Democracy in a complex digital world

Jacques Bus, Digital Enlightenment Forum

In “The Open Society and its Enemies” Popper[1] states that the change of the closed (tribal) society into the open society can be described as one of the more far reaching revolutions of human kind. It started with the change towards agricultural settlement and development of fenced villages, castles, and walled cities (security by perimeters); followed by the industrial revolution and strong urbanization which led to open urban environments and distributed physical security; now we are making another large step forward towards global interaction, open worldwide trade, global communication and data sharing, and with it open data, open innovation and the need for a new generation of cyber security at local and global levels.

However, is this a transition process with a steady-state ending or an ongoing search for balance between on one side the individual with its need for privacy and freedom, and on the other side the societal limits that enable these individuals living together? Is the struggle of individuals to live in closed protected communities gone with globalization? The contrary might be true seeing the fierce opposition of large groups in society against immigration, flaring up of racism and discrimination against other cultures, as well as emergence and fast growth of populist parties with slogans like “My people first and above all else”.  Continue reading

The emergence of the IoT: challenges


  1. The data analytics challenge; given the volume and the real-time nature of the data coming from IoT artefacts there is a need for distributed (and often real-time) analytics. Need for infrastructures to enable such analytics supporting access control and data integration.
  2. The tangibility challenge: IoT produce and can report data. You cannot own data but you can own things. When you own things you may wish to be in control of who your things report to.
  3. The ownership challenge: There is a range of business models on IoT data. On one end of the range a corporation can own the things that you have in your property, their data are reported to the company and the company, in turn, provides you with analytics; on the other end of the range you own the things in your property and provide third parties with access to them based on an agreed price or value. Some IoT artefacts could be public goods.
  4. The networking challenge: The debate on net neutrality needs to be had in a context that includes IoT.
  5. The privacy challenge. Debate in progress. Privacy breaches could be possible due to IoT data sharing but they could also prevented or at least detected at an early stage through the same means.
  6. The cyber-security challenge. Debate in progress. How many parties do we want to be in control of access to IoT data? Could de-centralisation be an answer?
  7. The “what things may come” challenge. We cannot take for granted that IoT artefacts will be only existing things extended with internet connectivity, sensors and actuators. Humans could create things that we cannot currently envisage. Developments in 3D printing could further support that. Maybe we will end up with more things that we like and face ‘things’ pollution.
  8. The ethical challenge; the “what things may come” challenge makes stronger the case for ethical frameworks in world of things that have their own idiosyncrasy

Towards addressing those challenges

Addressing those challenges cannot be without engagement of people. Digital literacy, data literacy and what it means to have Things on the Web, who can benefit from them and how involves people. The debate on policy for IoT needs to be bottom-up, informed by people who understand and are in control of their IoT data. The same bottom-up approach holds the potential for innovation in the emergent IoT world.

Will experts survive the digital revolution?

This post  was originally posted on LinkedIn Pulse (

In my LinkedIn profile, I define myself as an “expert”.  Not very original, isn’t it? Indeed, other 855.522 LinkedIn  users define themselves as experts. The world is definitely crowded by experts. What is an expert?

The dictionary reads that an expert is a person wise through experience.   The English word “expert” comes from Latin expertus, the past participle of the verb experiri, which means, “to try in different ways”, in order to overcome a challenge. Ancient Greeks used a similar word, empeiros, which ultimately derived from the verb peirao (to attempt).  Both Latin and Greek terms are likely to originate from an oldest Indo-European root *pe(i)r, which expressed the idea of “beyond”. In Latin, this root gave also origin to periculus (peril), pereo (to pass away), partus (that gives birth to, childbirth), porta (that takes beyond, i.e., gate, door), peritus (skillful), pirata (someone who trespasses the bulwark of a ship, i.e., a pirate). In Ancient Greek, the root *pe(i)r  generated  the verb peirao (to attempt to go beyond a problem, and thus, simply “to attempt”), and the verbpeiro (to pierce through, to spit).  In turn, peiro generated the nouns peran(across) and peras (end, extremity), which, by adding the privative pre-fix “a”, became a-poria (without passage, i.e, uncertainty) and a-peiron (without a beyond, i.e., infinite).

