Netizen Report: India, France Eye New Surveillance Laws
The Netizen Report originally appears each week on Global Voices Advocacy. Hae-in Lim, Lisa Ferguson, Bojan Perkov, Weiping Li, Lakshmi Sarah, Ellery Roberts Biddle, and Sarah Myers contributed to this report.
Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in Djibouti, where journalists at the newspaper and website La Voix de Djibouti have faced a series of threats in recent weeks. On Dec. 4, two journalists covering a police raid on market stallholders were physically beaten; on Dec. 7, another was arrested “for no obvious reason”; and on Dec. 12, another was arrested for covering a protest in a slum, and his mobile phone and other electronics were seized. In the last case, the slum in question had been demolished [link in French] by the government on Nov. 22, leaving 4,000 people homeless—a tragedy that was only made known thanks to La Voix, which used social media to spread the story. Unfortunately this is nothing new. In 2011, six journalists affiliated with La Voix spent more than four months in prison. Djibouti is ranked 167th of 179 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2013 World Press Freedom Index.
Thuggery: Dozens of Cubans detained on Human Rights Day.
Somewhere between a few dozen and a few hundred people—including punk rockers, intellectuals, dissidents, and a pair of Argentine tourists—were detained last week in Cuba. Twitter users reported that throughout Havana, opposition activists attempting to gather for international Human Rights Day were stopped and taken into temporary custody by state security officials. Conflicting accounts have made it difficult to confirm precisely how many people were detained.
Egyptian blogger and political activist Alaa Abd El Fattah, who was arrested two weeks ago in Cairo after helping to organize a demonstration, was charged under Egypt’s new “anti-protest” law, which prohibits public demonstration without prior authorization from government officials.
A story about self-censorship in Serbian media disappeared from the website of the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia when the site was hacked last week. Dunja Mijatovic, the representative on freedom of the media for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, expressed concern about the incident, saying to reporters, “I trust the authorities will do their utmost to protect the culture of free Internet that exists in Serbia. A free Internet is a precondition for free media to thrive.”
Assaults on media workers, activists, and artists continue in Syria. Cartoonist Akram Raslan, who was arrested in October 2012 by the Assad regime, may have been killed following a show trial, though some have refuted these claims. Raslan won the Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning (issued by Cartoon Rights Network International) this year for his work. Nonviolent activist Razan Zaitouneh was kidnapped along with three others from Syria’s Violations Documentation Center on the outskirts of Damascus on Dec. 9. Prior to her kidnapping, Zaitouneh had received threats from both the regime and extremist groups. Syria’s Local Coordinators Committee demanded the release of the activists and has asked others to join their campaign.
Media workers at several prominent political radio stations and news sites in Syria are working with international press freedom groups to demand an end to media worker abuses in the country. Learn more about the Free Press for Syria campaign here.
Surveillance: New spy regimes for France and India?
Surveillance à la française: Article 13 of France’s defense law [link in French], passed on Dec. 11, vastly expands the scope of government surveillance, allowing more government entities to collect more types of information for more reasons. The law will allow intelligence agencies—as well as the Ministry for Economy and Finance—to monitor “electronic and digital communications” in real time without authorization from the National Commission for the Control of Security Intercepts, the body responsible for oversight up until now.
The government of India may soon seek to store all Internet data for Indian domain names within its borders. An internal note from the Subcommittee on International Cooperation on Cybersecurity read, “Mere location of root servers in India would not serve any purpose unless we were also allowed a role in their control and management. We should insist that data of all domain names originating from India … should be stored in India. Similarly, all traffic originating/landing in India should be stored in India.” Although NSA revelations were a significant trigger for this move, the government of India has long advocated for a changes in global Internet governance that would place the domain name system and the responsibilities of ICANN under a multilateral (rather than U.S.-centric) governance framework.
Free Expression: New laws limit speech in Spain, Kazakhstan, Romania.
This week, draft legislation in Spain that would restrict civil rights and limit activism met dramatic public opposition. The bill prohibits organizing and participating in demonstrations online and offline without giving prior notification to the government.
