a clue. I mean, I believe that if I use, if I get my apps through iTunes, there’s more of a chance I have protection than on android. I read that somewhere I and I don’t know if it’s true. That’s, and I consider myself to be reasonably okay about this stuff, I have no idea. I am going to move on to data retention.

Data retention: what do we think, good or bad?
Can we start with, can we start with you, Kurt. So, you know the prose – Data retention, two years, mega data, pretty much everything.

KURT: When this came up, I was practising in London and we wrote a paper for the House of Lords saying what the human rights and data protection records are with data protection. It’s the same as you see today. You have to look at it from two lenses. One is human rights law is a proportion natural, is it necessary in a democratic society, all the usual tests. And it’s questionable, it seems to me, to sort of gather information on everyone in the society, in case you lailter need to — later need to use it. But even from a data protection/ privacy act perspective, it is clearly an incursion of existing data protection/ privacy rights. I think it is a serious problem. I think it’s one that, you know t Europeans have already gone down that road and then there is, we’re starting to get pushback from the constitutional courts, but it’s tough. I have trouble seeing the notion that 23 million people need to be surveyed and — surveiled and capture whatever small percentage of criminals it is have to be captured.

CHRIS: it’s Australia, there’s a higher percentage here.

(LAUGHTER)

CHRIS: I will go to to this pirate gentleman here and then come back to the panel. While the microphone is coming, you’ve heard the argument: if you have nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to worry about. We will talk about that in a minute.

GLENN: Glenn from Pirate Party.

CHRIS: speak up, slow down.

GLENN: if data protection is implemented currently to the report if in the process, we can’t verify the proposal because the Attorney General refuses to release the information on the draft legislation, what chilling effect do you think this will have on the way people use the Internet?

PIA: You guys are awesome as loaded questions.

CHRIS: as a lawyer, that’s referred to as a leading question! We will go to Cheryl and then Craig next.

UNKNOWN SPEAKER: (Inaudible) in not providing the information needed on proper public debate and it’s to the Parliament they should fling the thing back in their face. Leaving process aside. What’s different about the proposition? An organisation could come and say that they need data retention and here’s that justification and we would need to argue it through. What is different? Why does this matter so much? It matters because hitherto our ephemeral conversations were that and didn’t end up tracked into files, we used to read things in libraries, we used to read things in our homes. It’s now trapped into protocols, trapped into logs. Every book your download is trapped into logs, it is behavioural privacy, not just our privacy. It is a’s — that is the chilling effect. Narell was trying to get it through to the committee. It’s hard to get basics through let alone the more subtle points. This audience is different, of course.

GLENN: You’re saying that mega data in a grey gate is content?

UNKNOWN SPEAKER: It is massive content. In the past suspicion had to exist about a person before the big guns could be rolled out and interception achieved. We all support that. A PF policy supports appropriate powers for law enforcement agencies. Ipso facto suspicions based on anything that turns out in the future to be a bad thing.

GLENN: that’s with the assumption that people who have access are good people.

UNKNOWN SPEAKER: We don’t have — we don’t believe that in the APF. We say there will always be another bigotry. If you’re in Cambodia for a long time, a degree from a university is one you didn’t realise you will run into. There will always be new nasty things that turn up with ipso facto suspicion generation. They can mine for it because of the richness of what’s available and the power of the things we have. If we don’t teach our technology to forget, going back to Geoff’s point, we’re in deep trouble. Then I would worry about us having lost privacy. I haven’t, by the way, I don’t believe we have lost it, we will lose it, unless we act and beat off stupid things like the proposal.

CHRIS: who wants the next crack? Cheryl?

CHERYL: You said me. Hear, hear to the speakers. I agree if there is a like or dislike, it gets a big dislike from me. The thing that really worries me about this potential huge net dragging through the waters of everything we do digitally, and keeping it for the length of time that it is, is proposed to, is exactly the same rational as we think there might be a disease, and so we’re going to treat you with absolutely everything. We don’t know what the consequences of this is going to be. The unpredictabilities are not worth the risk of taking it. There is more than adequate, as has been discussed on this panel and earlier ones, ways of tracking the real bad guys when you have due process, and proper suspicion. But there is no transparency, there is no accountability, there is no ability for the individual to have what we’ve been talking about, informed consent, or knowledge of its use, how can you give away for a whole community, the right that they should have to know where their data is or isn’t being collected and stored? What worries me most is that it’s the purpose behind it. Because I’m already admitting to huge digital footprints being left in my wake, we’re all leaving them. They are so disorganised and so disparate, that it’s a huge effort.

Every one of the Twitter people or feeds I follow is analysed. You will learn a lot about me. It may not be a bad thing, but what, as Roger said, is huge change in the future?

PIA: I didn’t make it explicit, but I’m not speaking on behalf of any employers. I need to be clear about that. I have three problems with the data retention issue: the first one is it’s based on a faulty legal precedent. Apparently the European legal precedent has been overturned in European Courts and there is information today or tomorrow about that from the NSW Cyber Laws space centre thing, so that’s the first one. And that keeps getting references, you know, part of the precedents and you know, that’s a good thing it’s been overturned. The second thing is it’s not based on a good logical precedent. The quote, and I did a blog post about this issue and I quoted and there was a good story about it quite recently that was well researched and there was a quote there from the AFP saying that if we, I guarantee you if we don’t have access to this data, we can’t possibly catch anonymous. Now, there’s so many things wrong with that sentence, not least at all any geek worth their salt misbehaving knows how to encrypt, how to use proxies, how to do touring. The data retention won’t help catch these people. The premise is illogical. There is no evidence about how this will help people catch the bad guys. The third thing; the biggest one, whenever I explain this in normal words to normal people, they get enraged, but what happens is that the entire issue is part of the whole suite of issues which is geeks verses spooks playing out in gladiator war games in tiny dark corners and it is not a society-wide conversation about the Internet and society and what we are and are not happy to compromise on. We need to reframe this entire debate to be about what do we want, what do we not want and I’m running a workshop tomorrow, where I will do exactly that.

CHRIS: thank you. We are coming to the close. I think Pia had a —
UNKNOWN SPEAKER: Pia had a car analogy.

PIA: I won’t advertise any more. If we went to the Australian society and said: we will put a tracker in your car. Everywhere that you, where you begin the trip, end the trip, everyone that gets in the car, but we won’t record what they say, we could, but we won’t. And people would go nuts. We all know we have the technology with phones, but if we actually proposed that, people would go crazy, yet that is meta data effectively.

CHRIS: I will take a couple of comments from the floor and close up with the panel. So, yes? Brief. And crisp. To the point.

JOHN: Current hat would be electronic function in Australia. The Attorney-General’s apartment will be appearing before the joint committee on intelligence and security at 3.45 tomorrow at Parliament House. Please come, unless there is something on here, of course.

I just wanted to follow up on Pia’s point about the European experience and just give a little bit of detail about those countries that have actually declared data retention to be unconstitutional. They are Germany, everyone’s heard of Nastazi and Bulgaria, which had an oppressive regime, they are Romania which had one of the most oppressive mass surveillance schemes; they are Czech Republic, which had similar experiences as well. If you look at these countries, these communities, these are societies that have genuine experience of what mass surveillance does to its society. They have said this stuff is not acceptable.

I think that is the way we need to look at this. We’re lucky in this country. We don’t experience this. We have no experience of what mass surveillance can do in terms of the corrosive effect on society and we’ve all talked about the issues. I could go on at length and I won’t.

You know, we need to learn from the experience of these societies and say this is not acceptable in this liberal democracy that we apparently live in.
CHRIS: good point. Thank you. (APPLAUSE)
JOHN: hopefully we don’t have to learn that through a world war or revolution.
PIA: We are in a revolution, man.

