Category: Privacy

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The Life of Pi in the Electronic Silk Road

The Life of Pi presents an epic journey that a boy survives by maximizing spiritual strength in the most adverse circumstances. Called Pi, the boy harnesses curiosity, spirituality, and love to go through his adventurous “international” journeys through religions, cultures, and most notably nature with a stormy ocean.

In his new book The Electronic Silk Road: How the Web Binds the World in Commerce, Anupam Chander also narrates an epic journey that we must embark on in the digital age. Skillfully written with elegant prose, the book explores complex challenges posed by culture, politics, and technology associated with trade in information services.

As a boundless venue hosting trade in services, cyberspace turns out to be the ocean that Pi crossed. According to Anupam, it has enormous barriers blocking the freedom of trading information services in the global context. Culture matters. While some information services are totally fine in western societies, they may be seen as hostile to Islamic beliefs. Politics matters. It has resulted in information suppression in certain authoritarian countries. Technology matters. It facilitates the growth of information services. But it has been used to block trade in information services.

The great firewalls that exist in the electronic silk road best illustrate the difficulty of promoting trade in information services. As mighty as the storm and waves that Pi suffered on the ocean, they are utilized by repressive regimes to monitor, filter, and even shut down the Internet. In 2010 Google withdrew its operations from mainland China. This incident, as I understand from reading Anupam’s book, is a shipwreck as serious as the one that Pi remembers as the darkest day of his life. But it is also a shipwreck similar to the one that Pi regards as a new journey into knowing himself, other beings with him, and the world or nature at large.

On the one hand, Google’s retreat sounded the loudest alarm to the protection of freedom of information in repressive regimes. Nearly 1.3 billion Chinese citizens as well as many other fellow human beings are subject to cyberspace information suppression by authoritarian regimes. As Anupam bluntly reminds us, “[w]hen allied with willing Internet service providers, websites, software providers, and financial intermediaries, a government can gain an omniscience heretofore unknown.” In the digital age, it is the cross-border information services that supply state-of-the-art technologies and abundant financial resources to the authoritarian regimes.

On the other hand, the Google incident calls for immediate and long-term interventions in order to reshape cyberspace as a sphere free of uncivilized surveillance. This journey to information freedom is, indeed, as arduous as the one that Pi experienced across the ocean and continents. Religion, language, imagination, dignity, and even capacity for love all play an important part contributing to Pi’s triumph. The same applies to the journey toward information freedom. After all, people subject to information suppression live with (or without) different religions and speak different languages. Therefore, the capacity for a concerted effort to empower human dignity and love to address information suppression varies significantly across the world. Toward the end of book, Anupam hints that the World Trade Organization, an international institution that governs global trade both in goods and services, might be of little help to resolve this issue. Without any competent international organizations charting the map, the journey to the heaven of information freedom is destined to be a long and tricky adventure.

Reading The Electronic Silk Road together with The Life of Pi prompted me to think about issues that go beyond information suppression existing in repressive regimes. I realized that there are two major issues looming large in the digital age. While we enjoy the unprecedented freedom, convenience, and entertainment that digital technology can bring to us, we must ponder the dark side of digital technology and how the law should tackle it.

First and foremost, we can identify and understand the ways in which the ubiquity of information services can spawn profound problems. The Life of Pi conveys problems of this kind: hostility toward another religion and culture; indifference to other human beings deemed as inferior; and unwillingness to reciprocate others’ good deeds (Richard Parker, the tiger who has a human name, runs into the nearby jungle without a glance back). All these problems remain for Pi, although he has miraculously made it to shore. Online information services have caused similar problems. For example, the websites hosting information services are rife with fraud. Shortly after I posted an advertisement on Craigslist for subleasing my apartment last fall, I received several emails through which the senders attempted to persuade me to deposit money into their bank accounts before they took over the lease. After doing a bit research about online fraud, I could not help asking myself why there are so many people who choose fraud as their jobs.