Several Internet users in Kazakhstan are currently being prosecuted for libel. Critics see this as a new approach to information control by the Kazakh government, which has a long history of online censorship. Kazakhstan consolidated control of the Internet with a 2009 law subjecting Internet content to stringent controls.
The Romanian Chamber of Deputies recriminalized offenses of libel and insult through what critics described as a murky legislative process. Local press freedom and human rights groups are pushing to prevent the law from going into force—President Traian Basescu still has time to veto the changes.
Privacy: European body says retention rules look risky.
The European Court of Justice ruled that data retention obligations for telecommunication companies and Internet providers can constitute “a serious interference” in the right to privacy. The EU Data Retention Directive (2006) requires telecoms and ISPs to store communications data of their users for six months to two years. The court also stated that the directive was incompatible with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Copyright: TPP pushes stiff penalties for “accidental” copyright violations.
The U.S. government is pushing full steam ahead on Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, but the agreement's copyright and intellectual property proposals continue to be met with resistance from activists in the Americas and Southeast Asia. According to leaked documents from recent TPP talks in Singapore, the current language under debate proposes making “unintentional infringements of copyright” a criminal offense.
Industry: No more FreeWeibo for China's Apple users.
Apple removed the anti-censorship application FreeWeibo from its China app store in compliance with a request from the Chinese government. Developed by Radio Netherlands Worldwide and Chinese cyber-activists, the software allows users to read censored postings on Chinese microblog Sina Weibo.
Internet Insecurity: Hacking the G20?
Since 2010, Chinese hackers have been using malware to spy on the foreign ministries of the Czech Republic, Portugal, Bulgaria, Latvia, and Hungary, according to a report by U.S. computer security company FireEye. The targeted “Ke3Chang” campaign allowed hackers to eavesdrop on foreign ministries in the lead-up to the September 2013 G20 summit.
Social networking tools have helped sustain the Euromaidan protests in the Ukraine, helping to protesters organize and inform the public about new developments.
The U.S.-made Web filtering software SmartFilter is apparently not so clever—the program has reportedly blocked Web pages belonging to a church, a jazz music institute, and an adult rehabilitation center, all in the United States, after wrongly identifying their content as porn. The filtering software has been deployed in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Publications and Studies
- “Information Economy Report 2013: The Cloud Economy and Developing Countries”—U.N. Conference on Trade and Development
- “2013 Internet Monitor Annual Report: Reflections on the Digital World”—Berkman Center for Internet and Society
- “Privacy and Data Protection: 2013 Year in Review”—McDermott, Will & Emory
- “Privacy and Cloud Computing in Public Schools”—Center on Law and Information Policy, Fordham Law School
- “Time to step up: The EU and freedom of expression”—Index on Censorship
- “Blasphemy: Information Sacrificed on Altar of Religion”—Reporters Without Borders
People Surprisingly Cool With Sensor-Equipped Smart Toilets, DIY Ultrasound
If the results from a new survey conducted by Intel are any indication, the future of health care is going to be weird. Of 18,000 adults polled across eight countries, 70 percent were “receptive” to the use of next-gen health devices. These include prescription pill bottles with sensors that report missed doses, ingestible health monitors that collect ongoing data about your insides, and even toilets equipped with sensors that report back to your doctor. Moreover, 80 percent had no problem sharing such information anonymously if doing so might contribute to lower health care costs.
Obviously, these are the results of just a single survey, but the numbers are rather surprising. In a world in which the erosion of privacy makes headlines each day, a whopping majority of folks apparently wouldn’t have a problem with Big Brother picking through their excrement. Smart toilets and wearable/swallow-able health tech won’t be the first technological conveniences to put our privacy at risk, of course. Last year the CIA basically admitted it would be able to track persons of interest through smart refrigerators and other networked household appliances.