CHRIS: You’ll be first off – oh, never mind! (LAUGHTER).

Very quickly, please.

UNKNOWN SPEAKER: I think there are two sides today ta retention. There’s the public domain and then there’s the governmental one. I don’t know how many of you are aware unless you’ve just download your Medicare statement for your tax, but the Australia card has arrived, we haven’t looked in the mail. You cannot download a Medicare statement from Medicare unless you join Australia online, which links you to Centrelink and human services and the ATO. The four main services that the Federal fraudulent policing societies gather data from when they will prosecute you. So there you go. It’s already happening.

CHRIS: encouraging news. Very quickly, Geoff? Quick one from Geoff. I want 30 seconds to a minute of closing comments from panel.

GEOFF. I want to remind people when they consider data retention in the coming years. Two facts: we’ve run out of V4 addresses, right. And two, what that means for data retention. Because we’ve run out of the four addresses, carriers now have to put in carrier-grade nats. When you talk about the data gathered by ISPs, it is no longer the fact that you were online on this day and used that address. No, no, no. Many folk are using the same address. The data that will be created is which TPC sessions you opened to which address. Let me translate that. Every site you visit, every ad that gets delivered, every email is then logged. Everything. That’s the way carrier grade logs. It’s an enormous amount of data. But this is data that Google would kill for. This is you, in all of its gory detail. This is part of data retention. That’s a very spooky concept.

CHRIS: minute at the moment going down the line. Kurt.

KURT: I think what this shows is that this group which cares about Internet governance, the future of the Internet, has a huge stake in privacy. This isn’t just an issue we happen to care about because we care about a lot of issues that surround online activity. It goes to the trust that people put in the Internet, your ability, a medium for the future and core Internet governance issue, not just data retention, but privacy generally.

CHERYL: When I started off saying that privacy is a dream and a myth from the past, it’s also hugely important and something has to be on the current agenda. It’s all about informed and personal choice and control over data and its use.

CRAIG: While we should be concerned about data retention, we not be distracted by the data retention debate, and lose sight of the fact that data access is a more important issue. There’s data everywhere already. The question is who has access to that data and when. And I’m worried that this debate about data retention takes the focus away from access which I think is the bigger issue.

ROGER.. That merger of the larger control agencies in the VHS cluster has been brought to you by the perpetrators of the access card who were promoted to be the team that developed that process. Does that tell you something about the persistence of senior executives in government? Second point is that the John Lawrence down here, who produced himself from being from the FA is also a director of the Internet…

(LAUGHTER)

PIA.. I didn’t want to go into it. Briefly, I want to make one point to final Liz, but on that particular thing, the goal I think of privacy in terms of how government relates to citizens and I believe part of the goal of australia. gov.au, is to give people more permission about, not permission, but the ability to say, yes, I do, or don’t want to share particular types of data. I think that is a laudable thing that needs to be encouraged. I don’t think the goals of that website are about the goal. And the big thing is, the Internet, we’re limited by the fact that governments themselves are jurisdictional and geo-spatially jurisdictionally defined entities all trying to, from their tiny area, you know, putting limitation from how the Internet works, but the Internet is a global thing. And ultimately it’s not legislation that is going to protect people, people can protect people. We need to be better skilling our people and stopping the getting in the way of the Internet being the awesome thing it can be, has been and certainly will be.

Chris: FINALLY?
UNKNOWN SPEAKER: We can’t educate our children saying that privacy matters when the Government says it doesn’t.

CHRIS: Please join me in thanking the panel. (APPLAUSE)
Now, it’s afternoon tea time. It’s also ISOC AGM time. It doesn’t get much more exciting than this. We will reconvene here at 3.50. Ten to four for our final panel of the afternoon.
Please be on time. Thank you.

Thank you for using Red Bee Media Australia’s Live Remote Captioning Service.

OKFestival 2012: Open Data, Open Gov & Open Science in Helsinki

A couple of weeks ago I went to Helsinki, Finland to attend OKFestival 2012. It was a suggestion from someone two months ago that planted the seed to go, and I felt it would be really useful. So I saved my pennies and booked the tickets. It was an incredible trip with some incredible learnings.

Check out my “storify” stories which collate my experiences from the two days from my live Tweeting.

Rosling Hubbard Pollock & WaughHanging out with Hans Rosling, Rufus Pollock and Dr Tim Hubbard 🙂

Basically I’ve been working on open government and open data policy and projects for a while now and I realised I had a good opportunity to connect with practitioners and policy makers around the world. I really wanted to pick the brains of these people and also share what is happening locally to share, and to get some context on how we are going in a global context.

OKFestival name badgeI found many surprising things, not least of all that we are actually comparatively quite well in Australia when you look around the world. Obviously we have a lot to learn and do but we are lucky in many respects, such as we have a relatively open democracy already. For instance, Hansard for Federal and State parliamentary reporting is far from perfect but many countries have abysmal parliamentary openness and transparency. It was quite a shock to realise how little the accountability some jurisdictions operate under. More on that later.

It was also very interesting to hear from over 20 countries on their open data initiatives, to attend technical sessions on publishing data, to hear about the European Commission investment in open data (substantial!), and to talk to people from over 15 countries involved in “apps contests” and other hackfests. There was a lot of interest in our GovHack model so there might be some grounds for collaboration there too.

Statue in Helsinki with birdsI should also note that upon careful consideration, I thought it might be useful to bootstrap an OKFN Au local chapter in order to pull together all the open knowledge communities across Australia. Some network mechanism is needed as we have growing communities that are completely disconnected from one another. We could all benefit from some cross-disciplinary community development that includes cross promotion, discussions, aggregated events and news, tools for collaboration, support mechanisms (financial, insurance, legal, etc) and perhaps some events that bring us all together for mutual benefit.

So, this is my mother-of-all-posts report from the week. I will be blogging on some of the thoughts that have coalesced as a result later, but check out some of my highlights from the week below along with some really useful links. I’m also going to be working with the open government community people at OKFN to do an expanded open data census that looks at specific details of open data initiatives around the world to identify some good practice, policy commonalities and general information for people trying to do open data in government.

Open Government

The Open Government Partnership

Hanging out with Richard Akerman from Canada (@scilib)
Hanging out with Richard Akerman from Canada (@scilib)

The Open Government Partnership was a key theme for the conference, with over 55 countries now signed up in its first year. Signing up is not only a statement of commitment to this area, but countries have a series of targets on openness and transparency to meet. Apparently OGP has been slower to take off in Asia and Oceania, with only a few countries in this region getting involved to date.

Australia is unfortunately not yet signed up, and I hope that is rectified soon so Australia can more legitimately take our place in this space as something of an emerging leader. I had a lot of people interested in what Australia is doing at the conference from jurisdictions all around the world, and yet whenever we got to OGP discussions, there was not official Australian voice or commitment, which was disappointing. I hope this can be rectified soon, especially as the OGP commitments are already in line with so many existing policies in Australia.

Check out the infographic on the first year of progress of the OGP, and the draft strategic plan which is currently open for public comment.

There were several sessions on the OGP talking about standards, implementation challenges, and many representatives from supporting organisations like the World Bank who are investing in open government initiatives around the world.

Declaration of Parliamentary Openness

Afternoon tea with @anked & @kate_Braybrooke
Afternoon tea with @anked & @kat_Braybrooke

The Declaration of Parliamentary Openness was launched quite recently as an outcome of a global meeting of parliamentary monitoring organisations (PMOs). It is quite an interesting document and again, possibly something Australia should consider signing up to.

NSW Member of Parliament the Hon. Penny Sharpe did a great speech on the Declaration of Parliamentary Openness for International Day of Democracy (September 15th) which happened to be whilst I was in Helsinki. Several people there were very excited about the speech and I was quite honoured to be cited in it 🙂 Nice work Penny!