Thus, digital technology is a double-edged sword. It promotes free flow of information and provides the social glue to bind many people together to wage revolutions against repressive regimes (e.g., the Jasmine Revolution). However, it also wields the power to alienate many people from the social network of direct interactions, leaving them increasingly alone in their spaces of egoism. Today, the majority of people on the subway spend much of their time using their smartphones or tablets. They appear in the tangible public spaces, but they confine themselves to those machines connected with the Internet, enjoying the private fun of checking Facebook or Twitter, playing electronic games, reading news, shopping online, or watching YouTube videos. Digital technology has facilitated widespread use of emails and text messages, further reducing the occasions for face-to-face conversations, greetings, or smiles. Thus, these trends raise the question whether digital technology promotes engagement with others or reinforces the individual quest for solitude. A new book by Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, has a comprehensive and nuanced discussion about this tangled issue.

How should the law tackle the double-edged nature of digital technology? Law is critically important in this regard, because it informs people of what they can and cannot do. Anupam teaches us that core to the law regulating trade mediated via cyberspace is the protection of “the right of individuals to share and receive information.” This core right prioritizes the “delivery and consumption” of information “regardless of frontiers” (p.202). His novel proposal that combines globalization together with harmonization of laws serves the full realization of this right.

But can celebration of the individual right to share and receive information offer means by which we can deal with the alienating effect of digital technology? In other words, does the language of rights really increase the consciousness of sharing information as it purports to? To some extent, it does. Anupam proves this with many vivid examples, particularly the Jasmine Revolution in which sharing information about freedom and democracy was the focal point. But as I discussed earlier and others’ works have proven, digital technology has also driven an increasing number of people to withdraw from traditional means of communication and confine themselves to an egoistic world of isolation.

I believe the language of responsibility can play a big part in dealing with this problem. In my recent article entitled Copyright and Responsibility, I point out that law “regulates human affairs through rules that require people to enjoy their freedoms and exercise their rights in responsible ways.” Responsibilities always come together with rights. Without the infusion with responsibilities, rights are meaningless. Persons are not only individuals but also social members of communities, countries, and the whole world. As social members, persons must not single-mindedly pursue only the realization of their individual rights. Rather, they should also constantly ask what responsibilities they should take on and how they can fulfill them in their social membership.

Anupam does mention the importance of responsibility. For example, he urges that Internet service providers follow the “Do No Evil” responsibility, which requires them not to collaborate with repressive regimes that suppress the free flow of information. Indeed, this responsibility is crucial. But should we also ask Internet service providers to take on more responsibilities to encourage people to spend slightly less time using computers, smartphones, or tablets and slightly more time interacting with others in various ways? In this sense, Internet service providers may have a responsibility to cultivate a healthy environment and culture for human interactions. A follow-up question is whether individuals should have the responsibility to spend slightly more time paying attention to others and their communities via computers, smartphones, or tablets.

Both The Life of Pi and The Electronic Silk Road prompt me to think more about the problems in the human world. The Life of Pi teaches me how a person can grow and mature through overcoming tough challenges and even evils. Anupam’s The Electronic Silk Road teaches me how globalized human societies can continue to flourish through overcoming the obstacles caused by national boundaries and the self-centered energy embedded in each human being. Both The Life of Pi and The Electronic Silk Road celebrate the beauty of human spirituality and its power to deter selfishness and even evil.

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On the NSA and Media Bias: An Extended Analysis

By Albert Wong and Valerie Belair-Gagnon, Information Society Project at Yale Law School

In a recent article in the Columbia Journalism Review, we reported that major US newspapers exhibited a net pro-surveillance bias in their “post-Edward Snowden” coverage of the NSA. Our results ran counter to the general perception that major media outlets lean “traditionally liberal” on social issues. Given our findings, we decided to extend our analysis to see if the same bias was present in “traditionally conservative” and international newspapers.

Using the same methods described in our previous study, we examined total press coverage in the Washington Times, one of the top “traditionally conservative” newspapers in the US. We found that the Washington Times used pro-surveillance terms such as security or counterterrorism 45.5% more frequently than anti-surveillance terms like liberty or rights. This is comparable to USA Today‘s 36% bias and quantitatively greater than The New York Times‘ 14.1% or the Washington Post‘s 11.1%. The Washington Times, a “traditionally conservative” newspaper, had the same, if not stronger, pro-surveillance bias in its coverage as neutral/”traditionally liberal”-leaning newspapers.

In contrast, The Guardian, the major UK newspaper where Glenn Greenwald has reported most of Snowden’s disclosures, did not exhibit such a bias. Unlike any of the US newspapers we examined, The Guardian actually used anti-surveillance terms slightly (3.2%) more frequently than pro-surveillance terms. Despite the UK government’s pro-surveillance position (similar to and perhaps even more uncompromising than that of the US government), the Guardian‘s coverage has remained neutral overall. (Neutral as far as keyword frequency analysis goes, anyway; the use of other methods, such as qualitative analysis of article tone, may also be helpful in building a comprehensive picture.)

