What does someone do in a bunker? And in a train station? The answer seems quite straightforward. The bunker guy protects himself, the station guy buys a ticket and catches a train. But they are also doing something else more relevant to the transformations that the new information environment is making possible.
The people in the bunker are isolated from the world. Their primordial value is security. They want to protect themselves and their property. In principle, they have everything they need inside the bunker. Whenever they need something else they know where to get it. They quickly get out of the bunker, go to the predetermined place, get what they need and go back straight after. All the information they get is contained in the bunker, and in the few trips to their “trusted sources”. They live in a self-inflicted closed information environment, with nearly zero occurrence of serendipity.
And at the train station?
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In a world where politicians and civil servants do nearly what they please with our money and resources, because we, the citizens, don’t have enough instruments to scrutinize what they are doing, the banks take advantage to reap the possible benefits. This is what happened in Greece and other European countries on the road to the Euro before 2001. And this is probably what continues to happen today.
The New York Times, still the best newspaper in the world IMHO, has a news article on how Goldman Sachs and other Wall St banks negotiated financial products with the Greek government, and possibly other European countries, which facilitated their hiding of high deficits to get onto the Euro. In return, they got the future proceeds of Greece’s airports and highways, among other things in a deal termed as a “garage sale”.
This is what happens when governments and public administrations do what their please without the proper scrutiny. In most of Europe, parliaments are not anymore, if they ever where, a place of accountability, but of consent and quarrelling. Today, it is up to the citizen to control that those who govern us and administer our resources and tax money do it properly. Every bit of control, even the minor one is useful by aggregation. For this we need new instruments and rules. Opening public data to all (e.g. data.gov and data.gov.uk) is a very good step in this direction.
Is this where we are going?
At the request of the UK government, Facebook took down 30 pages linked to prison inmates who were, according to the authorities, behaving inappropriately on the site, including taunting victims’ family members. It took them 48 hours to do it.
In itself this fact is worrisome. At the request of a government Facebook decides, at its own judgment, to curtail the individual freedom of 30 people (for though they are in prison and they are crime offenders, they are still people), without the intervention of a judge to guarantee the respect of fundamental rights. It seems that victims, government and Facebook (!) are the new authorities with regards to online freedom.
But it gets worse, for these new authorities are taking their self-assigned responsibilities very seriously, according to their declarations reported on today’s International Herald Tribune (print-version).
Gary Trodwell of Families United, a group founded by relatives of young murder victims, said:
When someone is convicted of a crime he loses his civil liberty through sentencing…We say he should lose his cyberliberty as well.”
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The arrogance of bureaucracies
Pilar Juárez was the head of the political section in the European Union delegation in Haiti. She was trapped in the collapse of the United Nations building in last week’s earthquake. On Sunday, 17 January, the Commission received news of the confirmation of her death, with High Representative Cathy Ashton releasing a press release, after her body was found the day before…but was it?
Today, we know that the body claimed as Pilar’s is not hers (in English). Apparently, the United Nations Police, UNPOL, made a mistake in the recognition of her body. The Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs discovered the truth after checking the fingerprints. Her furious husband said that he was “disgusted” by this “very serious mistake.” He accused international organizations and donors of lack of proper channels of information and coordination among them.
Meanwhile, a relatively small organization called Ushahidi was mounting an impressive network of people to gather information on the field to help the coordination of aid assistance and rescue missions, which has been translated into a website (haiti.ushahidi.com) gathering all the reports they receive via SMS and web apps. On the Ushahidi Situation Room, Patrick Philippe Meier, one of the persons behind this effort of humanitarian crowdsourcing and writer of the blog iRevolution, tells us about a
live Skype chat between Anna here in the Sit Room and Eric Rasmussen (InSTEDD and former Chief Medical Officer of the US Navy). Eric skyping from tarmac of PoP airport asking for GPS coordinates of the most obscure addresses, sites, locations and Anna providing these in record time. She has wowed the entire team in PaP including military, UN, etc. Incredible to witness all this real time networking and collaboration.
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The (short) story of the Spanish manifesto for net neutrality
This week is ending. I’ve been (still I am) in Moscow for a week of teaching at the MGIMO, as I do every six months. On the academic side, no big changes or problems – well, besides a drunk student who told me in front of the rest of the students that “this year everything is changing”, for I will have to start teaching in Russian (!), because he couldn’t understand English and my subject interested him very much (ignoring the fact that there was very good simultaneous translation!). I took it as a funny anecdote anyway, similar to the email I got last year from the worst-translator-ever, who was complaining that he got fired because of me.
The big news for me are that while I was in Russia, I could do politics in Spain. I could participate as a blogger and citizen in the massive online protest against the surreptitious provision included at the end (and some say in the last minute) of Prime Minister Zapatero’s new Ley de Economía Sostenible (Law for a Sustainable Economy), currently being read by the Spanish Parliament. This provision modifies the Spanish Information Society Law passed in 2002. It creates a new Commission for Intellectual Property (Comisión de Propiedad Intelectual) in the Ministry of Culture. And, according to the interpretation I concur with, it gives to this Commission powers to shut off a website or online service infringing intellectual property rights without judicial intervention. This set off a viral fire on the web in a matter of hours. Twitter was the main conduct through which this increasingly candescent political momentum ran. The morning after the law proposal was presented to the Parliament, a (still) unidentified group of “journalists, bloggers, professionals and creators” had written a Manifesto for the defence of the rights of Internet users (Manifiesto en defensa de los derechos fundamentales en Internet).