Check out some of the work from open parliaments around the world.

Open Data around the world

Gorgeous model in the basement of the uni
Gorgeous model in the basement of the uni

I managed to have a long sit down with the technical lead on data.gov.uk which was fantastic! It was great to get an idea of the model they use for publishing, the development work they have done, what resources they have an more.

My notes on the data.gov.uk discussion, with permission from their technical lead:

  • Human resources for data.gov.uk – 3  full time resources only
  • Uses CKAN – very happy with it, especially as they can easily develop additional functionality they need
  • Every department and local authority has at least one data champion that does data publishing as part of their normal job, ~765 publishers
  • Total cost of data.gov.uk only about 460k pound per year. 40k pound hosting and staff = most of the rest
  • Primarily focused on publishing data in the best way possible. Not focused on datavis, but considering looking at drupal front end with ckan backend
  • Departments are entirely responsibility for publishing their data. The full time staff look after the platform, do development where necessary (have created several plugins specific to their needs and open sourced them), provide technical support to publishers, but onus is on publishers
  • data.gov.uk folk have built functionality to handle the structure of government, creating lists of “Publishers” which are individual agencies (etc), users have a list of what Publishers they have access to publish to. You can have hierarchies of Publishers to reflect interrelationships between Publishers
  • An account API which could be the corporate API. Only publishers get API keys
  • No token required for apps
  • Antonio gave us a demonstration of uploading datasets, uploading had an option to choose whether a dataset is part of a time set
  • All datasets are appended, content is not changed at all, “if you get into data changing you are dead”
  • 5 star rating is helping improve quality of data publishing
  • With a multiple data file time series, the API interrogates the entire set
  • Contact details are available by dataset
  • data.gov.uk do thematic theming, they have over 8000 tags in the system atm, and they created 6 themes: health, environment, education, finance (other things apart from spending), society, defence, transportation, spending data (where they spend money), government
  • Automatic updates for some files via JSON but largely manual. Publishers felt more comfortable with manual publishing than aautomation for perceived control
  • Tend to point to WMS servers for spatial data rather than host directly
  • UK folk suggest a geoserver to host geospatial data and use open data platform to point to data rather than host it directly. A metadata harvester gets data from spatial sets and points to data. Needed to comply with the INSPIRE directive
  • They don’t apply 5 star to mapped data (or other purely linked information) as it doesn’t exactly map to downloadable data star rating
  • You can search on geospatial datasets by postcode or by drawing an area
  • Found that within a minute and 15 seconds (the record) a user could go from not having used the site before to publishing data, very low transition from newbie to publisher which was important
  • All statistics are automated which is due to being within the one dept and they are motivated to automated
  • INSPIRE (Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community) Directive was a major driver, as was “digital by default”
  • They generate monthly reports that counts the openness (stars) of data, the amount per Publisher, publishers with broken links, datasets with broken links. Helps publishers keep their data up to date
  • data.gov.uk is building a dashboard to report by the hierarchy of government
  • Public Roles and Salaries linked data tool – http://data.gov.uk/organogram/cabinet-office
  • Blog post about plugins data.gov.uk have built, all freely available on github – http://data.gov.uk/blog/the-code-behind-datagovuk
  • Indemnification from the Crown so public servants not at personal legal risk
  • Started with the knowledge management people, then expanded. Basically all parts of the public service were told that this is what they must do, so they did it
  • data.gov.uk is hosted by the government, Ubuntu servers
  • data.gov.uk – metadata, almost a petabyte of data now
  • US is running three open data platforms, including Socrata, CKAN and another bespoke one
  • No inferred metadata – up to data publishers to provide metadata
  • Real time data – can deal with real time, new functionality being also built
  • The value of cloud service to scale with API requirements

For some technical details and the code behind data.gov.uk, check out http://data.gov.uk/blog/the-code-behind-datagovuk

Thanks Toni for your time!

Below are my live tweets on the open data country updates – each person had about 5 minutes to wrap up their country. I’ve put them in alphabetical order and the results were a fascinating snapshot. I wish I’d had more time to talk to each and every contributor:

  • Argentina – created Ministry of Modernisation inc Buenos Aires Data, 3 hackathons, datavis, app comp, digital city event coming
  • Australia – @piawaugh giving Australia report http://twitpic.com/avwd85
  • Australia – What’s going on in#opendata in #australia ? Psi needs to be cc by default. http://instagr.am/p/Ptj4FUodS9/ by Lucy Chambers
  • Australia – Not OGP members, national picture mixed, neat local efforts #okfest http://pic.twitter.com/l9u1JK1l by Tariq Khokar
  • Belgium – some progress, inconsistent across region. Estonia: need to transform data that is published to use as hard atm.
  • Brasil – have also done information asset catalogue to help facilitate future opendata.
  • Brasil – new law created to get important datasets published, also have proactive publishing of source code. Cost seen as blocker
  • Canada – over 12k datasets this year. Next gen platform deployed next year. Toronto building a city that thinks like the web 🙂
  • Canada – lots of municipal level work, national level is participant in OGP with three pillars of opendata openinfo & opendialogue
  • Chile – regulation around #opendata created but not implemented yet.
  • Czech – working on apps&services based on opendata, OKFN local chapter, data catalogue & opendata.cz, 1st gov data blog. No money
  • France – France presentation a reminder that open standards can actually be a blocker to first steps in opening data. #okfest
  • France – talk from NosDeputes.fr, lots of cities putting data up, national now commit to open licence, formats an issue/blocker
  • Germany case study of getting gov to open up some data, but really just getting stated.
  • Ireland – new real time passenger info API coming this year, need national portal, still low priority for many but relatively cheap
  • Ireland – 8-9 public bodies in Dublin regional opendata portal. Interested in biz models, datavis, 40% participants entrepreneurs
  • Israel – black whole of legislation, printing protocols were hid in boxes. Volunteers went in to scan and digitise. Now gov opened
  • Italy – National data portal, people need gov to open data, 3000 datasets liberati 🙂 increase in data quality. Mostly in north
  • Kenya – had one year birthday for Kenya opendata portal, focus on open standards, lots happening. No FOI leg yet, community devel
  • Netherlands – parliamentary data opened, 1st budget open data tmrw, issues: budget cuts hard, slow grow, gov benefit realisation
  • Netherlands – launched open data portal, gov stopped charging for geospatial data, $4m spent to free up satellite images…
  • Nigeria – update data hard to get, oil companies & gov corruption high, have digitised & visualised budget -> public engagement
  • Open Corporates – has info on 44,470,772 companies in the world. Open database of the corporate world. Interesting. Launched API
  • Slovakia – bad news is a lot of new laws but the working group works are slow and projects at risk.
  • Slovakia – launched open data portal, has preliminary support, worried about new gov not supporting but did, slow but building up
  • South Africa – not so much, Kenya is ahead of us Gov have removed new order mining rights info from website & water quality data
  • South Africa – info commissioner an important part to getting more transparency
  • South Africa – 1st hackathon in Aug 2012, secrecy bill attempting to shut down access to data, civil society active, OGP work too
  • Spain – lot of open data portals (~20), diverse, some good, some not. National portal is good but not much data. Big community tho
  • UK – 8661 datasets on new site, good stats, worked with openspending ppl to do reporting & better tools. Increase in public trust
  • Uruguay – Fascinating, gov working on data but dropping ball on other opengov #okfest
  • US – several initiatives out of date and not detailed enough
  • US – lots of stuff proposed, data laws, most of the work is overshadowed by Presidential election, OGP commitments being worked on.

Open Data Census – expand to capture information about individual initiatives?