But privacy isn’t the only interesting issue raised by Intel’s survey. There’s also the question of what the future of the health industry even looks like. More than one-half of the study’s participants believed traditional hospitals would become obsolete in the future, perhaps because 53 percent said “they would trust a test they personally administered as much or more than if performed by a doctor.” (Italics and disbelief mine.) About one-third of those polled felt they could pull off their own ultrasounds.
Start looking for a new job, ultrasound technicians. We got this.
These findings, whether optimistic or misguided, show a growing expectation that doctors will one day soon be making house calls again via virtual technologies. Nearly three-quarters of the participants were open to meeting with their doctor remotely, an option that could save everyone time and money, as well as potentially providing a superior patient experience.
Naturally, there are many situations in which a real-life doctor will be preferable to an intelligent toilet or a talking head on a screen, and Intel’s survey hints at one of those sticking points. The survey identified a robot performing surgery as “the innovation least likely to be incorporated by the global population.” Perhaps that’s fair, as robot-assisted surgeries have recently come under fire for not accurately portraying the risks involved.
So, who do you think will have more malpractice lawsuits filed against them in the future—the robots or the DIY-patients?
(Hat-tip: Christopher Mims at Quartz)
Is This Funny-Looking Tricycle a Commuter's Dream Vehicle?
This past summer, Organic Transit, a small company in Durham, N.C., completed construction of the 51 enclosed, electrically assisted tricycles that it sold earlier in the year through a successful Kickstarter campaign. I visited Organic Transit’s founder and chief executive officer, Rob Cotter, to find out more about this intriguing little vehicle—and to give it a test ride.
The company and its new product—the Elf—is certainly something different. Normally, when you say “cycling,” what comes to mind is the classic safety bicycle, which was developed in the late 1800s. While lots of people continue to use this sort of bicycle for getting around town, for many folks, cycling is just not a practical means of transportation, even if they’re not going far. It may be raining, for example. Or they might need to carry more groceries home than they can comfortably tote on a bike. Or maybe the problem is that once they’ve got the bicycle all loaded up, they won’t be able to tackle that big hill on the way back from the supermarket. Or perhaps they just don’t want to risk getting hurt if they wipe out.
Bicycle makers have recognized these problems for a long while, but few companies have attempted to address them. Organic Transit is the latest to take on this long-standing challenge. Its three-wheeled Elf adopts what’s known as the “tadpole configuration,” with two wheels in front and one in the rear. In this respect, it’s similar to many of the velomobiles that have come before it. But unlike most of those earlier models, it wasn’t designed low and sleek to slip through the air. Rather, the Elf’s designers had safety and comfort at low speeds in mind, which is why the rider sits high and why the plastic body of this vehicle is not particularly aerodynamic.
While the Elf is certainly cute and will provide an attractive way to get around for some people, I came away from my visit with Organic Transit a bit skeptical. To me, the Elf, small as it is by car standards, seemed way too big and heavy. (It’s almost 70 kilograms—150 pounds.) So you can’t, say, carry it up a flight of stairs as you can with most any bike. And forget about taking it someplace in or on your car.
It’s also not clear to me how easily you could maneuver something that’s 122 centimeters (48 inches) wide on a typical bike path or on the shoulder of the road. During my short test drive, I kept the Elf in the middle of the lane, as you would a car, rather than trying to hug the shoulder, as I usually do on my bike. Unless you’re keeping to places with very low speed limits, that’s not going to win any friends on the road.
My final critique reflects something that Cotter and his colleagues are well aware of: The Elf seems a bit of a rattletrap. Indeed, this trike is, literally, a “rattle” trap, because each clunk you experience when you hit a pothole, say, reverberates around the cabin. Cotter says that he and his colleagues are working on that problem, but it’s hard for me to see how they’ll be able to find a solution that doesn’t just exacerbate the weight issue.
Organic Transit is planning to introduce early next year a larger pedal-electric vehicle called the TruckIt, designed to carry 227 to 363 kilograms (500 to 800 pounds) of cargo. As much as I applaud its efforts to make cycling serve people’s practical needs, I would have preferred to see the company focus its design talent on something toward the smaller, lighter end. But if they succeed with the Elf and the TruckIt, maybe they’ll do that too.
