Coppers and Spooks in cyberspace: une liaison dangereuse

By: Douwe Korff , Emeritus Professor of International Law


The theory: “The same freedoms online as offline”

The Digital Enlightenment Forum is based on the belief, also expressed numerous times in international instruments and declarations, that “people should enjoy the same autonomy and rights and freedoms online that they do offline”. We also generally subscribe to the ideas that individuals should first and foremost be subject to the laws and mores of the country where they live, provided that those laws and mores accord with international human rights standards – that states should refrain from interfering in other states and should generally not apply their laws extraterritorially; but that, conversely, violations of public international law or international human rights law are a legitimate concern of the whole international community.

However, these mantras are not reflected in the responses of many states – including states that often portray themselves as the main advocates of human rights and international law – to “bad” actions in cyberspace. Worse, the excessive and unlawful online behaviour of certain state agencies increasingly also informs their behaviour offline.

This blog simply tries to list the issues involved, to help the debate. Continue reading

Established Societal Norms

I read the paper of the Information Accountability Foundation to which Malcolm Crompton referred in his blog below on Digital Ethics of 8 Feb. It is indeed a laudable initiative, but I am a bit worried that it is just another attempt of trying to establish control on our world, its values and compliance to it. And I am afraid the world is too complex to try and control its state.

It is a “classical” approach with as a point of departure: “Established Societal Norms”, but it fails to address two basic questions:

  1. Is there a universal ethics basis. This point is discussed also in the book of Floridi (see the blog below on Informational Ethics of 17 Feb). If the answer is positive, the basis lies certainly must deeper and is much smaller than what is called “established societal norms” in the paper, which are recognised as different in different cultures.
  2. How do “established societal norms” differ between cultures and how do they change over time (incl. under influence of contacts between different cultures). A direct result of accepting dependence on time (which is rather undeniable; just compare norms in western Europe in the middle ages and now), is that it is highly dangerous to try to implement them at any specific moment through static algorithms that could become the static “code” of the future.

Established societal norms Continue reading

EP Draft Surveillance report

The Dutch Member of European Parliament Marietje Schaake states:

Technologies can help advance human rights such as access to information and freedom of expression. Yet, too many surveillance and intrusion technologies are being produced in Europe and sold to enable human rights violations. We need smart regulation to ensure we facilitate the protection of rights, and not their violation

By sharing the draft report and opening it up for public input, Schaake is calling on “anyone from hackers to journalists, activists to lawyers” to share their input.

Deadline 16 March. DEF will collect the comments on this post before that date and send a DEF commentary.


Information Ethics

Our lives and our fate is coming increasingly under the control, or at least the influence, of an increasing number of autonomous technical information systems. And at the same time our society reaches through technology development and in particular digitisation, levels of complexity that seem to undermine our democracy and moral rules.

Fighting the decaying of Being could be seen as the basic objective of ethics or the ultimate benchmark for any moral evaluation, and therefore also of “Informational Ethics. This is the approach of Luciano Floridi in his book The Ethics of Information (Oxford Univ Press, 2013). Floridi addresses two important aspects:

  1. Actors in the ethical space are not restricted to human agents and patients, but include all information entities. Hence also non-intelligent objects and creatures, autonomous (intelligent) technical systems, organisations or communities, etc.
  2. Can we develop a basic informational ontology for a global digital world. Can we come to a general theory of ethics that might form a practical basis for global policy development concerning the interaction between all these information entities, to the benefit of humanity.

Continue reading