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For many, “online piracy” appears to be a bad thing. The music, film and software industries and governments want to convince us that IT IS bad. Bad not only for the poor artist or programmer, but also for innovation and for society as a whole. However, many practice it. Many copy songs, movies or software using the Internet. And I say, many do a good thing.
Before the Internet, people could indeed photocopy a book, copy a record on tape or duplicate a movie on VHS, these were possible, though somehow cumbersome and quality-reducing mechanisms of reducing the cost of our “intellectual consumption”. Without them, many people would have probably read less books, listened to less new songs and watched less stories on the screen. Nevertheless, the scale of it was small, thus its social effect tiny. Today, the liberty and usability feature of the Internet have opened unimaginable venues for these “unauthorized” reproduction of intellectual goods, the scale is, indeed, very, very relevant. Thanks to file sharing, hundreds of thousands of people have at their disposal a myriad of intellectual products that were unattainable before, be it for price or accessibility. Thanks to “piracy”, these people, adults and children, are expanding their intellectual scope, they are probably becoming more demanding, in search of more and more varied things.
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A group of journalists, bloggers, professionals and creators want to express their firm opposition to the inclusion in a Draft Law of some changes to Spanish laws restricting the freedoms of expression, information and access to culture on the Internet. They also declare that:
1 .- Copyright should not be placed above citizens’ fundamental rights to privacy, security, presumption of innocence, effective judicial protection and freedom of expression.
2 .- Suspension of fundamental rights is and must remain an exclusive competence of judges. This blueprint, contrary to the provisions of Article 20.5 of the Spanish Constitution, places in the hands of the executive the power to keep Spanish citizens from accessing certain websites.
3 .- The proposed laws would create legal uncertainty across Spanish IT companies, damaging one of the few areas of development and future of our economy, hindering the creation of startups, introducing barriers to competition and slowing down its international projection.
4 .- The proposed laws threaten creativity and hinder cultural development. The Internet and new technologies have democratized the creation and publication of all types of content, which no longer depends on an old small industry but on multiple and different sources.
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The Internet may be facilitating the creation of echo chambers and the balkanisation of politics. This is what Cass R. Sunstein, now Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said in his book Republic and then repeated in Republic 2.0. It meant that because of the new possibilities of filtering our information as “Daily Me” we may be heading towards a world where people will only read, watch and hear what they want to. According to Sunstein, in a democracy it is essential to have public spaces where different opinions are contrasted and collide. The Internet may not only hinder the existence of these spaces, but actually it may facilitate the emergence of echo chambers where what we believe is repeated.
This morning I checked my twitter. Yesterday I checked my twitter. Until this weekend, most of the people I followed where in the US and other English-speaking countries. Basically it was mostly in English. After this weekend, after attending the PDFEU in Barcelona, I started to follow more people in Spain and, particularly, in Catalunya. Until now I was getting information about a variety of issues regarding internet, politics, culture… from the English world. Now I see information mainly from Spain and Catalunya. What happened? You will say that now I follow, in proportion, more people from there, but actually I don’t. What happened is that among all the new followed people there were US people and Spanish people, in more or less equal proportion. What happened is that I checked my twitter when the latter are awake and the former are sleeping. A time chamber is being created. It makes me think that geography/location is still very important on the Internet. Or even, location is becoming even more important than before, an apparent paradox, but it is not.
Ismael Peña López has shared in his blog the notes on Pekka Himanen’s lecture on The Hacker Ethic in the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya / Internet Interdisciplinary Institute on November 9, 2009. They are quite thorough and include the Q&A session.
In a comments exchange on collaborative government and Web tools on the blog of my site midemocracia.org, I discussed the situation in which political parties are with the emergence and spread of Internet. In his article The Nature of the Firm, Ronald Coase refers to the transaction costs that lead to the creation of the modern organization of the firm outside the market mechanism, when the price (cost) of obtaining a product is higher in the market than through the hierarchical organization of production, or put another way, economic activity will take place within a company when the costs of trading (the market) are higher than with command-and-control.
One factor in the emergence of political parties is the cost of the process of getting votes. With the extension of voting rights – the restricted right to vote based on property, we gradually moved to a universal suffrage in which the entire adult population (18 normally) can vote for their representatives – the cost of obtaining a meaningful vote in the “political market” increases greatly forcing political entrepreneurs, those who wish to gain institutional power to conduct public policy, to organise in hierarchical political institutions to reduce the transaction cost related to the process of obtaining the vote. Those who are not organized in this way disappear from the political market. This process is very similar to the appearance of the company in the market, where the purchasing power of the population increases and companies emerge as the organizational model best suited to produce the offer that the new consumer market needs.
In his book, Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky says:
Now that it is possible To achieve large-scale co-ordination at low cost, a third category has emerged: serious, complex work, taken on without institutional direction. Loosely coordinated groups can now Achieve things that were previously out of reach for any other organizational structure, Because they lay under the Coasean floor.
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In October 2008, the Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, promised a law on access to public information.
Now it seems that the Spanish government is in the late stages of preparation of a draft Law on Transparency and Access to Public Information. According to ABC, the law is imminent.
The Cabinet intends to submit to Parliament the draft Law on Transparency and Access to Public Information “in coming weeks”, even before the controversial reform of the Religious Freedom Act, admit government sources.
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