Berkman in the News
Dear Prime Minister Cameron,
You recently proposed that all internet apps – and their users’ communications – be compelled to make themselves accessible to state authorities. I want to explain why this is a very bad idea even though it might seem like a no-brainer.
A recent report published by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society’s Internet Monitor project examines the emergence of religious skeptics in Arab cyberspace.
The report, “Arab Religious Skeptics Online: Anonymity, Autonomy, and Discourse in a Hostile Environment,” authored by Helmi Noman, a research affiliate of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, analyzes the content, discourse, and structure of three prominent Arab atheist web forums and examines the relationship between the networked information economy and religious skeptics.
On Monday, Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society announced that it was taking part in a collaborative effort to gather information about secret federal legal notices that demand corporate and user data from web service providers.
The Berkman Center worked alongside two digital rights groups, the Calyx Institute and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as well as New York University’s Technology Law and Policy Clinic, to create CanaryWatch.org, a site designed to collect and monitor all of the Internet’s warrant canaries.
Justin Reich, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and the author of the EdTech Researcher blog on edweek.org, said he’s glad to see “pockets of people experimenting with these ideas.”
There’s little evidence that either strategy is effective, Mr. Reich said, though there appears to be more indication that extended learning time may hold promise. Often, blended learning and extended learning time are implemented along with other measures, and it’s difficult to tease out what may have had the most impact, he said.
Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of law and computer science at Harvard University, says: “Everybody can keep powder dry. I don’t think there are any immediate changes.”
FCC officials seem to be just focusing on net neutrality, Zittrain says. “These are not wild-eyed radicals somehow wanting to blow up the system,” he says.
Zittrain says these are all things the FCC could do, if it wanted to – and that’s a big if.
The differing messages don’t necessarily result from a difference of opinion, but from a difference of audience, says Susan Crawford, co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.”When they’re talking to Wall Street, they say different things than when they’re talking to the press about what the FCC might like to do,” she says. “They trot out these really simple and nonsensical platitudes, like ‘regulation inevitably leads to lower investment.’ That’s just not true.”
“When people don’t have to disclose their personal information on the Web, the risk of identity theft is dramatically reduced,” John Clippinger, senior fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School said. “The ability to anonymize transactions using Identity Mixer has the potential to bolster consumer confidence, opening digital floodgates to new forms of Internet commerce.”
The landscape has changed since the Arab Spring, however. As the University of North Carolina professor and Harvard Berkman Center fellow notes in her paper, governments have more or less caught up to political protesters when it comes to social media. Twitter and Facebook aren’t just for nerds any more — they have become mainstream, and that means governments have figured out not only how to block them or how to force Twitter and Facebook to remove content but how to use them for their own social purposes.“Many governments have developed methods to respond to this new information environment, which allows for fewer gatekeeper controls, by aggressively countering these new movements, often with a combination of traditional repression as well as novel methods aimed at addressing online media.”
It’s unclear why Reddit, one of the world’s most popular websites, received so few requests for user data, especially since it hosts message boards (called subreddits) on all kinds of borderline or outright illegal topics, including online drug markets.
Perhaps it’s because Reddit “cleaned up” its most controversial subreddits in the past year, according to James Losey, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, who keeps a tally of companies who publish transparency reports.
“Anonymity is a tool that can be used or misused, but to run from anonymity out of fear is to give up what it means to be American,” says David Weinberger, senior researcher at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society.
Weinberger notes that airlines have been receiving bomb threats since they first came into existence, usually from callers at old-fashioned pay phones. “As I recall, you didn’t have to show ID to use them,” he says wryly.