OKFN have done a great job trying to get a useful comparative analysis of open data in countries around the world. I suggested it might be worthwhile to consider individual initiatives to get some understanding of exactly what is being done around the world, find commonalities and get some ideas around good practice in this space, especially as it is such a new area for so many people.

I put up some draft questions for the next Open Data Census and it’d be great to get feedback.

Outstanding talks I heard

There were many, many, outstanding talks at OKFestival. I’ll just briefly wrap up a few outstanding ones that I really enjoyed 🙂

Dr. Nagy-Rothengass from the European Commission

European Commission presentationDr Nagy-Rothengass gave a fascinating talk about the European Commission commitment to Open Data. They have committed substantial funding for this, around 100 million Euro and their core rationale for supporting open data are as follows:EU slide on case for open data

  1. Untapped business and economic opportunities: data is the new gold; possible direct and indirect gains of 140b Euro across the EU27
  2. Better Governance and citizen empowerment: open data increases transparency, citizen participation and administrative efficiency and accountability.
  3. Addressing societal challenges: data can enhance sustainability of health care systems, essential for tackling environmental challenges.
  4. Accelerating scientific progress: e-science essential for meeting the challenges of the 21st century in scientific discovery and learning.

Hans Rosling

Hans Rosling was a brilliant keynote.

My favourite quotes from the talk:

  • If you want to communicate with people you need to learn from tabloids. They are good at connecting with people.
  • The problem is not that people don’t know anything about the world, the problem is they have a completely incorrect view. evidence & statistics show world population growing to about 10b after which it normalises.
  • The western world has a toxic combination of arrogance and ignorance. Also gender equality doesn’t just happen. It requires work.
  • D3 d3js.org as a great tool for #datavis
  • We can’t rely on the leaders to deal with the money. We need to get involved and see for ourselves.
  • Life has never been so good as today. That the world is bad today doesn’t mean it hasn’t become enormously better.
  • We need to seriously invest in renewable energies & isn’t about polar bears. We are up against something much bigger.
  • You have to demand access to the data. Countries should report & need to release big data so we can do better.
  • OECD *sell* their data! We need to have it liberated so we can understand and learn.
  • Don’t talk about what you should do, just mock up and prototype.

He went a little through his normal developing countries vs developed countries spiel which clearly demonstrates the world is a lot closer statistically than many people believe. He spoke about world population growth and showed that it is one of very few things that statisticians have been consistently correct about (with only a 6ish% deviation from projections over 50 years), and yet there is still a lot of fear and misinformation about population growth. He said based on projections and the massive slowdown of population growth, that the world population would peak at around 10 billion and then that number would largely be sustained, unless there was an enormous disaster.

He showed the importance of not dividing the world up into “developing” and “developed” and that people’s understanding of the world is typically quite out of date, based on figures and perspectives taught in school but not updated throughout adult life. This leads to a community making decisions based on outdated information which leads to bad decisions. It was humbling to see actual statistics and realise that we don’t really have embedded societal mechanisms to update what is taught at school, and how this creates a perception of other countries and cultures that may fall completely out of date within just a few years.

Personally I believe strongly that it is through global collaboration that we can leapfrog issues and many of the attendees from what are traditionally call “developing” nations had great stories to tell of citizen empowerment and leapfrogging “developed” countries.

Hans core messages so far as I understood them included the importance of open data to make good decisions, the importance of recognisiing that our understanding of the world is usually out of date, and the importance of the active engagement of civil society in international and national matters to balance out the imbalance of power.

This last point he demonstrated very effectively by showing a picture of world leaders at the Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy, with some information about which countries were loaning/giving money to others. It was fascinating. Aid money being given from one country to a “developing” country, which was in turn was loaning $30b to the US (when George Bush was in), who was in turn supporting them to get a seat on a UN council. It goes round and round.

Hans made a strong point that people should demand the data and transparency so they can make more informed decisions as a community and not just leave things up to world leaders.

Click through on the following thumbnails to see larger versions.

Hans Rosling slideHans Rosling slideHans Rosling slideHans Rosling slideHans Rosling slideHans Rosling slideHans Rosling slideHans Rosling slide

Rufus Pollock

Rufus is the Director and co-founder of OKFN, and quite an impressive figure. He is passionate about open data and is credited by Sir Tim Berners-Lee as being behind the “Raw Data Now” agenda. Rufus gave a great opening keynote where he spoke about the importance of open data combined with analysis and action. He said we have now started to see more and more data being opened up but if we don’t combine this with good analysis and then action in response to the analysis, then we will not see the benefits of open data.

His speech was largely a spoken version of his blog post called Managing Expectations II: Open Data, Technology and Government 2.0 – What Should We, And Should We Not Expect so I recommend you check it out 🙂

Diagram from Rufus Pollock on a theory of change
Diagram from Rufus Pollock on a theory of change

My contributions to OKFestival

Just a couple of notes for people I met there on my contributions.

I hosted a panel on open government, I contributed to several forums and I spoke on the closing panel with Philip Thigo (Program Associate at SODNET & Co-Founder of INFONET, Nairobi, Kenya) & Antti Poikola (OKF Finland Incubating Chapter, Helsinki) which gave me a good opportunity to further discuss the role of the public service in open government. This was received really well and I have a load of public service colleagues now from all around the world in this space.

On a panel about open data and culture at OKFest 2012 with Philip Thigo, Program Associate at SODNET & Co-Founder of INFONET, Nairobi, Kenya & Antti Poikola, OKF Finland Incubating Chapter, Helsinki. Photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/tuija/8008433837/
On a panel about open data and culture at OKFest 2012 with Philip Thigo, Program Associate at SODNET & Co-Founder of INFONET, Nairobi, Kenya & Antti Poikola, OKF Finland Incubating Chapter, Helsinki. Photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/tuija/8008433837/

I spoke a little bit about public engagement on public policy and mentioned the Public Sphere methodology that I developed with Senator Kate Lundy. The most recent consultation was one on Digital Culture which was a major contribution to the impending National Cultural Policy. A lot of people asked about analysis, so I spoke a little about the importance for both data analysis and “network” analysis of a consultation to ensure the outcomes have the appropriate context. See the Analysing the community of a public sphere blog post on Senator Lundy’s site.

I also mentioned my Distributed Democracy idea which a few people liked 🙂

Other links of possible interest:

GovHack and App4Country discussion

I was involved in a wonderful discussion with people from over 17 countries who do “apps” competitions and hackfests. It was great to hear about their initiatives and to share the lessons learnt from GovHack. Many of them expressed a lot of interest in our model which is a little broader than the “Apps4Country” model which has been quite popular in Europe. Most of them had the same problems with sustainability, longevity of outcomes from the hackfests, getting the government actively engaged. It was fascinating.

There are some good notes from the global hackfest/apps events collated here and there is a global mailing list (not very active atm) at http://lists.okfn.org/mailman/listinfo/appsforx.

The notes I made for my presentation about GovHack:

  • Narrative, design *and* hacks
  • Not focused on apps, but rather hacks (apps, mashups & datavis) – often applications emerge but “apps development” creates confusion with mobile vs web vs devel vs datavis
  • GovHack was part of a trilogy of events – GovCamp to set the narrative and vision, GovUX/Jam to apply design thinking to service delivery challenges in the public service, GovHack for open hacking and to make some service delivey design outcomes real
  • Open Government, Science & Digital Humanities – to add Data Journalism
    – Amazing how much of an impact it made, has really fired the imagination of the public and sector.
  • Enormous enthusiasm from the gov involved, 7 departments and agencies from federal and state governments were deeply engaged.
  • People flew from all over Australia to the two locations that we were simultaneously running the hackfest to participate.
  • Mentors from data owners and technologists to support teams along with sessions.
  • Made the documentation and presentation of the hack part of the judging criteria, which compelled teams to nicely capture content about their hacks which meant a good archive of the event.

