Internet Governance Lab at Cyber Week in Tel Aviv

As a massive cyberattack spread across the globe on Tuesday, cybersecurity experts gathered in Tel Aviv for Cyber Week 2017, an annual conference bringing together scholars, industry leaders, and government officials to share methods and knowledge on a range of topics relevant to cybersecurity.

Among the experts in attendance was American University School of Communication Professor and Internet Governance Lab Co-director Dr. Laura DeNardis, who delivered a presentation titled “Privacy Complications in Cyber Physical Systems,” examining the privacy and security implications of the “Internet of Things.”

Also at the conference was Washington College of Law Professor and Internet Governance Lab Faculty Fellow Jennifer Daskal, who presented her work “Data and Territory: A Round Peg in a Square Hole,” addressing conflicts of law occurring at the intersection of the Internet and jurisdiction.

Both presentations, and indeed the entire conference, could not have been more timely.

On Tuesday ransomware attacks spread from Ukraine across the globe, crippling thousands of systems, including a major shipping company, at least one airport, ATM machines, and supermarket cash registers. Coming on the heels of a similar attack in May using the WannaCry ransomware, Tuesday’s Petya ransomware attack also used Eternal Blue, one of several hacking tools stolen from the National Security Administration and leaked by a group called the Shadow Brokers. And while it is still unclear who may be behind this latest attack (the fact that neither ransomware attacks collected much in the way of ransoms is leading some to suggest proxies working on behalf of nation-states), Professor DeNardis’s presentation underscored the extent to which the Internet of things introduces countless new vectors through which malicious code can spread.

Meanwhile, Professor Daskal’s discussion focusing on the incongruities of territorial sovereignty in cyberspace proved especially salient on Wednesday as Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that it could force Google to remove search results worldwide. Also on Wednesday, Pavel Durov, founder of the controversial messaging app Telegram, agreed to comply with a Russian law that requires information technology companies operating in the country to store data locally, as well as agreeing to hand over information to Russian authorities on request.

Cyber Week 2017 runs through Thursday, June 28th. You can follow along at #CyberWeek.

SOC PhD candidate Fernanda Rosa awarded Columbia University grant to study IXPs

SOC Ph.D. candidate Fernanda Rosa has been awarded a prestigious grant from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) to fund her dissertation research investigating the role of Internet exchange points (IXPs) in Internet governance. The project, titled “Global Internet, Local Governance: A Sociotechnical Approach to Internet Exchange Points,” examines these important sites in the Internet’s physical infrastructure from a science and technology studies (STS) perspective while making visible their impact on Internet governance and freedom of expression online.

Additionally, Ms. Rosa was awarded a 2017 Google Policy Fellowship, which will take her to Mexico City this summer where she will be conducting research for her dissertation and working with Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales (R3D), a Mexican organization dedicated to the defense of human rights in the digital sphere.

We congratulate Fernanda on these impressive accomplishments and look forward to seeing what she discovers as her research proceeds. You can follow her on Twitter @fefe_rosa

Are we coding for the future we want? Dr. Isabelle Zaugg on Digital Standards and Lost Languages

American University SOC Ph.D. student Dr. Isabelle Zaugg successfully defended her dissertation on Wednesday titled “Digitizing Ethiopic: Coding for Linguistic Continuity in the Face of Digital Extinction.” Drawing on field work conducted in Ethiopia last year as part of a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship, Dr. Zaugg’s project investigates the relationship between the growth of information communication technologies and rapid declines in language diversity.

Abstract: Despite the growing sophistication of digital technologies, it appears they are contributing to language extinction on a par with devastating losses in biodiversity.  With language extinction comes loss of identity, inter-generational cohesion, culture, and a global wealth of knowledge to address future problems facing humanity.  Linguists estimate a 50%-90% loss of language diversity during the 21st century, with the lack of digital support for minority languages and scripts a contributing factor.

Over time, digital design has come to support an increasing number of languages, but this process has been largely market-driven, excluding languages of communities too small or poor to represent viable markets.  Lack of support for a language in the digital sphere means that language communities begin using other more dominant or “prestigious’ languages for digital communication.  This results in “digital extinction,” including the impossibility of raising youth fluent in their mother-tongue.  Once the youth in a community have stopped using a language, it is typically on the path to extinction within the next few generations.

This research investigates the role of digital design and governance in including or excluding languages from the digital sphere through the instrumental case study of Ethiopic, a script that supports a number of languages at risk of digital extinction, including the national language of Ethiopia.  Using qualitative and quantitative methods, the dissertation investigates late 20th century efforts to include the Ethiopic script in Unicode-ISO/IEC 10646, the dominant digital sister standards that allow scripts of the world to appear on devices, websites, and software, as well as the ongoing challenges Ethiopic-based languages face for full digital viability in the 21st century.

Concluding with policy recommendations and best practices for digital design, governance, and advocacy efforts to preserve language diversity, this research sheds light on far-reaching implications for the public good of digital design and governance.  The decisions we make about digital technologies will impact generations to come, and this dissertation asks, “Are we coding for the future we want?”

Please join us in congratulating Dr. Zaugg on her defense and wishing her well as she begins a Mellon-Sawyer Seminar Postdoctoral Fellowship in “Global Language Justice” at the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University in the Fall.

Recap: Will the Internet Fragment? A Conversation with Milton Mueller

Following last week’s terror attacks in London, Prime Minister Theresa May stated unequivocally that “enough is enough,” adding that there is “far too much tolerance of extremism” in British society. In particular, Ms. May called out Internet companies to do more to shut down online “safe spaces,” suggesting that her government would look to broker “international agreements to regulate cyber space so that terrorists cannot plan online.”

