The appearance of justice

Just today I was asked by the media about the effects of social media on the courts. The reason why I was asked for my opinion was the notorious Casey Anthony case. The basics were that Casey Anthony’s two year old child Caylee goes missing but the mother does not report this for 31 days. The rest is stranger than any drama writers creation: the mother is shown to be a incredible liar, dancing and happy, even getting a tattoo with the words “Dolce Vita”. The grandfather is accused of incest, the police boyfriend lies to the police and social media is mined for any and all evidence that can be found.

For the last three years Casey Anthony has been waiting for her trail while the world has been discussing every fact and fiction related to the case. The story begins with the media and then is picked up on various social media channels.  The professionals work on building a case and a defence. Social media even figures in the jury selection where Facebook accounts are mined to see if a presumptive jury member is good or bad.

The idea in this situation that you can find an impartial group of people in the middle of a media storm is an anachronism. There were serious questions of whether the jury would be affected by the popular opinions expounded in social and other media. The discussion reached fever pitch during the trial and when the jury left for their deliberations. And when the notification came that the jury were back #caseyanthony was trending on twitter. The verdict was unexpected by the media. Not guilty of all charges but lying to the police. The rage on twitter was incredible. The verdict was that the prosecutor was unable to prove Casey Anthony’s involvement in murder or child abuse.

Even earlier there were comparisons between the O.J. Simpson case but here was a major difference – those who were angry during the Simpson case could only scream at the TV with twitter the screams could be shared, discussed and amplified.

No matter which verdict the jury had presented the question of influence from social media hangs in the air. Even if the jury were not supposed to know anything – is it possible to be unaffected by the media storm?

The next problem is the question of what role social media should play in a court process. In Sweden we still prohibit cameras in the courts – this means that the public can twitter, blog, comment and link to external photographs – but not point a lens. The purpose of this is to protect the integrity of the court process but is this protection pointless considering the prevalence of social media? Should we therefore allow cameras or prohibit social media devices in the courtroom?

A final problem is the appearance of justice. Lord Hewart is the origin of the adage “Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.” This poses a problem: the courts are concerned with justice but what happens when the society outside the courthouse demands a verdict that the courts are unable to deliver? What is apparent from reading twitter is that the demands for justice (or blood?) from the virtual mob have hardly been met.

Articles of Interest: Emily M. Janoski-Haehlen The Courts are all a‘Twitter’: The Implications of Social Media Use in the Courts New Media and the Courts: The current status and a look at the future A report of the New Media Committee of the Conference of Court Public Information Officers Michael Bromby The Temptation to Tweet – Jurors’ Activities Outside the Trial

Interesting articles:

Emily M. Janoski-Haehlen The Courts are all a‘Twitter’: The Implications of Social Media Use in the Courts

New Media and the Courts: The current status and a look at the future
A report of the New Media Committee of the Conference of Court Public Information Officers

Michael Bromby The Temptation to Tweet – Jurors’ Activities Outside the Trial


The importance of open internet

Who gets to define the Internet? Well during Sarkozy’s “EG8” conference last week it seemed like the internet belongs to business – but thankfully there are important representatives who could organize a press conference to push the obvious view that the internet is not a commercial plaything. BoingBoing writes:

And so, yesterday, in Paris, civil society threw together an impromptu press conference, featuring Harvard’s Larry Lessig, La Quadrature du Net’s Jérémie Zimmermann, CUNY’s Jeff Jarvis, former ICANN board member/former White House advisor Susan Crawford, Reporters Without Borders’ Jean-François Julliard, and Harvard’s Yochai Benkler. The spirt of the event was captured by Lessig. Business is important, the professor argued. But there are more than the interests of just business at stake when it comes to the future of the global network.

At E-G8, Civil Society Groups Restake Their Claim on the ‘Net

[EN] La société civile s’en va t’en guerre à l’ e-G8 from OWNI on Vimeo.