Motivations:

  • Bring community together
  • Demonstrate value of open data
  • Raise the bar for the narrative in Aus, focus efforts on constructive efforts
  • Open the data, give depts buy in, connect their tech with community and leaders with success
  • Create new ways to do service delivery that can be integrated into gov, fundamentally disrupt gov expectations around “innovation”
  • Volunteer run which gave it extra credibility, buy in, and public engagement
  • A lot of bad expectations of “apps competitions” because of events that have done it badly, in Aus and internationally
  • Open Sourced hacks for people/companies/students/gov to build upon

Lessons learnt:

  • Hackers are motivated so long as you create some importance, and engage in conversation to manage tone and deal constructively with trolls
  • Prize money is helpful, but need to be careful to ensure good community, tone, “spirit of govhack” award
  • Scaling to go national – hackfest for two days, 3 days to vote, awards ceremony, followup 6 months later.
  • More funding would be useful
  • Ensure non tech elements encouraged, some great non “app” outcomes, eg the jewellery hack
  • Engage with the startup and VC sector, open sourcing outcomes means govhack can be yearly incubator for spin offs as well as input to gov. Startups love it as it is the best form of publicity
  • Non geeky hacks are the most reportable – History in ACTION
  • Technologists have a lot to contribute to policy, and there is a lot of work now to bring these groups together. Data visualisation and other uses of data can massively contribute to policy development and better policy outcomes.
  • Ongoing community engagement could be achieved through launching OKFN Au chapter to bring together communities across the gov, data journalists, hacker/geek communities and academia/research.

Interesting thoughts from “apps” conversation:

  • Need to strongly socialise – Finland
  • Apps for Europe, Spain, lessons from @aabella: 1) Civil society not politicians. Pollies have a role but it needs to be civil society driven. 2) Need to target general population not just tech community, get broader community involved.

Some additional links collected from the week of interest

Some random Open Science links sent:

Thanks

For the first time I tried couch surfing on this trip and stayed with a lovely Helsinki resident called Tarmo. A huge thanks to Tarmo for having me for the week, it was great to meet and I have to say, the couchsurfing culture is really friendly and lovely 🙂

Also, a huge thanks to Rufus for encouraging me to come, to Daniel Dietrich for his dedication to the open government space, and all the lovely people I met. I look forward to next year 🙂

Creating Open Government (for a Digital Society)

Recently I spoke on a panel at the NSW Information Commissioner’s “Creating Open Government” forum about my thoughts on blue sky ideas in this space. I decided to work on the assumption of the importance and need for creating open government for a digital society. In the 10 mins I had, I spoke on the pillars of public engagement, citizen centric services and open data, where we need to go in the open government movement, and a few other areas that I believe are vital in creating open government.

Below are some of the thoughts presented (in extended form), some cursory notes, and some promises to write more in the coming months 🙂

I should say up front that I am a person who believes government has an important role to play in society, even in a highly connected, digitally engaged and empowered society. Government, done right, gives us the capacity to support a reasonable quality of life across the entire society, reduce suffering and provide infrastructure and tools to all people so we can, dare I say it, live long and prosper. All people are not equal, there is a lot of diversity in the perspectives, skills, education, motivation and general capability throughout society. But all people deserve the opportunities in their life to persue dignity, happiness and liberty. I believe government, done right, facilitates that.

In my mind government provides a way to scale infrastructure and services to support individuals to thrive, whatever the circumstancecs of their birth, and facilitate a reasonably egalitarian society – as much as can be realistically achieved anyway. I’m very glad to live in a country where we broadly accept the value of public infrastructure and services.

So below are some thoughts on next steps in creating open government, with additional references and reading available 🙂

1) Online Public Engagement

There is generally a lot of movement to engage online by the public sector across all spheres of government in Australia. However, this tends to be the domain of media and comms teams, which means the engagement is often more about messaging and trying to represent/push the official narrative. There are a lot of people working in this space who say they are not senior enough to have a public profile or to engage publicly without approval and yet, we have many people in government customer support roles who engage with the public every day as part of their job.

I contend that we need to start thinking about social media and “public engagement” also as a form of customer support, and not just media and communications. In this way, public servants can engage online within their professional capacities and not have to have every tweet or comment vetted, in the same way that every statement uttered by a customer service officer is not pre-approved. In this way interactions with citizens become of higher value to the citizen, and social media becomes another service delivery mechanism.

For example, consider how many ISPs are on social media, monitoring mentions of them, responding with actual customer support and service that often positively impacts that persons experience (and by extension community perception) of the organisation. Government needs to be out there, where people are, engaged in the public narrative and responsive to the needs of our community. We need our finger on the pulse so we can better respond to new challenges and opportunities facing government and the broader community.

One of the main challenges we face is the perception from many people that there is little be gained through public engagement. If a department or agency embarks upon a public consultation without genuinely being interested in the outcomes, this is blindingly obvious to participants, and is met with disdain. It is vital that government invest in online community development skills and empower individuals throughout the public service to engage online in the context of their professional roles.

This online engagement development skillset can be deployed for specific consultations or initiatives, but it also vital on an ongoing basis to maintain a constructive narrative, tone and community that contributes on an ongoing basis.

Further reading:

2) Citizen Centric Services

Citizens don’t care about the complexities of government, and yet we continue to do service delivery along departmental lines and spheres of government. The public service structure is continually changing to match the priorities of the government of the day, so not only is it confusing, but it is everchanging and we end up spending a lot of effort changing websites, stationery and frontline branding each portfolio shuffle. The service delivery itself (usually) continues seamlessly regardless of shifts in structure, but it is hard for citizens to keep up, and nor should they be expected to.

Citizen centric services is about having a thematic and personalised approach to service and information delivery. Done well, this enables a large number of our population to self service, in the manner and at the time that is convenient to them. It is no small task to achieve as it requires a way to integrate (or perhaps sit in between) systems and data sources throughout all of government, but we have some established case studies in Australia that we can learn from. Rather than trying to get consistent systems across government – which leads to always being only as strong as your weakest link – it is feasible to have integration tools to “front end” government.

By enabling many citizens to effectively self service, this approach also frees up government resources for supporting our most vulnerable and complex cases.

It is worth also noting that a truly citizen centric approach would be both cross departmental *and* cross jurisdictional. We need to start asking and addressing the challenges around how can we collaborate across the three spheres of government to give citizens a seamless experience?

A more eloquent description of this concept is from a speech from my former boss, Minister Kate Lundy, from a speech entitled Citizen-centric services: A necessary principle for achieving genuine open government/

3) Proactive data disclosure – open data and APIs

The public service holds and creates a lot of data in the process of doing our job. By making data appropriately publicly available there are better opportunies for public scrutiny and engagement in democracy and with government in a way that is focused on actual policy outcomes, rather than through the narrow aperture of politics or the media. This also builds trust, leads to a better informed public, and gives the public service an opportunity to leverage the skills, knowledge and efforts of the broader community like never before.

Whether it be a consultation on service planning or a GovHack, an open and contextualised approach to data and indeed the co-production of policy and planning ends up being a mechanism to achieve the most evidence based, “peer reviewed” and concensus driven outcomes for government and the community. It gets citizens directly engaged in actual policy and planning, and although the last word is always ultimately with the relevant Minister, it means that where political goals don’t align with the evidence based policy recommendations, an important discussion can be had and questions asked from an engaged and informed public.

This, to me, is a real and practical form democracy. I feel that party politics actually gets in the way to some degree, as it turns people off engaging in the most important institute in their lives. Like a high stakes team sport, the players are focused on scoring goals against their opponents and forget about what is happening off field.

As a person who is working in the public service, I truly believe that transparency is our best defence in fulfilling our duty to serve the public.