Why the FBI Thinks Warrantless Drone Surveillance Is Constitutional
The FBI believes that warrantless drone surveillance is constitutionally permissible—hardly a surprise from an agency that has spent $3 million dollars on drones since 2006. But in drawing this conclusion, the FBI relies on case law that supports warrantless aerial surveillance from manned aircraft, not unmanned aircraft. Is this a distinction that might make a difference?
Perhaps. True, there’s no authoritative case law on unmanned aerial surveillance quite yet. But the cases cited by the FBI (in a slideshow acquired by Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington through a Freedom of Information Act request) contain clues that could distinguish drone surveillance from its manned predecessors.
For example, in California v. Ciraolo (1986), the Supreme Court upheld the warrantless aerial surveillance of an individual’s marijuana garden, located in his backyard and protected from ground-level view by tall fences. The Supreme Court reasoned that “any member of the public flying in this airspace who glanced down could have seen everything that these officers observed,” and found that the Fourth Amendment did not require a warrant for what was “visible to the naked eye.” This logic explicitly turns on what humans—and here, any human—would be able to see. Florida v. Riley (1989), also cited by the FBI, involves this same type of “naked eye” observation.
Gazing at Virtual Nature Is Good for Your Psychological Well-Being
Environmental psychologists have long known that encounters with the natural world are good for us. But nature can now also be found in our virtual lives—in the photos we share online, the games we play, even the words we use. And it seems to help soothe our connected minds.
Cyberspace is full of the images and language of nature. For example, does your desktop wallpaper feature a waterfall, a forest, or a beach? Do you harvest tomatoes in Farmville, explore the exotic territories of World of Warcraft, or wander around in Second Life? Perhaps, like some Grand Theft Auto fans, you even share photos of its landscapes on Flickr.
If so, you’re experiencing nearby nature via your phone, tablet, or computer screen. And it is almost certainly doing you some good.
In the 1980s, experimental psychologists Rachel and Stephen Kaplan studied the effects of nature on people. They found that small glimpses of the natural world—“nearby nature”—could have measurable effects on well-being. Even an insignificant or faraway sight, such as a few trees viewed through a window, could still give us a good feeling.
The Kaplans found that people with access to nearby natural settings were healthier than those without. And these subjects also experienced increased levels of satisfaction with their home, job, and life in general.
Nearby nature does not have to be beautiful or complex. And, surprisingly, you do not have to be actually outside to gain the benefits. Many studies that have looked at this have taken place indoors, using images rather than the real thing. The effect is still potent when viewed through a window or seen in a photograph or video. A painting, even a wall calendar, can have a similarly beneficial effect.
These findings complement biologist E.O. Wilson’s writings on biophilia, the attraction to life and lifelike processes. They are also linked to biophilic design, an architectural practice championed by social ecologist Stephen Kellert. Biophilic design connects buildings to the natural world to create environments where people feel and perform better. Designs might include gardens, water features, and shapes mimicking those from nature like shells and foliage. There will be natural materials, plenty of light, and open spaces.
It might seem unlikely that the digital world can provide similar kinds of healing environments. But there is a link between the results described above and today’s virtual landscapes. The measurably beneficial effects of nearby nature often occurred when they were viewed on a screen.
In 2008, cognitive neuroscientist Marc Berman reported that walking round a park produced more beneficial effects than walking in an urban environment. His experiment involved stressing subjects, then testing their responses in both places.
Psychologist Deltcho Valtchanov wanted to try the same test in virtual environments, so he set up three virtual reality spaces: a nature island with waterfalls, rivers, different kinds of trees, flowers, plants, grass, rocks, a beach, and dirt paths; an assortment of 3-D geometric shapes including colored spheres, cylinders, cones, and rectangular and square boxes of various sizes; and a scale model of Shibuya station in Tokyo, a dense urban area with realistic and full-scale buildings and streets that was unfamiliar to any participants.