Our extended results provide additional context for our earlier report and demonstrate that our analysis is “capturing a meaningful divide.”

On a further note, as several commenters suggested in response to our original report, the US media’s pro-surveillance bias may be a manifestation of a broader “pro-state” bias. This theory may be correct, but it would be difficult to confirm conclusively. On many, even most, issues, the US government does not speak with one voice. Whose position should be taken as the “state” position? The opinion of the President? The Speaker of the House? The Chief Justice? Administration allies in Congress? In the context of the Affordable Care Act, is there no “pro-state” position at all, since the President, the Speaker, and the Chief Justice each have different, largely irreconcilable views?

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Will We Be Ever Able To Go Off-grid Again? And Other Questions about the Electronic Silk Road

Will we ever be able to go off-grid again? What do we gain and lose if not? These questions came to mind as I was reading Anupam Chander’s Electronic Silk Road. The book is excellent. Indeed, these questions and the rest of this post’s ideas would not have come to mind had he not set out how the Electronic Silk Road operates and might operate. And my questions are perhaps prompted by a good book that addresses much and better still opens the doors to the next questions. Chander makes a strong case for benefits of a modern silk road where trust and trade work together and promote “net-work” which he defines as “information services delivered remotely through electronic communications systems.” This two way world facilitates labor shifted to Asia but also Google and Facebook spanning the globe with their services. His plea for new laws to address this change in trade makes sense. Our world of goods is fading to a world of digital things. Yet I wonder whether this new rule of trade maps to all the wonders we may want.

There may be unintentional irony here. Chapter One epigraph quotes Keynes “What an extraordinary episode in the economic progress of man that age was which came to an end in August, 1914!” Does trade stop war or at least make countries less likely to war against each other? Maybe. To get there Chander points out that, “the characteristics that permit net-work trade might be deployed to create a robust infrastructure for such trade: real-time information transfer, low information and other transactions costs, the ability of individuals around the world to collaborate, and electronic identification.” But the same systems that may promote trade can lead to greater surveillance and repression.

In other words, the recent spying amongst countries may be a good thing. I fear greater coordination amongst countries rather than friction. Chander calls this issue “Stalinization—the imposition of the world’s most repressive rules on cyberspace, in aggregated form.” He acknowledges this point at p. 197. Nonetheless this greater connection and improved grid may be inescapable. The idea that local laws must balance global over-reach does not appear to address what happens when the big boys agree. The electronic silk road thus seems to kill the romance of the silk road.

The Silk Road evokes adventure, the ability to test, change identities, and yet somehow trade worked. Failure on the Silk Road or even mistakes or cheating could be hidden by moving from the Road to some other country. In that sense, a modern system of trade on a global scale seems to defeat the room for play that Julie Cohen has described in Configuring the Networked Self. To where would one go to experiment, reinvent, and rehabilitate? Even with greater freedom to communicate things can go awry. A WTO response may be futile if all agree on bad behavior. Public shaming of corporations may mean little when they are forced to comply. To be clear, I agree with much of what Chander offers and have hope that the mitigation he offers will take it root. At bottom it may be a faith that discourse and debate defeats evil in all forms. Part of me thinks this idea is true. Part wonders whether we have come that far from the days leading up to World War I or II. If not, tighter understanding and trade may do less than both Chander and I hope. Then again Chander may be setting us up for the next step in his ideas. I certainly hope so.

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Opportunities and Roadblocks Along the Electronic Silk Road

977574_288606077943048_524618202_oLast week, Foreign Affairs posted a note about my book, The Electronic Silk Road, on its Facebook page. In the comments, some clever wag asked, “Didn’t the FBI shut this down a few weeks ago?” In other venues as well, as I have shared portions of my book across the web, individuals across the world have written back, sometimes applauding and at other times challenging my claims. My writing itself has journed across the world–when I adapted part of a chapter as “How Censorship Hurts Chinese Internet Companies” for The Atlantic, the China Daily republished it. The Financial Times published its review of the book in both English and Chinese.