With major changes to legislation in recent years making FOI more seamless and accessible to citizens, departments are struggling to allocate necessary resources to comply in an extremely fiscally conservative environment.

In the meantime, although there is a general concensus on the value (with admittedly sometimes quite different interpretations of value) of opening up more public sector information publicly, the fact is that it is largely seen as a “good” thing to do, a nice to have, and as such has been challenging for departments to justify the not-insignificant resources required to move to a proactive data disclosure status quo.

There is a decent argument to say that proactively publishing data (and indeed, reports) would help mitigate the rising costs of FOI as departments could point requests to where the information is already online. But realistically, unless the department had in place the systems to automate proactive publishing, then it will remain something done after the fact, not integrated into business as usual, ad hoc and an ongoing expense that is too easily dropped when the budget belt tightens.

I have people say to me all the time “just publish the data, it’s easy”. The funny thing is the vast majority of people have little to no experience actually doing open data in government. It is quite a new area and though the expertise is growing, we are in infancy stages in jurisdictions around the world. Even some jurisdictions with very large numbers of data sets are doing much of that work manually, the data becoming out of date quickly, and quite often the pressure to be seen to do open data overrides the quality and usefulness of the implementation, as we see datasets being broken down into multiple uploads to meet quantitative KPIs.

The truth is, although putting up some datasets here or there is relatively easy – there is a lot of low hanging fruit – to move to a sustainable, effective, automated and systematic approach to open data is much harder, but is the necessary step if we are to see real value from open data, and if we are to see the goals of open data and mitigating FOI cost compliance merge.

Interestingly, another major benefit of the proactive public publishing of government data, is that the process of ensuring a dataset complies with privacy and other obligations is quite similar between making something public and sharing across departments at all. By making more government data openly available, particularly when combined with some analysis and visualisation tools, we will be able to share data across departments in an appropriate way that helps us all have better information to inform policy and planning.

The good news is, in Australia we have the policies (OAIC, AG Principles of IP, Ahead of the Game, Gov 2.0 Taskforce Report, etc), legislative (FOI changes),and political cover (Declaration of Open Government, though more would be useful) to move on this.

I will be doing a follow up blog post about this topic specifically in the coming week after I attend a global open data conference where I intend on researching exactly how other jurisdictions are doing it, their processes, resourcing, automation and procurement requirements. I will also give some insights to what the dataACT team have learnt in implementing Australia’s first actual open data platform, which is an important next step for Australia building on the good work of AGIMO with the data.gov.au pilot.

Additional notes:

  • more effective and efficient government – shared across departments, capacity to have whole of gov business intelligence and strategic planning, capacity to identify trends, opportunities and challenges within public service
  • internal measuring, monitoring, reporting and analysis – government dashboards – both internal and public reporting on projects
  • innovation – public and private innovation through access to data, service APIs – gov can build on public innovation for better service delivery – eg GovHack
  • transparency – need to build trust, what is the value to gov? – eg of minister vs doctor example

4) Agile iterative policy

There is a whole discussion to have about next generation approaches to policy which would be iterative, agile, include actual governance to keep the policy live and responsive to changing circumstances, and the value of live measuring, monitoring and analysis tools around projects and policies to help with more effective implementation on an ongoing basis and to applying the learning from implementation back into the policy.

The basic problem we have in achieving this approach is that, structurally, there is generally no one looking at policy from an end to end perspective. The policy makers are motivated to complete and hand over a policy. The policy implementers are motivated to do what they are handed. We need to bridge this gap between policy makers and doers in government to have a more holistic approach that can apply the lessons learnt from doers into strategic planning and development on an ongoing basis.

I’ll further address this in a followup blog post next month as I’m pulling together some schools of thought on this at the moment.

Check out the APS Policy Visualisation Network which is meeting for the first time next week if this space interests you. It will be fascinating to have people across the APS discussing new and interesting approaches to policy, and hopefully we will see the build up of new skills and approaches in this area.

Notes:

  • iterative and adaptive policy – gone are the days of a static 10 year policy, we need to be feeding recommendations from testing, monitoring, measuring back into improving the policy on an ongoing basis.
  • datavis for policy “load testing”, gleaning new knowledge, better communication of ideas, visualisation networks for contextualisation, etc
  • co-production, co-design
  • evidence based, peer reviewed policy that draws on the diverse strengths throoughout our community and public service

5) Supporting Digital industries

There are many reasons why, as a society we need to have strong digital industries including IT, creative, cultural, games development, media, music, film and much more. Fundamentally these industries and skills underpin our success in all other industries to some extent, but also, we have seen many Australian digital companies have to go overseas to survive, and we need to look at the local market and environment and ask how we can support these companies to thrive in Australia.

I ran two major consultations about this over the past couple of years, and the outcomes and contributions are still very relevant:

  • The ICT and Creative Industries Public Sphere – included an excellent contribution paper from Silicon Beach, a group of Australian tech entrepreneurs who have exceptional insights to the sectors here and overseas.
  • The Digital Culture Public Sphere – included excellent contributions from the games development industry, digital arts, the digital culture (GLAM) sector and much more.

Notes:

  • Open government can contribute to our digital sector through:
    • open data – esp cultural content for which we are custodians and esp the large quantity of data which is out of copyright
    • being great users of and contributers to digital technologies and the Australian sector
    • focused industry development strategies and funding for digital sectors

6) Emerging Technologies

I finished my panel comments by reflecting on some emerging technologies that governments need to be aware of in our planning for the future.

These are just some new technologies that will present new opportunities for government and society:

  • 3D printing and nanotechnology – already we have seen the first 3D printed heart which was successfully transplanted.
  • Augmented Reality
  • Wearable computing and “body hacking”

On the topic of 3D printing, I would like to make a bold statement. You see, at the moment people are already trying to lobby against 3D printing on the basis that it would disrupt current business models. Many on the technology side of the argument try to soften the debate by saying it is early days, you don’t get perfect copies, and myriad other placations. So here it is.

3D printing will disrupt the copyright industry, but it will also disrupt poverty and hunger. As a society, we need to decide which we care about more.

There is no softly softly beating around the bush. There are some hard decisions and premises that need to be challenged, otherwise we will maintain the status quo without having even been aware of an alternative.

With advancements in nanotechnology also looming, we could see perfect copies of pretty much anything, constructed atom by atom out of waste for instance.

But there are also many existing technologies that can be better utilised:

  • games development – we have some of the most highly skilled games developers in the world and we can apply these skills to serious issues for highly citizen centric and engaging outcomes.
  • cloud – current buzzword – presents some good opportunities but also a jurisdictional nightmare so tread very carefully. You need to assume anything in the “cloud” can disappear or be read by anyone in the world
  • social media – see point 1

7) Final comment on government, power and society

Finally, just a couple of words about the most important element in creating open governments that can service the needs of an increasingly digital society.

We need to dramatically shift out thinking about technology and what it means to government. An no I don’t mean just getting a social media strategy.

For anything we think, plan, strategise, hypothesise or talk about to become real, we inevitably use a number of technologies.

Most people treat technology like a magic wand that can materialise whatever we dream up, and the nicely workshopped visions of our grand leaders are generally just handballed to the bowels of the organisation, otherwise known as the IT department, to unquestionably implement as best they can.

Technology, and technologists, are seen to be extremely important in the rhetoric, but treated like a cost centre in practise with ever increasing pressure to do more with less, “but could you just support my new iPad please?” IT Managers are forced to make technology procurement decisions based on which side of the ledger the organisation can support today, and the fiscal pressures translate to time pressures which leaves no space for meaningful innovation or collaboration.

We need the leaders of government, especially throughout the public service to be comfortable with and indeed well informed about technology.