Using Berman’s methods, he tested the reactions of 69 subjects and found that the virtual nature space prompted an increase in positive affect—happiness, friendliness, affection, and playfulness. At the same time, negative affect—fear, anger, and sadness—decreased. Results in the other two spaces, the geometric shapes and Shibuya station, were far less marked. Valtchanov concluded that virtual nature was responsible rather than the state of virtual reality.
I called this phenomenon “technobiophilia”—the innate attraction to life and lifelike processes that are found in technology. Images of nearby nature on our phones and computers can alleviate mental fatigue. They enhance our attention, help us cope with distraction, and generally improve our well-being.
What might happen if we consciously experimented with adding technobiophilia to our wired lives? We already share nearby nature when we post our photos of rosy sunsets, blooming gardens, and tranquil lakes online. Could we apply biophilic design to our hardware and software to help us feel and perform better? If we did, we might find a more healthy and productive balance between tech and nature.
60 Minutes' NSA Report: An Awful Lot Like MTV Cribs
If you caught 60 Minutes' "inside look" at the National Security Agency on Sunday night, you might've felt a sense of déjà vu. Just a couple of weeks ago, the show did a puff piece about another secretive organization, Amazon, which amounted to an hour-long infomercial topped off by surprise delivery drones that won't be anything but viral marketing fodder any time soon. It makes one wonder whether the premise of the program, once a staple of journalism, now has more in common with something like MTV Cribs, wherein TV cameras get "unprecedented access" in exchange for massaging celebrity ego.
We're guided by CBS correspondent John Miller, himself a former employee of the office of the director of National Intelligence, as he schmoozes in various cyber-bunkers within the NSA's Fort Meade, Md., headquarters. We start in the office of NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander, who is allowed to rehash his usual weasel-worded speech about the NSA's dragnet surveillance programs. "The fact is we're not collecting everybody's email, we're not collecting everybody's phone things, we're not listening to that," the general says, using Miller's softball to ignore that none of the disclosures have actually alleged any of those things.
Indeed, Alexander asserts, the agency focuses on foreign nationals and is only actively targeting "50 or 60" individuals described as "U.S. persons.” But that is also misleading, as documents have shown the NSA regularly (albeit “inadvertently”) collects communications involving Americans and can hand that information over to other agencies, including the CIA and FBI. In fact, declassified court documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation show that the NSA repeatedly ignored rulings from the secret FISA court that restricted its use of Americans’ information.
Alexander also responded to a report from the Washington Post showing that the agency tapped Google and Yahoo's internal data center links, saying "We're not going into a facility or targeting Google as an entity or Yahoo as an entity." But again, no one has alleged they are "going into a facility"—the report, from late October, shows the NSA wiretapped the links between the facilities. Google's irate engineers have since responded by encrypting those links, and both Yahoo and Microsoft have announced they plan to do the same by next year.
Miller also gave the agency an opportunity to take pot shots at whistleblower Edward Snowden, with Miller describing him as a "twentysomething high-school drop-out contractor." In a dimly-lit computer command center (wow, was that a shot of a Windows XP login screen?), Rick Ledgett, the man at the NSA in charge of investigating the Snowden incident, said that in his view it's "worth having a conversation" about whether to grant Snowden amnesty. Alexander disagreed, comparing Snowden to a "hostage taker" and saying that he "should be held accountable for [his] actions." (Late Sunday, the White House seemed to respond by putting that question to rest, siding with the general.)
The program provided lots of talking points, but little in the way of new information, instead hinging squarely on the fact that we're being allowed to see this stuff or talk to these analysts at all. With Amazon, we were taken on a journey through humming "fulfillment centers," waiting to meet our every desire. With NSA, we're meant to see their swanky, blue-lighted briefing room and conclude that the agency is misunderstood and villainized, even as it continues to be caught in lies and half-truths. After all, they're letting us into their awesome information command center—we wouldn't want to be rude and ask the wrong questions!
But hey—what’s in the NSA’s fridge?
Why Google Bought a Fleet of Military Robots
Google just bought a fearsome fleet of robots.