International trade was involved in even these posts. Much of this activity involved websites—from Facebook, to The Atlantic, and the Financial Times, each of them earning revenue in part from cross-border advertising (even the government-owned China Daily is apparently under pressure to increase advertising) . In the second quarter of 2013, for example, Facebook earned the majority of its revenues outside the United States–$995 million out of a total of $1,813 million, or 55 percent of revenues.

But this trade also brought communication—with ideas and critiques circulated around the world.  The old silk roads similarly were passages not only for goods, but knowledge. They helped shape our world, not only materially, but spiritually, just as the mix of commerce and communication on the Electronic Silk Road will reshape the world to come.

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Introducing the Electronic Silk Road Online Symposium

Silk Road coverThis week, a great group will be blogging about Professor Anupam Chander’s book, The Electronic Silk Road: How the Web Binds the World Together in Commerce. Professor Chander is a leading scholar on globalization and digitization. He is Director of the California International Law Center and Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall Research Scholar at UC Davis. He has been a visiting professor at Yale Law School, the University of Chicago Law School, Stanford Law School, and Cornell Law School. He is also a dear friend. Nonetheless, it is time for us to do what we hope to do well, and if lucky, our friends do for us. That is, it is time to press Professor Chander about his work as it tries to show us how the new Silk Road operates, what it promises, what is yields, and what it threatens. Work and services are now blending, if not blended. Old rules for trade struggle to adapt to new rules for information. Where will we go from here? Join Professor Chander and our panelists including Paul Berman, Miriam Cherry, Graeme Dinwoodie, Nicklas Lundblad, Frank Pasquale, Pierluigi Perri, Adam Thierer, Haochen Sun, Fred Tung, and of course Danielle Citron and me for the fun this week.

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Heads Up 3D Printing and more: The Georgetown Law Journal Volume 102 Symposium: “Law in an Age of Disruptive Technology”

Folks,

As you know Gerard and I have been working up our paper Patents, Meet Napster: 3D Printing and the Digitization of Things . It will be part of The Georgetown Law Journal Volume 102 Symposium: “Law in an Age of Disruptive Technology” which will take place on Friday November 8, 2013. There will be panels about driverless cars and mass surveillance as well. We hope to see many of you there. (RSVP at this link).

It is a great honor to be part of this lineup:

Keynote Address by Professor Neal Katyal

3-D Printing
Chaired by Professors Deven Desai and Gerard Magliocca

Driverless Cars & Tort Liability
Chaired by Professor Bryant Walker Smith

Mass Surveillance Technology
Chaired by Professor Christopher Slobogin

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Upcoming Online Symposium on Professor Anupam Chander’s The Electronic Silk Road

Silk Road coverDanielle and I are happy to announce that next week, Concurring Opinions will host an online symposium on Professor Anupam Chander’s The Electronic Silk Road: How the Web Binds the World Together in Commerce. Professor Chander is a professor at U.C. Davis’s King Hall School of Law. Senators, academics, trade representatives, and pundits laud the book for its clarity and the argument Professor Chander makes. He examines how the law can facilitate commerce by reducing trade barriers but argues that consumer interests need not be sacrificed:

On the ancient Silk Road, treasure-laden caravans made their arduous way through deserts and mountain passes, establishing trade between Asia and the civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean. Today’s electronic Silk Roads ferry information across continents, enabling individuals and corporations anywhere to provide or receive services without obtaining a visa. But the legal infrastructure for such trade is yet rudimentary and uncertain. If an event in cyberspace occurs at once everywhere and nowhere, what law applies? How can consumers be protected when engaging with companies across the world?

But will the book hold up under our panel’s scrutiny? I think so but only after some probing and dialogue.

Our Panelists include Professor Chander as well as:

Paul Berman

Miriam Cherry

Graeme Dinwoodie

Nicklas Lundblad

Frank Pasquale

Pierluigi Perri

Adam Thierer

Haochen Sun

Fred Tung

And of course

Danielle Citron and I will be there too.

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Squaring Revenge Porn Criminal Statutes with First Amendment Protections

Yesterday, the New York Times editorial board endorsed the efforts of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative to criminalize revenge porn. As the editorial board urged, states should follow the lead of New Jersey in crafting narrow statutes that prohibit the publication of nonconsensual pornography. Such efforts are indispensable for victims whose lives are upended by images they shared or permitted to be taken on the understanding that they would remain confidential. No one should be able to turn others into objects of pornography without their consent. Doing so ought to be a criminal act.