We need collaborative technologists in the strategic development process, as we are the best people positioned to identify new opportunities and to help make a strategic vision that has a chance of seeing daylight.

We need to stop using the excuse that innovation or open government “isn’t about technology”, and recognise that as a government, and as a society, need to engage a healthy balance of skills across our entire community to co-design the future of government together. And we need to recognise that if we don’t have technologists in that mix, then all our best intentions and visions will simply not translate into reality.

Monitor, measure, analyse, collaborate, co-design, and be transparent.

The future is here, it simply isn’t widely distributed yet – William Gibson

Notes from after my speech from the event

The NSW AG speech was excellent – he spoke about the primary difference between the NSW Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 and the old approach is that the current approach pushes for proactive disclosure.

He mentioned three significant aspects of GIPA:

  • Accessibility
  • Manner in which is enables participation
  • Public right to know is paramount

There was an important comment from the day that we need to address sustainable power if we are to build a vision for the future.

There was comment on public interest – public consultation, get best inputs, peer review, chose most evidence based approach.

Questions about cloud:

  • Cloud attributes – jurisdiction, privacy, ownership, enforcability of contract, data transportability
  • Functional categorisation – private data? criticality of data/service delivery?
  • PATRIOT Act implications

AGIMO have some good policy advice in this area worth looking at on their Cloud computing page.

I wrote a hopefully useful post on this a while back called Cloud computing: finding the silver lining. I will be following that up with some work I’m doing in gov atm around this topic a little later, looking at the specific attributes of cloud services, how they map to different things gov want to do, and the fact that government jurisdictions around the world are pretty much universally using what I call “jurisdictional cloud” services, which means they are hosted by gov, or by gov owned entities within their legal jurisdiction. The broad calls for government to “just go cloud” suggest a binary approach of ‘to cloud or not to cloud’ which is simply not reality, not a reasonable thing to expect when government has obligations around privacy, security, sovereignty, ensuring SLAs for service delivery to citizens, and much more.

I also did an interview with Vivek Kundra (prior CTO for US Federal Gov) a while back which will be useful to a lot of people.

I loved the five verbs of Open Gov by Allison Hornery: Start, Share, Solve, Sync, Shout. Her speech was great!

Also, Martin Stewart-Weeks talked about three principles of open government:

  1. partly in cathedrals and partly in bazaars
  2. new relationships between institutions and communities, and
  3. knowledge has become the network. Great presentation and interesting how open source ideas are so prolific in this space.

Fake geeks prey on us poor lonely “true geeks” – 4 realz yo

Note: apparently it hasn’t been completely obvious to a few people so just saying up front, this is a mock blog 🙂

Don’t you hate it when you go to a geeky event, and you see a guy dressed up as Mal or Ironman or Wolverine (swoon) and it turns out they are just a booth babe, or worse, a sales guy. It’s like, the biggest let down! OMG! They are obviously purposefully poaching on us poor lonely and desperate geeks and frankly we’ve had enough! If you aren’t a true geek, then pretending to be one is worse than poaching, it is maliciously playing with the hearts and minds of the people who run your networks, and read your email, and could, with very little effort, utterly destroy your life and reputation online.

Do you feel me?

Even worse, I hate when you meet a cute guy who does turn out to own a computer, but also turns out to be a total Windows fanboi. Raving on and on about his 1337 VB skills, or how everyone that picks on Windows 8 totally sucks because no one has even seen it yet but it is totally “awesum”. He despises “freetards” because they are all so unrealistic about the industry and “it’s not like Linux has even made it on the desktop anyway, so who cares?”. Yeah, Windows fanbois are totally fake and should stop pretending.

Then you get the Apple banbois. The ones who wear berets because they think it is fashionable, maintain a pretentious sense of (secretly self) loathing about geeks and pretend to be passionate about design and typefaces because it helps them get laid given the demographic of the vast majority of Mac users. An Apple fanboi will lament about how Steve Jobs was Gandhi, Einstein and Jesus in one man, and wear turtlenecks because they think it makes them just like Steve. Apple fanbois are fakers who should stop pretending and learn how to be a true geek!

Then you get the device geeks. You know the ones, who always have the latest gadget regardless of the brand, who like to show off their immensely huge collection of apps, and who think installing an upgrade to Angry Birds somehow makes them technically competent. I got news for you chum, you are a fake geek! Stop it!

You know when you meet guys who talk about being a sysadmin ninja, or a gun at games development? FAKE! I have studied martial arts for 21 years and you sir, are no ninja. You couldn’t hit a wet towel and you couldn’t fire a gun to save yourself. Your limp wrist and shoulder muscles would buckle from the kick back so just stop. We won’t be tormented like this!

Finally you might get lucky enough to meet a guy who can program in a real language, can run his own infrastructure, is into gaming and loves to throw around Star Wars and Evil Dead III quotes. But then he expects you to stay in the kitchen, or give up work entirely to look after the kids by yourself, or he wants you to not beat him in Tekken or Call of Duty ‘cos his friends might laugh at him being “beaten by a girl” and frankly he doesn’t want the competition at home. Geek guys who turn out to be misogynists are the most annoying kind of fake geeks, because they have forgotten that true geekiness has nothing to do with gender, and they encourage geek girls to reject either their geekiness or their girliness. You guys need to be put down, you are the worst kind of fake geeks. No rly.

So, I guess it’s too much for a geek girl to find a real geek guy, one who looks like Wolverine or Mal, who can talk my language, use the same tech, play the same games, treat me like a human being and not disagree with my particular flavour of geekiness in any way shape or form.

Or perhaps we should all just chill out and let Bartlet be Bartlet.

No one has a monopoly on geekiness, and there are many flavours of geeks out there. It is actually really awesome that being geeky is becoming popular because we need more people to get on the path of tech literacy, whatever their incentive. Otherwise when the machines come our army will be very small 😉

For another fantastic and better written blog post about this is John Scalzi’s “Who Gets To Be a Geek? Anyone Who Wants to Be“. Read it, now! 🙂

Note: This mockblog post is inspired by a good article by Daniel Griffiths (‘Fake Geek Girls’: How Geek Gatekeeping Is Bad For Business) which responds to the growing number of articles berating “fake geek girls”.

It’s incredible to me how idiotic some people can be, how short sighted they are in their own quest for self importance. Personally I love the fact that being geeky has become trendy, has become something people aspire to. As a geek I want to encourage our society to embrace and be empowered by technology, not shut down a person because they “aren’t a true geek”. What does that even mean anyway? So I hope you enjoyed my trollish response to the quite pretentious “Booth babes need not apply” article by Joe Peacock. Hey Joe, the article didn’t start too bad, but by the end it just got stupid. But well done for bringing an important discussion to the fore.

Online Culture – Part 1: Unicorns and Doom

There is a lot of commentating, hypothesising and general navel-gazing around the topic of “online culture” and how the Internet is changing society. Some believe we are ascending into a euphoric utopia where we will all be free and ride unicorns over double rainbows! Some bemoan our descent into ego driven fickleness that is undermining the very foundations of a civil society!

The reality is far simpler.

It is also, though it seems odd for many to hear, rooted in the actual technology of the Internet and history of geek culture.

I was originally going to do four blog posts looking at:

  1. Unicorns and doom: online culture and the impact on mainstream society
  2. Live free or dial: public vs private, some new challenges for our society online
  3. The geek will inherit the earth: the history and lessons of online culture
  4. Who is responsible: some thoughts on the relationship between citizens, corporates and governments

I will continue this series mid 2013 as my contribution to an important discussion we are starting to have as a society, as well as useful in providing some context for those unaware of geek culture (and their own inevitable geeky metamorphasis).