What such international agreements might look like in practice is unclear, but according to Internet governance scholar Milton Mueller, Prime Minister May’s comments reflect a growing trend, in which nation-states are looking to assert a greater degree of control over global data flows.

“It is an attempt to fit the round peg of global communications into the square hole of territorial states,” explained Dr. Mueller on Tuesday at an event marking the release of his new book Will the Internet Fragment?: Sovereignty, Globalization, and Cyberspace. Hosted by New America’s Open Technology Institute, the event was moderated by Internet Governance Lab Co-Director Dr. Derrick Cogburn and featured Dr. Mueller in conversation with Rebecca MacKinnon, Director of the Ranking Digital Rights project at New America; Tim Mauer, Co-director of the Cyber Policy Initiative at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and Angela McKay, Senior Director of Cybersecurity Policy and Strategy at Microsoft. 

A video of the event is available here.

In answering the book’s title question, Dr. Mueller began the discussion by interrogating the concept of “fragmentation,” suggesting that the term “realignment” more precisely captures current efforts to assert notions of territorial sovereignty in cyberspace. In this way, Mueller’s remarks contextualized “efforts to set up gateways to filter content, using data localization to keep internet routing within state borders, and requiring governments and users to use local companies to store data” as attempts to “partition cyberspace in order to subordinate its [the Internet’s] control to sovereign states.”

“Governments are trying to have their cake and eat it too,” explained Rebecca MacKinnon, who’s 2012 book Consent of the Networked described new modes of Internet censorship and the ways in which private companies have assumed governance functions formerly reserved for nation-states. But as governments bemoan the inability to regulate content within their borders many of these same nation-states are happy to extend locally developed policies extraterritorially, explained Ms. MacKinnon, citing the Microsoft/Ireland case and efforts to apply the EU’s “right to be forgotten” globally as examples of this sort of extraterritorial extension.

These cases, along with Prime Minister May’s recent comments, help underscore the fact that efforts to realign the Internet to fit Westphalian notions of territorial sovereignty are no longer merely the Orwellian fantasies of authoritarian states but are gaining legitimacy in more democratic national contexts. In response to these trends, Mueller proposes “a liberation movement for cyberspace, in which we recognize that we’re creating a globally interconnected polity around the Internet,” suggesting that “perhaps it is time for this polity to assert its own identity and own authority and come up with global organizations for Internet governance.”

But as Tim Mauer pointed out, the prospects for such a liberation movement seem increasingly remote given large-scale structural changes to the existing liberal order. As geopolitical developments point towards a more neo-realist order, Mauer argued that we could expect to see more “contested forms of [Internet] governance” as opposed to international agreements and transnational consensus.

Meanwhile, Angela McKay of Microsoft presented several ways in which emerging technologies like the adoption of cloud computing and the Internet of Things might present challenges and opportunities for realignment. In particular, Ms. McKay highlighted cloud adoption as an example of a fundamental change in Internet architecture and the way its governed, with a more homogeneous set of firms managing a more diffuse, heterogeneous set of end-points. Conversely, with the growth of the Internet of Things, a new set of formerly non-technical industries will be thrust into Internet governance and information technology policy discussions, bringing with them a new set of norms, best-practices, and values that will alter the dynamics of existing private-public partnerships and require new modes of Internet governance going forward.

 

 

AU School of Communication scholars featured at ICA 2017

The International Communication Association (ICA) held its annual conference in San Diego last week and AU’s School of Communication (SOC) was well represented with a dozen scholars presenting research on a wide range of topics.

On Sunday, SOC Professor and Internet Governance Lab Faculty Fellow Aram Sinnreich presented the latest in his work shedding light on the dark money used to influence policy debates over intellectual property rights (IPR) online. Drawing on a chapter from Professor Sinnreich’s forthcoming book (Yale University Press), the presentation, titled “Following the Money Behind Intellectual Property Law,” uses a mix of quantitative and qualitative analysis of public lobbying and campaign finance records to identify patterns of expenditure and agenda setting in the increasingly powerful and opaque IPR lobby. 

On Thursday, SOC Professor, Internet Governance Lab Faculty Fellow, and Director of the Communication Studies Division (currently on sabbatical) Kathryn Montgomery presented a paper titled, “Health Wearables: Ensuring Fairness, Preventing Discrimination, and Promoting Equity in an Emerging Internet-of-Things Environment,” based on an ongoing project investigating the intersection of the Internet of things (IoT) and privacy more broadly.

Also on Thursday, Caty Borum Chattoo, Director of the Center for Social Media and Social Impact (CSMi), presented her latest work titled “Storytelling for Social Change: Leveraging Documentary and Comedy for Public Engagement with Global Poverty.” Part of the CSMI’s Rise Up Media and Social Change Project, the presentation also provided an opportunity to welcome the Center’s new Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. Amy Henderson Riley, whose work focuses on entertainment-education as a strategy for individual and social change.  

Other scholars representing SOC included SOC Assistant Professor Filippo Trevisan presenting his paper “Media Justice: Race, Borders, Disability and Data,” Professor Paula Weissman presenting “Strategic Communication by Health and Medical Organizations: Self-Interest vs. Informed Decision Making”, Assistant Professor Benjamin Stokes, PhD candidate Samantha Dols, and Doctoral Research Assistant and Adjunct Professor Kara Andrade with “Here We Listen: Positioning a Hybrid ‘Listening Station’ to Circulate Marginalized Voices Across Physical and Digital Channels in a Neighborhood,” and Ph.D. candidate David Proper with his presentation “Troubling Republicanism: Carly Fiorina and Conservative Republican Gendered Discourses.”