The idea of experience has thus to do with the spectrum of meanings related to the idea of “beyond”. In other words, the expert is someone who deals with a “beyond”. There are two types of “beyond”. There are big “Beyond”, written in capital letters, such as Nation, Offspring, Afterlife, Future, Progress, Humanity, or even Socialism (I must confess that I’m a bit suspicious of them). Then, there are “beyond” written in small letters: beyond my problems, beyond our pleasure,beyond that incomprehension, beyond your reproach, and so.  Big and small “beyond” are more essential to us than the air that we breathe, because they allow overcoming a present state of affairs.  They create horizons – small or big horizons – but always horizons.  Each horizon is indeed the joint between a “within” and a “beyond”. As the two faced Janus, the horizon looks both backward and forward. When it looks backward, it tells where you are, and, by using the horizon as a reference, you could locate yourself. When it looks forward, the horizon allows you to dream – sometimes to fear – of the unknown.  If the skyline were a complete conclusion, we would be walled up alive in our grave. If the horizon were unconditionally open, there would be only an infinite, endless, “here and now”. Human beings cannot put up both with the nothingness of complete conclusion, and with the infinite of unconditional openness.  The horizon is ultimately their sole possibility.  In fact, when the horizon comes unstuck, when “within” and “beyond” disarticulate themselves –  i.e., when the time is out of joint – nonsense infiltrates their life. Continue reading

a more global view of data

I recently published a post on the Society and Space site, suggesting that it’s time for researchers to consider and debate in much greater detail the kinds of data that we can use, and how much they can tell us about the world. ‘Big data’ research is the subject of all kinds of claims (it can solve poverty, save the rhino, prevent tooth decay…), and therefore there are potential advantages to labelling our work that way in terms of getting funding and attention. So it’s up to us to be as clear as possible about what we can’t say about the world using the new data sources. Here’s how it began:

The social sciences are engaged in a trans-disciplinary debate on the meaning and use of new forms of digital data. One of the most important repercussions from Dalton and Thatcher’s call (2014) for a critical data studies has been an awareness that researchers need to continually sensitise themselves to the contextualities of data’s production and use (Kitchin 2014, Graham and Shelton 2013, Nissenbaum 2010). This short essay responds to this ongoing debate, laying out the case for such an awareness and asking how we might better operationalise it in data studies. If researchers working with the new data sources – and geographers in particular – can learn to think across contexts in a more inclusive way, it may take us further toward realising big data’s promise as a tool for social scientific research.

You can read the rest here

DEF 2015: The implications of the Code as Law

Ajit Jaokar was a speaker at the Digital Enlightenment forum 2015 (DEF2015). A blog of him focuses on a specific talk from DEF 2015: Legal questions in the digital world by TJ McIntyre – UCD and Digital rights Ireland. The event talks and presentations can be found HERE.

The discussion related to the loss of Utopian ideals on which the Internet has been founded – specifically in the legally murky world of ‘Code as law’ – which encapsulates legal enforcement in the form of Code. “Code as law” also creates a new (often reluctant) law enforcer in the form of ICT companies.  This issue is thus a key part of Internet Governance today. Ajit’s views on this talk can be found at the EIF News.

Are the Courts about to take the lead in advancing privacy law? The England and Wales Court of Appeal ruling on Google v. Vidal-Hall

One of the most important court rulings on privacy in a long time has just been handed down by the England and Wales Court of Appeal:  Google v. Vidal-Hall.

I have seen two articles about it that are very useful reads.  One is “The European Privacy Judicial Decision of a Decade: Google v. Vidal-Hall” by Omer Tene, on which I comment below, and another is by Alexander Hanff, “UK Court of Appeal issues game changing judgment in Google Safari case” in IT Security, 27 Mar 2015.

The ruling has worldwide ramifications for all the reasons outlined by Omer Tene.

In particular, the judgment confirms the position I took as Privacy Commissioner at the turn of the millennium and have held ever since on the wide interpretation of what constitutes personal information and on what constitutes harm. Continue reading

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