Protest, Porn, Gangbangers and Ubiquitous Computing

For this week’s blog post, we all had very different takes on the how the reading applied. See below how 4 people can find 4 distinct things interesting and applicable


Meredith- “Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance” – The Protests in Ukraine

One topic in current events that highlights the issues in this week’s readings is the protests currently occurring in Ukraine. Inside the larger story of the protests, there’s another story about privacy and the importance of the “actor network view.” On January 21, the government sent cell phone messages to people standing near the protests around the Parliament building in Kiev that read, “Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.” [New York Times]

The protests in Ukraine are partially in response to new restrictions on speech and assembly rights. The laws include “extrajudicial shutting down of websites and mandatory licensing of ISP services.” [TNW] The laws in question were established on January 16, after an earlier set of public protests following President Yanukovych’s decision not to sign a free trade agreement with the European Union. According to the author of the New York Times piece, Andrew Kramer, “The phrasing of the message, about participating in a ‘mass disturbance,’ echoed language in a new law making it a crime to participate in a protest deemed violent. [New York Times]

While chilling, the Washington Post claims that this type of text message is easy to send by using records of nearby cell towers. In the US, this information can be requested from providers like Verizon in the form of “tower dumps.” This request trawls the locations of all users around the tower, including non-suspects along with suspects. [Washington Post]

One of the issues that came up in the Weiser and Hong readings was issues of privacy, particularly when people are surrounded by computers in many/all contexts. When you’re passing through rooms with hundreds of computers in them, as Weiser envisions, how can you be sure that you’re only virtually visible to those whom you want to be? Without a policy around how information about cell phone location can be used, which would inform technical implications, information about location is open to abuse.  This issue is also very good example of Clark, Wroclawski, Sollins, and Braden’s “tussle,” in which two actors have different interests: in this case, the Ukrainian government and the protesters. One party has an interested in suppressing and intimidating certain voices, and another has an interest in both open access communication and free movement. What responsibilities do designers have in anticipation of this type of tussle?

Many people have cell phones on them at almost all times, and “cell site location data is considered metadata.” [Washington Post] However, as we discussed in Info 202, one person’s metadata is another person’s data, and in this case is being used to intimidate people within the area of the protests: “This incident highlights how location metadata — contrary to NSA defenders’ claims that such data isn’t sensitive — is incredibly powerful, especially in bulk, and can easily be used by governments to identify and suppress protesters attempting to exercise their right to free expression,” says Kevin Bankston, policy director for the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute. [Washington Post]

When Moor talks about computer ethics, he frames it as being a back and forth conversation between technology and our values. What’s the social impact of computer technology? One of his examples is, how do we define a computer program? Once we define it, do we consider it intellectual property to be protected by copyright or an implementation to be protected by a patent? And once we get there, do we as a society still think protecting intellectual property is important? If we decide it isn’t, where do we go from there? There’s still a conceptual gap in what we think of our cell phone location data as it relates to privacy, and what parts of our cell phone usage should be protected as private. The text message in Ukraine shows how a lack of a policy about privacy of phone location data, or an actor who’s able to circumvent that policy, can lead to abuse of information.

Paul- The Open Internet, Freedom of Speech, and Revenge Porn

    One of the major themes in this week’s readings is the importance of openness and freedom of expression on the internet. We generally associate the restriction of information on the internet with either government censorship or large organizations, such as the MPAA, protecting their intellectual property, however, the openness of information online can also be used to abuse individuals who do not have legal teams at their disposal. One type of abuse that has recently been in the news is revenge porn. In essence, this is the posting of explicit pictures or videos without the subject’s consent. Once these pictures or videos are online they can easily spread to many sites and threaten the reputation and professions of the victims(NY Daily News).

    Last week Hunter Moore, who operated on the the more infamous revenge porn sites was arrested (Rolling Stone). Moore was not arrested for posting nude pictures of women without their consent or for encouraging his followers to harass those women. He was arrested on charges of hacking and identity theft. This means that if Moore had limited his website to pictures submitted by angry exes, there would have been no legal repercussions for him.

    Several states, including California have passed laws targeting revenge porn but their effectiveness is questionable as they must contend with concerns over the first amendment. California’s law has been criticized for several loopholes: it does not apply to ‘selfies’, it only applies to people who post the content – not the hosting website, it only applies when there was an agreement of privacy, and there must be intent to cause emotional distress (Forbes). In other words, the law only applies to specific circumstances, requires substantial evidence for successful prosecution, and even then would not necessarily result in the content being removed.

    The court case ACLU v. Mukasey sheds some light on why it is difficult to create a more powerful law. The case struck down the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) in part because its invocation of community standards in defining harmful material was too broad. How could a law define revenge porn? If it is images that contain nudity or are sexual in nature then what would the threshold for nudity and sexuality be that would make the content illegal? This definition would likely come down to the same community standards that courts have found over broad. Even if a law creates an very narrow definition, perhaps images that include exposed genitalia, there is still the issue that there cases when posting this content is legitimate. The Forbes article brings up the case of former New York congressman and mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, who had explicit photos he had sent to various women leaked to the press. Was that a violation of his rights or was it legitimate evidence for a news story?