The Future of Money

Tomorrow it’s time for the first Swedish CC Salon which will be held in Stockholm and focus on the topic The Future of Money. The main speakers are Gabriel Shalom & Jay Cousins but I will also have the opportunity to speak on the topic. The Future of Money is part of a Nordic CC Salon Tour, which is being held between 3rd – 7th of May 2011. This Nordic tour is very intense: May 3 is Copenhagen, May 4 Aarhus, May 5 Stockholm, May 6 Oslo and May 7 is Reykjavik.

Right now I am working on my part of the presentation which is being inspired by the fascinating work of Georg Simmel called The Philosophy of Money. My basic idea for the presentation is that the move from the barter system to the monetary system creates a major change in fundamental human relationships.

Where the barter system is a relational system, building by necessity on long term trust and relations. But along comes, by necessity, the monetary system. The long term relational trust is no longer necessary. All focus is now on the transaction and the human relations are changed from the relational to the transactional. Long term trust in others is not necessary, all efforts could be focused on trusting the abstract system of currency.

Our focus on the transactional system has been honed to the point where we dislike (or mistrust) the concept of relational trust in attempting to understand economic relationships. So when we attempt to understand why people spend their time in not for profit work or working without pay, in for example developing Free and/or Open Source Software or writing long articles in Wikipedia or assisting in non-profit organizations, we often struggle to understand the motivation that drives them.

A common explanation used is the idea that people work for reputation – but the flaw in this seems to be that we are simply replacing cash for reputation credits. In other words we are replacing one abstract monetary system for another. What this does not take into consideration is the long term relationships created by the social relations created through work for a common goal.

Well that’s where I am now. Lots of hours left before the actual event and I am looking forward to the feedback. If you are in Stockholm tomorrow please drop by Stallet on Stallgatan 7, we begin at 7pm.

Catholic Destruction of Art

Like it or not, Andres Serrano image of a plastic crucifix in urine Piss Christ (1987) is a powerful anti-religion statement, not so much the belief system but the abuse by the organization.

Naturally powerful art makes enemies. From the Guardian (18 April)

On Saturday, around 1,000 Christian protesters marched through Avignon to the gallery… But on Palm Sunday morning, four people in sunglasses aged between 18 and 25 entered the exhibition just after it opened at 11am. One took a hammer out of his sock and threatened the guards with it. A guard grabbed another man around the waist but within seconds the group managed to take a hammer to the plexiglass screen and slash the photograph with another sharp object, thought to be a screwdriver or ice-pick. They also smashed another work, which showed the hands of a meditating nun.

After all the complaints and attitudes that it is only repressive regimes or Islamic movements who repress and censor it would be nice if all those who pointed fingers at those people now stood up and claimed about Catholics attempting to suppress free speech, art and culture. But somehow I doubt that this will happen.

Andres Serrano Piss Christ (1987)

If the Catholic church wants to stand up as a agent of good – then a quick and clear condemnation of the destruction in Avignon should be presented from the highest authority. But somehow I doubt that this will happen.

Its not that easy supporting free speech when you disagree with the content. But it is weak when you condemn the suppression of speech by others just because you don’t disagree with the content.

Removing civil rights without appearing to be a dictorship

Many of the civil rights that we today claim to be “natural” or “fundamental” have their roots in an ideology of the individual which dates back to the 18th century. The importance of a free press, free speech, democracy and the fundamentals of integrity can be traced back to the enlightenment period which believed that all were created equal and that people – not systems – were valuable and important enough to be in control.

Since then these ideologies have been slowly been implemented into law. Not uniformly nor quickly but still the ongoing process of bringing implemented, real civil rights has been measurable. But lets not get carried away. One thing lacking in our (for example) right to expression has been our ability to express ourselves to a wider audience. Sure we have the right to do so – but do we have the ability to do so?

The fact that not everyone could speak was seen as unfortunate but inevitable and this scarcity created a marketplace of ideas. Well, in reality, it created a marketplace of platforms from which to speak from. If you fit the profile of the platform you may (still if you are lucky) exercise your right to speak to a larger audience.

