The Cyberscholar Working Group is a forum for fellows and affiliates of MIT, Yale Law School Information Society Project, Columbia University, and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University to discuss their ongoing research. Each session is focused on the peer review and discussion of current projects submitted by a presenter. Meeting alternatively at Harvard, MIT, Yale, the working group aims to expand the shared knowledge of young scholars by bringing together these preeminent centers of thought on issues confronting the information age. Discussion sessions are designed to facilitate advancements in the individual research of presenters and in turn encourage exposure among the participants to the multi-disciplinary features of the issues addressed by their own work.
This month's presentations include:
(1) "Lines of Control: Networks of Imperialism and Independence in India (1840-1947)"
Abstract: This paper examines the history of communications networks in India and the relationship between communications and second-order networks. It draws attention to the wave of colonial network development that took place in India between 1840 and 1948. During these years, Britain constructed a series shipping, rail and telegraph networks to achieve a set of military and commercial goals. This paper studies how first- and second-order networks developed, and the intended and unintended effects of these networks on Indiaʼs economics, politics, and identity. The paper draws on economic and social studies of colonial communications networks in India, original reports by British officials and the Colonial Office, and the literature focusing on the role of technology in British imperialism. It shows how Indiaʼs colonial communication networks, built to augment and extend British control over the subcontinent, became conduits for Indian resistance and nationalism.
Keywords: shipping, telegraph, railroads, imperialism, nationalism, network theory, India
Colin Agur is a PhD candidate at Columbia University and Visiting Fellow at Yale Law School's Information Society Project. His research examines India's telecommunications, focusing on mobile network formation and second-order effects of network growth. He spent the 2012-13 academic year in Delhi and Chennai, conducting document analysis, interviews with industry figures and participant observation related to mobile phone usage. He has published articles about Indian media and culture in Harvard's Nieman Lab, the Journal of Asian and African Studies and Journalism (forthcoming), and about telecommunications history in Information and Culture.
(2) Big Data Dramas in the 1960s and 1970s
Abstract: The recent frenzy in discussing NSA activities and the collecting of Big Data show a widespread critical concern for the current practice of gathering and using personal data. These concerns have their history. In my presentation, I track the beginnings of a growing public awareness and sensitivity towards the societal handling of personal data. I argue that the early computerization phase during the 1960s and 1970s played a crucial role in discussing these issues. Media reports, popular books, scientific publications, and political hearings all of a sudden began – often in quite different ways – to address and question contemporary practices of collecting, sharing, and storing of personal data. Their authors explored and negotiated all kind of societal settings where personal data played a significant role at that time. There have been concerns about these issues with personal data before, but – as I will show in my presentation – not on this broad societal level and to this extent as in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I argue that during that time, the usage of personal data became a highly controversial matter not only of public, but also of private interest.My inquiry examines how the term “data“ and in particular the collection of personal data became loaded with cultural and emotional significance in scientific and media discussions in the 1960s and 1970s in the United States and in Germany. Furthermore, it explores how the early computerization affected our societal handling of data long before the personal computer entered our private lives.
Julia Fleischhack is a visiting postdoctoral research fellow in the program in Science, Technology, and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She holds a PhD in anthropology from Zürich University. Her current research is on data centers from the private sector and funded by the Fritz Thyssen foundation.
(3) Biometrics or Bust - India’s Identity Crisis
Abstract: India's identity juggernaut - the Unique Identity (UID) project that has registered around 500 million people and is yet to be fully realized - is already the world's largest ever biometrics identity scheme. Grounded in the premise that centralized de-duplication and authentication will uniquely identify people and eliminate fraud, it is hailed as a game changer and a silver bullet that will solve myriad socio-economic problems, yet its conception and architecture raise significant concerns. Its implementation as a techno-utopian project in a legal vacuum, despite the potential for abuse and exclusion, give pause to the much-vaunted claims of transforming welfare delivery and galvanizing financial inclusion. I will provide an overview of the identity project and highlight some of the key implications for privacy and free speech, and more broadly, democracy and openness. I will also unpack some of the narratives being constructed, describe the current public discourse and legal developments, and locate the project within the broader surveillance state and database nation that India is morphing into.
Malavika Jayaram is a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, focusing on privacy, identity and free expression. A Fellow at the Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore, she is one of 10 Indian lawyers in The International Who's Who of Internet e-Commerce & Data Protection directory. In August 2013, she was voted one of India's leading lawyers - one of only 8 women to be featured in the "40 under 45" survey conducted by Law Business Research, London.