    Additionally, in ACLU v. Mukasey, the court found that there are less restrictive alternatives to accomplish the goals of COPA. This would also apply to revenge porn as there are existing ways to combat revenge porn; the problem is that these methods are often onerous for the victims. Victims can copyright offending images and file DMCA takedown requests (Daily Dot), but that requires them to track down sites that are hosting the content and potentially be ready to spend the time and money to take the case to trial if their request is ignored. It is unclear if this burden on individuals is sufficient for courts to allow more aggressive laws.

    At the iSchool, we are usually, and I would say rightly, defenders of free expression and openness on the internet. We should, however, keep in mind the negative effects of this openness and think of ways to make the internet safer for users while maintaining freedom of expression.


Shubham-Ubiquitous computing

Today devices are starting to move to the periphery of our consciousness than ever before. There are belts to help us attain a better posture, there are watches to help us navigate better, there are rings that help us use public transit. We are now a part of the future that Mark Weiser talked about in the article “The computer for the 21st century”.

With this deep integration of computers into our ethos, we are opening the gate to new privacy issues. I would like to compare the lock and key days to where doors are unlocked by sensors, phones, rings and cards. Today as I move around between different building on the UC Berkeley campus I leave behind digital bread crumbs that can be put together narrow down my location and behavioral patterns. There are some interesting information that can be drawn from this data like my favorite place to work, when am I most productive to predicting where I can be found on a particular day of the week or if I am likely to be alone or have company.

Today devices like Lockitron, that can unlock doors using a mobile phone are gaining popularity. When conversations moved from pen and paper to the cloud via the use of email we became susceptible to mass surveillance. Which makes me think when my house key moves to the cloud whom am I inviting into my life.


Janine- The Wireless, Privacy, Transparency and COPA.              

The article, “The Wireless” by Rachel Swann, recently ran in SF Weekly on January 15, 2014 ( This article describes how the NSA, under the guise of the Hemisphere Project, requested massive amounts of call data from phone companies such as AT&T to gain intelligence and evidence against gang members and drug runners; the collection and analysis of this data may have violated the suspects’ 4th amendment rights. The article brings up many interesting issues that relate to some of the themes in the reading this week, specifically: privacy, computer ethics, and three prong strict scrutiny tests.

The facts in the case, US v Ortiz, presented in “The Wireless” article are as follows: In South San Francisco, members of the Nuestra Family gang were suspected of being involved in a drive by shooting against their rival gang, the Sureno gang; 3 people were killed in the drive by, and 6 others were injured. As we’ve all seen on shows like The Wire, most criminals use disposable phones that are hard to trace to a specific individual. To get around the difficulty of tracing disposable phones, investigators got help from the NSA Hemisphere Project. The Hemisphere project collected phone/calling records in masse from phone companies. Then, using big data/analytic techniques, investigators looked for calling behaviors that revealed a pattern of calls being placed at certain times in certain geographic locations to certain places. Once investigators found a common thread that could relate the suspected Nuestra gang members to the drive by shooting, they then officially requested the phone records with an official court subpoena.

Now that details and inner workings of the secret Hemisphere Project are slowly revealed, many privacy advocates feel that the mass collection, analysis, and geolocation tracking of phone record data could lead to invisible abuse; although the mass surveillance Hemisphere Project is targeted at criminals, its possible that the system could be used to target peaceful protesters and other political dissidents. Many feel that the mass collection of phone-data leads to a violation of individuals 4th amendment rights.

In an earlier 1979 case, Smith v. Maryland, the supreme court ruled individuals could not expect a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in regards to their phone data/phone records; data collected by phone companies is not protected by the 4th amendment. Nonetheless, the US v Oritz case brings the current phone privacy policy into a muddle; the added layer of the Hemisphere Project ability to collect geolocation data adds a level of surveillance and complexity that was not present in 1979 Smith v. Maryland case. In 1979, no one ever anticipated that the government/police would have the computing capacity to collect and analyze the publics’ phone record in mass. Perhaps if the court would have known or anticipated these technologies, outcome and policies from Smith v. Maryland case would have been different.

As it stands now, the US v Oritz case has yet to be decided. It will be interesting to see how the court rules in relation to 4th amendment rights. An interesting as aspect of the COPA case that we had to read this week was how the 3rd Court of Appeals used the three pronged strict scrutiny test. To test the lower district court’s ruling, the 3rd Court of appeals set up the following test see if COPA violated the first amendment:

1. COPA is not narrowly tailored to the compelling interest of Congress; 2. The defendant has failed to meet his burden of showing that COPA is  least restrictive and most effective alternative in achieve the compelling interest; 3. COPA is impermissibly vague and overbroad

Although the 1st and 4th amendment deal with very different rights and issues, the above test may also raise some useful and interesting questions when the court evaluates the Hemisphere Project via the US v Oritz case. For instance: Is the Hemisphere project too broad? After all, law enforcement is engaging in a massive phone-record dragnet on all US citizens. Next, Are there other ways that involve less mass surveillance and achieve more effective outcomes that outcomes produced by the hemisphere project? Last, is the Hemisphere project impermissibly vague and overboard in its surveillance of suspects? Under what terms, conditions, and circumstances (if at all) is it acceptable for law enforcement to use the Hemisphere Project as means to gather evidence on suspected criminals? These are just some of the many things that court will have to think about when it makes it ruling the US v Oritz case.