Professor Mary Anne Franks has been at the forefront of legislative efforts in New York, Wisconsin, and Maryland. Soon, I will be blogging about the work Franks and I have done with Maryland legislators. Now, I would like to shift our attention to the First Amendment. As free speech scholar Eugene Volokh has argued elsewhere, non-consensual pornography can be criminalized without transgressing First Amendment guarantees. Let me explain why from the vantage point of my book Hate 3.0 (forthcoming Harvard University Press) and an essay Franks and I are writing for the Wake Forest Law Review. Read More

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Legal Developments in Revenge Porn: An Interview with Mary Anne Franks

A handful of state legislatures have recently passed or considered some different proposed bills to address the harm of non-consensual pornography (often called ‘revenge porn’). The topic of revenge porn raises important questions about privacy, civil rights, and online speech and harassment.

Law professor Mary Anne Franks has written previously on the topic in multiple venues, including in guest posts at Concurring Opinions. We were pleased to catch up with her recently to discuss the latest developments. Our interview follows:

**

Hi, Mary Anne! Thanks so much for joining us for an interview. This is a really interesting topic, and we’re glad to get your take on it.

I am delighted to be here! Thank you for having me.

Okay, some substantive questions. First, what is ‘revenge porn’? Read More

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Trust is a Funny Thing

Last time, we discussed briefly that Erving Goffman’s social theory gives us an interactional perspective on privacy as a social relationship of trust and discretion. But trust, like love and life, is a funny thing. Trust is sometimes confused with naivete (Marshall 1976) or hallowed by optimism (Millman 2001), but trust, and its corollary, discretion, are what makes social interaction possible. I would like us to think about privacy this way: trust and discretion are what online best practices should encourage; trust and discretion, not an individual right, are what society should actively protect.

This is not a common denominator approach (Solove 2001). I am not arguing that everything we traditionally think of as “private” is trust and discretion. Nor is this a pure social network approach (Strahilevitz 2005). I am not arguing that we should protect privacy based on the suggestion from social science research that individuals tend to share or disclose otherwise private facts about themselves when they assume that the disclosed facts will not jump from one social network to another. Professors Solove and Strahilevitz are correct in their warnings and recommendations. But I believe that protecting disclosures where trust and discretion exist add value to both of their important contributions in the following ways:

First, intimate sharing among strangers is a fact we cannot — and the law should not — ignore. Professor Strahilevitz’s masterful work, A Social Network Theory of Privacy, does a good job surveying some of the social network research about sharing. But that research is in its relative infancy, as we all acknowledge. What is missing is a detailed understanding of the type of information shared with different groups of friends, particularly bare acquaintances and strangers. I hope to contribute to this understanding with the quantitative and empirical portions of my dissertation. The beta version of my surveys seem to suggest that highly intimate — determined on a subjective scale — information is often shared with veritable strangers. If sharing with strangers exists, it seems like tilting at windmills for the law to try to erect barriers that we know will fall, at best, or create perverse incentives for social sharers and private industry, at worse.

Second, trust can exist among strangers (Macy and Skvoretz 1998) and further research into the social determinants of that trust can give us the tools we need to determine when it is reasonable for judge or jury to protect the privacy interests of certain actors. Much of the social science literature about trust among strangers is in the game theory context (Macy and Skvoretz 1998, Buchan 2002, Croson 2002, Grabner-Kraeuter 2002, etc.). The quantitative studies in my dissertation have the potential to help us understand privacy among strangers outside the decision-making and consumer context, but inside the friend/social sharing context. It is, for example, too simple to say that people “sext” because they don’t believe in or understand or think about or care about privacy. Nor is it enough to say that we engage with strangers in the physical world and online because we think our social networks are separate. I would like to prove that trust and discretion exist among strangers online when sufficient information exists to act as social cues for trustworthiness, with the most important cue being embeddedness, or connections to other individuals for whom the trustworthiness decision has already been made. That decision may, at times, be related to the target’s position in your social network. But more likely, embeddedness is an overarching factor for which social network position is a proxy, or social network position is but one in a series of cues for embeddedness. In either case, the social science evidence does not require us to stop at social network position. We need to take another step.

Much of this work is decidedly in the work-in-progress stage. I have appreciated the comments so far and look forward to any comments, questions from the CoOp community.