In this way many of our rights are strongly linked to the platforms which give us the ability to carry out these rights. And what are the Internet, the Web & Web2.0? They are a form of easily accessible platforms. The barriers to entry to these platforms are widely reduced (compared with old or traditional media). With the lowering of barriers to entry millions (?) of people have been exercising rights which have previously only been theoretical.

Unfortunately this does not suit everyone. What we have seen is that with the removal or reduction of technical or economic barriers to entry the law is often being used to create an artificial barrier to reduce or minimize the impact of our rights.

Now the interesting thing is that no politician today would dare to challenge the enlightenment ideal. No politician today can openly say that they want to reduce our fundamental freedoms even if they are tempted to. What happens instead is the interesting removal of rights by creating levels of control in our communications intermediaries. What this means is that instead of telling people that they will reduce their rights governments are applying burdens of surveillance and control on the companies that provide our infrastructure.

And what can we do? Well not much really. Most of our infrastructure use is voluntary. If we want to use the net we are forced to play along with the conditions of the companies that provide the net to us.

A recent example of this process (one of many) reported by Wired is that the Obama administration is urging Congress not to adopt legislation that would impose constitutional safeguards on Americans’ e-mail stored in the cloud.

As the law stands now, the authorities may obtain cloud e-mail without a warrant if it is older than 180 days, thanks to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act adopted in 1986. At that time, e-mail left on a third-party server for six months was considered to be abandoned, and thus enjoyed less privacy protection. However, the law demands warrants for the authorities to seize e-mail from a person’s hard drive.

A coalition of internet service providers and other groups, known as Digital Due Process, has lobbied for an update to the law to treat both cloud- and home-stored e-mail the same, and thus require a probable-cause warrant for access. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on that topic Tuesday.

The companies — including Google, AOL and AT&T — maintain that the law should be changed to reflect that consumers increasingly access their e-mail on servers, instead of downloading it to their hard drives, as a matter of course.

But the Obama administration testified that imposing constitutional safeguards on e-mail stored in the cloud would be an unnecessary burden on the government. Probable-cause warrants would only get in the government’s way.

The process is an excellent example of the cynical application of power. On the face of it government still maintains its support for rights, while in reality slashing the practical application of rights at the point of the technology upon which the rights stand.

Great Net Delusion Animation

Over on the IT Law in Ireland blog TJ McIntyre has posted about a great new RSA Animate called The Internet in Society: Empowering or Censoring Citizens? This one is based on Evgeny Morozov‘s great book The Net Delusion were he argues that the Internet and Web2.0 do not make democracy inevitable.

When writing his review in The Guardian Cory Doctorow was critical of The Net Delusion for his pessimism in the power of the Internet for promoting democracy. But I don’t think its so easy to ignore Morozov’s critique of the cyberutopian vision. I highly recommend The Net Delusion.

The Assange extradition

The Assange case is strange in the sense that many people really want Assange to be treated differently – as if he were not subject to the same laws as everyone else – this is odd since the whole point of Wikileaks is that there are groups that believe themselves to be above the law. But the idea that many people may stem from the problem that many people do not know the way in which the rules work.

It is also helpful to remember to think of the rules objectively. No matter what you think about Assange: what kind of rules would you like to be applied when a person is accused of sexual assault or rape.

The two arguments of the defense are (1) the Swedish prosecutor has not got the authority to issue the arrest warrant, and (2) that Assange is only wanted for questioning and not wanted for trial – you have to be wanted for trial to be able to be extradited.

The answers are:

  1. A Swedish prosecutor has the authority to issue the warrant
  2. The prosecutor has been clear that Assange is wanted for trial in Sweden. But if he can demonstrate his innocence before the trial then he will not be tried.

There have also been questions to whether the charges (rape and assault) are extradition offences? The details show that the women present cases where a degree of force has been used. Using force in these contexts would constitute rape or sexual assault in most countries (including the United Kingdom, Australia & USA).

Finally there is the question of the danger of a violation of Assange’s human rights if he is sent to Sweden.

  • If Assange is extradited to Sweden he will be sent on to the USA where he could face the death penalty (but the USA will most probably guarantee not to apply this penalty) or imprisonment in a place like Guantanamo.