The company confirmed a New York Times report that it has acquired Boston Dynamics, the Massachusetts-based maker of such noted mechanical beasts as BigDog, Atlas, Petman, Cheetah, and Wildcat. The company’s robots are among the world’s most advanced two- and four-legged machines. Some are humanoid, while others resemble predatory animals. Most have been developed under contract with military agencies, including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.
What might Google want with an army of military robots? At first gasp, the answer might seem to be, “conquering the world.” But that doesn’t seem to be the goal—at least, not in a military sense. Google told the Times it will honor Boston Dynamics’ existing contracts, including a $10.8 million deal with DARPA to develop its Atlas prototype for potential humanitarian use in disasters like the Fukushima meltdown. But Google added that it does not plan to become a military contractor itself.
Instead, my guess is that the company sees the development of physical robots as a natural extension of its core interest in artificial intelligence. Google has been working for years on teaching machines to understand language, make sense of images and videos, and navigate real-world environments. Now it will have a new set of toys—er, tools—on which to test out its machine-learning theories. Boston Dynamics, by the way, is the company's eighth robotics-related acquisition in the past year alone.
What practical use they’ll ultimately serve is anyone’s guess. Google itself probably doesn’t know at this point. But it has put one of its top executives—former Android chief Andy Rubin—to work full-time figuring that out. (The Times had a good story on Rubin earlier this month.)
From all the press Boston Dynamics’ DARPA bots have gotten, you might think this acquisition would be a big blow to national security. In fact, as I’ve explained before, the company’s robots are a long way from being truly useful in the field. DARPA, like Google, was more interested in using them to learn what is and isn’t possible than to actually aid in any upcoming military efforts. With Boston Dynamics out of play, the field should now be open for other robotics companies to snap up those military-research contracts. Fellow Massachusetts-based company iRobot—maker of the Roomba, but also more advanced projects like the PackBot bomb-disposal robot—comes to mind.
For now, here’s a look at some of Boston Dynamics’ greatest hits, which are now officially GoogleBots—and which may be among the last of their breed.
Previously in Slate:
E-Waste Map Shows Where Old Tech Really Goes to Die
Obsolescence doesn’t make old gadgets disappear, but it does make people forget about them. And that’s a problem. A new U.N. report shows that the volume of e-waste worldwide will rise 33 percent by 2017 to 65.4 million tons.
A lot of the issue comes from the United States, which has the most annual e-waste with 9.4 million tons, and an average of about 65 pounds per person. China follows up with 7.3 million tons total, but only about 12 pounds per individual.
The “Solving the E-Waste Problem” (StEP) Initiative also released an interactive map that shows country-level e-waste data around the world for anything with a battery and/or a power cord. The map allows easy access to information about a country’s population, average individual purchasing power, e-waste put on the market and generated per year, and any disposal regulations currently in place in for e-waste.
E-waste is an environmental and health concern because it can cause heavy metals and other toxic substances to contaminate soil and water. Additionally, people looking to recover precious metals or other parts sometimes scavenge and break down devices that were not disposed of properly, and in the process they can release toxins into the air.
As the Guardian points out, Interpol also released a statement last month indicating that e-waste from industrialized countries is being illegally unloaded on developing nations. Interpol is initiating criminal investigations into 40 companies, citing agent reports that for every three containers being checked on their way out of the EU, one holds some type of illegal e-waste. Exporting old electronics is not necessarily illegal if they are being repurposed or reused in some way, but Interpol says that much of the “exporting” going on is really tantamount to dumping.
To keep up with rising e-waste rates and movement around the globe, the StEP Initiative says the data sets that power the map will be updated regularly.
Study: Student Data Not Safe in the Cloud
It used to be that failing a math test in the fourth grade wouldn’t haunt you long after you graduated (even if it might get you grounded). No longer.
American schools are migrating online, providing parents with real-time academic results. The cloud services that remotely host this information about educational achievement are also increasingly being used to store sensitive student details like names, religion, and health status. But according to a new study from the Center on Law and Information Policy at Fordham Law School, schools are failing to read the terms and conditions and providing troves of student data to third-party vendors without sufficient safeguards or adequate parental consent.