Unicorns and doom: online culture and the impact on mainstream society

It is certainly true that we are seeing a shift in society that is profound, but it is a shift that really boils down to two key aspects:

  1. a change in mainstream society expectations, &
  2. a transfer in power (and increased capacity for greatness) to the individual and thus the community.

Great Expectations

When you use the Internet, it changes you. I don’t mean sending emails and the occasional Google search. I mean when you spend many hours every week or day going online, engaging in discussions, cross-checking official statements with on the ground bloggers, actively seeking out people you like (or dislike) online to see what they are up to, and clicking through interesting links until you inevitably find yourself rickrolled.

Using the Internet changes your expectations of the world around you, and importantly your expectations of how you can interact with the world.

There are four expectations that we develop, consciously or not, by engaging online:

1) Route around damage

At a technical level the Internet was designed so that there was always a way around a problem in the communications. Any damage or blockage becomes just something to work around. Internet users naturally adopt this idea of assumed access and expect to be able to find and do whatever they want online.

This becomes an extraordinary and profound expectation when “damage” is interpreted at a social level, and individuals assume they can “route around” any form of artificial interference such as censorship or manipulation. The expectation develops in individuals that they can work around obstacles in their life, and they are less likely to put up with ideas thrust upon them or agendas they do not subscribe to.

2) Healthy skepticism

Anyone can publish their thoughts online and there are many cases where the official media reporting of an issue does not gel with the online accounts of people on the ground. Projects like Wikipedia demonstrate clearly that for many issues there is more than one “truth”.

Wikipedia, to its credit, manages to present the most generally accepted version of issues whilst also archiving edits and discussion pages to present to the inquisitive reader some of the conflicting ideas around the topic.

Contrast both of these situations to the past where the local newspaper was the only news and Encyclopedia Brittanica or an equivalent was the authoritative source for students and casual research. The variety and ease of access to different opinions and knowledge is an easy trap in the first instance, but rapidly teaches us the importance of cross referencing, of looking for why someone might think or say something, of being skeptical of official information.

3) Transparency and accountability

When we want to know about something, we automatically look it up online. We expect to be able to get information on any subject we choose and when information is not forthcoming we ask why. Anyone is accessible online and we can follow (and in some cases get responses) from our leaders, music stars, favourite authors, peers, pretty much anybody.

This experience fuels an expectation of access and engagement which is a challenge for many, particularly in older established institutions. It is the accountability with which we can hold people, organisations and institutions to account that is making it easier for us to make informed choices.

Of course the flip side of this is that individual privacy has become far more public and people are sharing more and more of their lives online and then dealing with the consequences. Such as sharing that you are going away for the weekend along with your address through geocoded tweets and then finding your house broken into.

We are currently going through a transition period where the old and the new are caught in a frenetic push and pull of negotiating expectations, and we have not yet really defined our expectations of online privacy. See part two of this blog where I go into the ramifications of public vs private online.

4) Do-ocracy

When we meet people in the physical world, we engage in a complex dance of communication. There are protocols (in every culture), we use a number of mechanisms such as voice and body language to establish rapport, there is a negotiation of expectations and limitations and often an interesting conversation will result.

By comparison, when we meet someone online, we can immediately compare what they are saying to us to what they are saying to others, or what they’ve said before and importantly, what they’ve done. We can google their name/nick and get an indication of what they are like and their contributions to the world. We have an immediate capacity to establish for ourselves at least a small amount of context around this person, far more so than we could hope to establish in person over a significant period of time.

Even without a person’s real name you can establish a trusted, constructive dialogue and collaborate online. Establishing networks of trust is obviously not new, but the ease with which we can do so online with people from all across the world, even with pseudonyms or anonymously, creates an expectation that we can achieve great things in great numbers, very rapidly, without necessarily having to know exactly who they are.

It also creates an expectation that fits very well with Australian culture. That is, we start to treat people according to their actions, their efforts, their contributions, as opposed to their status, relatives or finances. Even famous people become judged by their actions as opposed to their past.

All of these changes in societal expectations has a profound impact on how people engage with the world around them, with governments and organisations, and interestingly with power constructs.

People Power

Like every other significant shift in society, we will see most people adopt the new tools as a matter of convenience, but we will also see some people embrace the opportunity for their personal beliefs or freedoms.

The opportunities for personal and community empowerment are enormous online.

The Internet has democratised both access to and “publishing” of knowledge. The control of knowledge has always been a power mechanism, and we are now seeing a significant struggle as traditional knowledge and power brokers find themselves continually flanked by individuals and communities.

Technology gives us an immediate, global reach both for information dissemination, but also significantly for distributed grassroots coordination. And we can engage with other people under our own names, psuedonyms or indeed anonymously, all of which are important in different ways. Also, as most people are online in some capacity (and certainly every power broker), anyone is able to be engaged with or affected online.

So armed with information from many sources, a virtual megaphone, the ability to connect with like minded people anywhere and coordinate, and the ability to do so from the relative safety of a psuedonym or anonymity, we really can achieve anything. Sometimes this power is used constructive, sometimes just for the lulz, but the Internet has changed all of us fundamentally.

In Conclusion

There will always be people being fickle, thoughtful, noble, underhanded, overreaching, argumentative, complacent and all the rest. The Internet has not changed any of this but it has acted as an amplifier. People will always be people (and we don’t have a plan ;)).

To assume social media (for example) is changing society because people are putting random tidbits about their life and thoughts in the public domain is a shift is not only a mistake, but a gross underestimation of what is actually transpiring. People have always used the tools they have to hand to express themselves, it just so happens the current tool of choice is quite public.

However, the Internet has had a profound impact on mainstream society. It has changed our expectations, how we engage with the world around us, and has created new opportunities for power for all people (and organisations). It has become an extension of our everyday life and mind, a meritocratic demonstrator of community empowerment and hyperconnectivity, and yet we are only just getting started.

My next post will look at some of the new challenges we are facing online, such as our definition of freedom, rights, and the interesting dynamic between private and “public” spaces online.

Air traffic control and Somalia

I was moved to blog this evening by two inspiring conversations I had whilst travelling to Melbourne. Both fascinating for very different reasons!

Firstly, on the plane from Canberra to Melbourne I sat next to a guy who works in the air traffic control systems industry. It was fascinating because it is an industry with only a few major players (about 4 or 5) who over the years have absorbed most of the small players. As a result most people in the industry know each other and because as he put it “a lot of the crap tech was discarded”. There is a lot of standing on the shoulders of giants, of building upon existing awesomeness rather than reinventing the wheel. It was interesting to hear as a person who has been in the tech industry for years to observe the consequences of less, large, quality players in a niche industry.

He also talked about the tech. It was interesting to learn that pretty much all air traffic control systems have become Linux based over the last few years (usually a forked and heavily modified Red Hat distro apparently), and that they take the Battlestar Galactica approach to security whereby they don’t have the systems networked or easily accessible and hence massively reduce the risks of cracking. Simple, low tech and extremely effective 🙂 A nice reminder that security doesn’t have to be overly complex, just well considered and  thought through.

The second conversation was with a cab driver in Melbourne, a lovely guy from Somalia with whom I got into a conversation about what is happening in Egypt and throughout the Middle East and Africa. He was happy for Egypt, but he was concerned because he thought the people’s uprising in Somalia didn’t result in a system that represented the needs of Somalians but rather split the country and rendered the government less capable. It was an interesting personal insight and I’m going to go and do some more research of the political histories of African countries. We also chatted about aid vs investment, and the challenge of generating wealth in a country vs just bringing external wealth in.

Lots of food for thought. I’m going to try to start blogging more again, even if it is just short pieces every week or two. It’s been far too long and I know I owe a few blogs I promised to do months ago! 🙂 I’ll be doing a blog about data vis later this week, and a long overdue one about linux.conf.au 2011 next week.