This is a useless argument. It’s more of a smoke screen or a public relations scam by the Assange legal team.

  • In Sweden elements of trials involving sexual offences can to an extent be held behind closed doors (i.e. not open to the public).

The argument that the trial would not be fair usually means that the trial would be a complete farce and this would not be the case even if elements of the evidence may be heard without a public to protect the victims.

What if the USA brings charges against Assange?
If this is done while Assange is in the UK the Home Secretary would have to decide which charges were to take precedence based on different criteria (who made the request first, which is the most serious, what are the penalties faced). Therefore the Home Secretary could decide to put the Swedish process on hold and go ahead with the US request.
If this is done while Assange is in Sweden then the Swedes would not be able to extradite him without the consent of the United Kingdom. Therefore the Home Secretary would again be able to decide to give or to withhold consent to extradite.

At present Assange has lost the first round and is appealing. But it is interesting to note that if he wins the appeal he is still under a European arrest warrant. In other words if he wins the appeal he will not be extradited to Sweden but it also means that he could not travel anywhere else in Europe as the arrest warrant still stands. If he were to go to another European country he would be arrested – and have to appeal the decision to extradite him from that country.

Realistically his only chance is to come to Sweden and stand trial. No matter what happens his arguments that the USA is behind all his legal problems is false as they could bring charges against him wherever he happens to be.

Social Media gets boring

The Sysomos blog has a post claiming that 2011 is the year that Social Media gets boring. At the heart of the argument is the fact that eventually the flashy, shiny new image of the thing will wear off and people will want a new toy.

By that, I mean the novelty will start to wear off as social media becomes a more engrained part of how we communicate, market and sell. Rather than being shiny, new and fascinating, social media will just be.

Social Media is still growing but I agree that its novelty has peaked. It didnt kill all the blogs or destroy old media. To those who find the tool useful it will survive to those who don’t it will eventually be abandoned along with so many other projects intended to change the world.

Despite this peaking of social media many government offices and municipalities are rushing in to the great communications hope. In social media they see a way of invigorating citizen communication but there is a problem – what does my municipality have to tweet that I want to read?

Recently I got an email informing me that the municipality of Uppsala is following me on twitter. It isn’t my first municipality or government but I can’t help but feeling a bit paranoid – the whole municipality is following me? Talk about pressure – what can I say that the municipality would like to hear? On the lighter side of social media and governments I am waiting to receive an email that the secret police are now following me on twitter. It’s not paranoia – it’s technology.

There are many interesting projects dealing with the uses of social media in local government and the tools can play an important role but they require work. Opening up a channel of communication requires an organization around the tool – to read and reply to messages, to handle questions that come up and at the same time ensure that the established norms of integrity and professionalism are maintained even in this new toy. Unfortunately many organizations see social media as a free toy that will require little effort but provide great publicity. These hopeful people need to be reminded that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

The coming boredom of social media is a good thing. It will enable us to see beyond the hype and get on with the work of organization.

Spaghetti Open Data

A couple of days ago Alberto Cottica (author of the interesting Wikicrazia – unfortunately for me in Italian) announced a major step in Open Data in Italy

A few weeks ago, after a happy hour in Rome, people started spontaneously to share links on Italian open data and tools to crunch them with. With a few others, I thought it would be nice to collect these links in one place, a sort of one stop shop for people interested in transparency not just in theory, but in the practice of extracting information from public data. One thing led to another, and today Spaghetti Open Data is born.

In the English text about Spaghetti Open Data acknowledges the importance of making open data available:

Consider it a gift. For all its shortcomings, our democracy is a great gift from the past generations: the least we can do is take care of it as best as we can.

Among the gifts of democracy is the theory of openness. Without openness and free speech democracy is somewhere between handicapped and useless. While we now have the technology to increase openness & make transparency viable on a level previously impossible this has not translated automatically into a citizen friendly approach to government data. Initiative like Spaghetti Open Data provide us with excellent examples of steps in the right direction.