What is at stake for human rights in the design of Internet protocols?

This article was originally published on the Kennedy School Review on May 13, 2019.

Sudanese Americans rally outside the White House in Washington, Saturday, June 8, 2019, in solidarity with Pro-democracy protests in Sudan. Image Credit: AP. From: Sudan protesters try to rekindle movement. Grapple with power outage, blocked internet and heightened security – Gulf News.

Over the last decade, political and legislative bodies have started to codify the relationship between the Internet and human rights. In 2012, the Human Rights Council (HRC) of the United Nations adopted a resolution to protect the free speech of individuals on the Internet–the first UN resolution of its kind. In 2014, a UN General Assembly resolution called on states to “respect and protect the right to privacy” in the digital age. These efforts have mostly focused on safeguarding human rights online from a legal and regulatory perspective. However, they did not consider how the development and governance of the Internet infrastructure can affect the rights of Internet users.

A critical component of this infrastructure are Internet protocols, which define the rules and conventions for communication between networks. By enabling and controlling the exchange of information at a global scale, protocols have the potential for far-reaching economic and social consequences.

This article will provide an introduction to Internet protocols, explain how their design can affect the rights of global users, and describe possible paths to a human rights enabling approach for developing and maintaining the Internet infrastructure.

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Decolonizing technology: A reading list

Western culture has long been defining how the world came to existence, its history, and how it works from a perspective which is centred on a Western and white point of view. While this specific paradigm has been the dominant position of power, others have been hegemonized by it, their cultures and experiences dismissed and excluded.

AFRO CYBER RESISTANCE – Tabita Rezaire. Continue reading Decolonizing technology: A reading list

The Ethics of Algorithms: notes, emerging questions and resources

Tweets relating to Ferguson after Michael Brown was shot. Map based on mentions of the city and other related key words. Via The Huffington Post.

Algorithms are ruling an ever-growing portion of our lives.
They are adopted by health insurances to assess our chances to get sick, by airlines to make our flights safer, by social media companies to attract our attention to ads, by governments to predict criminal activity.
They can guess with great accuracy a lot of things about us, such as gender, sexual orientation, race, personality type – and can also be applied to influence our political preferences, control what we do, target what we say and, in extreme cases, limit our freedom.

This is not to say that the computational algorithm model should have an evil reputation. Both algorithms and human judgement can be beneficial, malicious, biased – and even wrong. The main difference between them is that over the years (centuries) we developed a pretty good understanding of how human judgement works, while, when it comes to algorithms, we’re just starting to get to know each other.

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How to design a financial transparency strategy with a role-playing game

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 6.59.19 PMFrom Transparency International‘s Financial Jargon Buster: Illicit Financial Flows.

Grateful thanks to Lucy Chambers for the thoughtful feedback provided on this post.

When we talk about financial transparency, numbers and data are understandably what first comes to mind. But are the platforms and portals collecting all that, the real starting point of our work? And how can we make sure that a particular technology which proved successful for a project whose execution we admire, would actually fit the ecosystem we’re working with?

Sounds like our starting point before kicking off any project should actually be much more lo-fi and hands-on: an offline analysis combining our learnings from the most remarkable case studies with a well-tailored and flexible understanding of the context we’re working with.

The interest in exploring a possible answer to this need got Jean Brice Tetka (Transparency International), Jay Bhalla (Open Institute) and me together in a breakout session during the recent Follow The Money workshop.

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On financial transparency and technology: notes from the Follow The Money workshop

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 3.15.47 PMFrom BudgIT’s Abacha’s Loot – Where are the returned funds?

Financial transparency can make governments, companies, politics and citizens accountable for their actions and help us fighting corruption in our societies. But how can we design frameworks to create and strengthen a transparent ecosystem? How can a multitude of actors with a diversity of professional backgrounds join their forces to learn from each other and build such frameworks?

These were just some of the burning questions fueling the conversations of the over 100 people getting ready to join the Follow The Money workshop taking place in Berlin on January 20-21. Organised by Transparency and Accountability Initiative, the workshop aimed at gathering policy campaigners, NGO leaders, programmers, researchers, funders and activists from all around the world to encourage connections and collaborations between them, as part of a collective action within the Follow The Money network.

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On data storytelling – and how to make it responsibly

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetPicture from the Responsible Data Storytelling session, by Beatrice Martini (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Thanks to Nasma Ahmed, Renee Black and Sarah Moncelle for collaborating on editing this blogpost.

Stories are a key element of knowledge, and as such fuel evidence and empowerment. They can help communicate problems and challenges we might not have experienced personally, but that are key to be aware of in order to inform our understanding and agency as active members of our societies.

A compelling way to tell stories is through data. Presented as numbers, percentages and visualisations, data can transmit a message directly and sharply, often also helping going beyond misunderstandings caused by language or tone unclarity in our communication.

But are all data good (as in “not harmful”)? Is “the more the merrier” the most helpful way to work with them? Spoiler alert: no, and no.

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Notes from the 2014 Nonprofit Software Development Summit

photoPicture by Beatrice Martini (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Last November I had the great opportunity to join the Nonprofit Software Development Summit.

Organised by Aspiration, the gathering convened a widely diverse crowd, more than 100 people between activists, developers, students, campaigners, nonprofit staff members passionate about creating technology for nonprofit and social justice efforts. I had first heard about it from Misty Avila (Aspiration) and since reading Dirk Slater’s write-up about his 2013 summit experience I had it saved in my check-this-out wish list!

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