The report looked at Web service contracts in small, medium, and large school districts. Of the 54 school districts examined, almost 95 percent used cloud services, but many failed to inform parents of the full breadth of information being outsourced. Furthermore, very few of the schools’ contracts explicitly restricted the marketing of student information. This despite using third parties to store potentially delicate information, such as which students qualify for free lunch.
The school districts also seemed clueless as to the details of the contracts they’d signed. The Fordham researchers had considerable difficultly tracking down school personnel who were familiar with the district’s outsourcing policy, documentation was poorly maintained, and less than half of districts contacted complied with the open public record request in the time period required by law.
In response, the Software and Information Industry Association said in a statement that the report failed to account that the law had created strong business practices to keep students data safe: “School service providers know that if they do not protect student information entrusted to them, they will lose their customers and face legal repercussions.”
But according to the Fordham study, many of the agreements failed to meet a number of Federal privacy benchmarks. One-third of data analytics contracts did not comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act’s requirement that data be deleted after it is no longer needed for the purposes for which it was provided. Few agreements specified a level of encryption, and even fewer required the vendor to tell the schools if there was a data breach.
Khaliah Barnes of the Electronic Privacy Information Center told me that although FERPA provided a number of privacy protections for students online, subsequent regulations from the U.S. Department of Education in 2008 and 2011 had weakened the act.
Barnes added that Fordham’s findings confirmed what EPIC has been hearing from parents and students—they feel like they’re losing control. “We’ve seen an increase in student information collection and dissemination, but a decrease in privacy protection,” she said.
The report comes amid a parent-led backlash against the use of third-party vendors for storing student information. In November, the Chicago school system, the nation’s third largest, rejected the controversial student data management nonprofit, InBloom, deciding instead to build its own platform. According to Education Week, InBloom began promisingly, with million-dollar grants from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. But after parents became concerned by plans to compile students' information into one huge database for school-related businesses, InBloom has been dropped by numerous states. In New York, a law suit has been launched to prevent the New York State Education Department from partnering with the service.
Karen Sprowal, one of the plaintiffs in the New York case, said in a statement: "Ever since I've heard about InBloom Inc. I've been unable to rest easy. … Any information that is let loose on the Internet can never be retrieved, and any breach or misuse of this data could harm [my child's] prospects for life, by impairing his ability to be admitted to college or get a good job."
Debate Smarter Than You Think With the Future Tense Book Club
Are you worried about what Google’s doing to your brain—or are you grateful for it? Or both?
Let’s talk about it.
On Wednesday, Jan. 15, the Future Tense Book Club will meet in Washington, D.C., to discuss Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better, by Clive Thompson. Clive, who writes for Wired and the New York Times, will join us to answer your questions and share ideas with you over drinks and snacks. The doors will open at 6 p.m., and conversation will begin at about 6:15 p.m.. The Future Tense Book Club is free, but limited seating is available, so RSVP now to email@example.com with your name, email address, and any affiliation you’d like to mention. Please put “D.C. book club meeting” in the subject line. You can RSVP for yourself and a guest, and we’ll send you the top-secret address if you get a ticket.
Not in D.C.? Fear not. Clive will also join us on this page on Slate for a live online discussion about Smarter Than You Think on Tuesday, Jan. 14, at 6 p.m. If you’d like to receive a reminder about the discussion, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with “Online book club meeting” in the subject line.
Future Tense—which is a partnership of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State University—is dedicated to spurring conversation about the emerging technologies that change the way we live. The Future Tense Book Club, which launched in December 2013 with a discussion of Dave Eggers’ The Circle, reads sci-fi and nonfiction titles that tackle how technologies affect human relationships, the regulation questions inspired by things like geoengineering and synthetic biology, and the unexpected ways breakthroughs can ripple through society. Each month, we choose a book that inspires new ways of thinking about the technologies we take for granted—or that seem scary at first impression. Got an idea for what we should read next? Leave it in the comments.