Eldar Habar joins the Berkman Center from Israel where he is a Post-doctoral Fellow at the Haifa Center for Law and Technology (HCLT) and the Cyber Forum at Haifa University. This year, his paper “The Criminal Copyright Gap,” was published in the Stanford Technology Law Review. At the Berkman Center this year, Eldar will take on a nuanced perspective of the much-talked about “Right to be Forgotten” decision in Europe as a criminal rehabilitation right. Below, Eldar answers questions related to his work.
Your published works online exhibit a wide range of interests. So I wanted to ask first: what are the issues you are most passionate about?
Prior to my postdoctoral studies, my research mostly focused on various aspects of copyright and criminal law. But since I was always interested in various aspects of law & technology, I have broadened the scope of my research to cover more aspects of this field, and mainly, delved into cyber research. While I still conduct copyright research, I mainly focus now on cyber-attacks, cyber-defense and surveillance, while examining their impact on fundamental rights and liberties.
What do you hope to accomplish during your Berkman fellowship?
Being a Berkman fellow was always a dream of mine, and it is a real privilege to join this wonderful community. Accordingly, I intend to fully engage in the Berkman Center's activities. Beyond perusing my own research on the right to be forgotten, I hope to engage in joint projects, and pursue various law & technology issues. I am certain that this fellowship will expand my academic horizons, and I truly hope to learn from the wide variety of experts at the center.
It's been a year since the ECJ right-to-be-forgotten decision, and it remains a hot-button issue. What do you hope to add to the conversation?
During the last year, we witnessed an outburst of academic scholarship on the right to be forgotten. I think that my focus is less "traditional" in a sense. I intend to explore the right to be forgotten from a criminal law perspective, as a form of a "civil rehabilitation right". By examining the right to be forgotten through a criminal law prism, and mainly rehabilitation theory, I hope to achieve a better understanding of the EU's right and of criminal law theories. Moreover, I also intend to explore the ramifications of the right to be forgotten beyond the individual, by suggesting that an opposite social right – a right not to forget – should also exist. I believe that such research will not only contribute to current academic scholarship on this important issue, but rather also broaden the discussion on free speech and privacy.
In the future, do you think that all countries will, at one point, be forced to contend with a push for a right to be forgotten?
I highly doubt it. While the right to be forgotten could be a novel idea, helping individuals to better protect their privacy, it also endangers fundamental rights such as free speech and freedom of information. U.S. Congress, for example, will not likely legislate such right in its current form anytime soon, as it will be deemed unconstitutional. This is why academic research on the right to be forgotten at this stage is crucial. We need to better understand the problems which gave birth to the right to be forgotten, and only then we could attempt to solve them with other mechanisms.
And as a final, more character-driven question: What would you like to do for fun around Cambridge during your year here?
Perhaps this will sound a bit geeky, but academic research is fun! Beyond that, as this will be my first visit to Cambridge, I am still clueless on what it has to offer. But I am sure that this will change soon after my arrival, and that I will find a lot of fun things to do. As a final note, I just wanted to say again that I’m super-excited to join the Berkman center's community, and I look forward to meeting and learning from my new colleagues!
Amy Aixi Zhang was a 2015 summer intern at the Berkman Center. Her life is often dictated by the whims of a baby blue bike, which maniacally wheels her between destinations. When she regains control, she studies the Internet.
Nicola Greco is a Ph.D. student in the Decentralized Information Group at MIT. He will write and advance research on ways to re-decentralize the web, focusing on technical, political, and social aspects of decentralized systems.
What is your background?
I am a computer scientist. I did my undergrad at University College London and I am now a grad student at MIT in the Decentralized Information Group. I started writing code when I was very young. I was 14 when I started the petition “Linux in Italian Schools”, converting schools to use Open Source Software; 16, when I started the BuddyPress’ developers community - an open source platform for federated social networks; 17, when I made one of the first unofficial Twitter buttons; At 18, I wrote a software for Social Network analysis used by Telecom Italia that awarded me two research grants. The latter was key for my exposure; all of a sudden I was traveling around Europe, gave a TEDx talk and appeared Italian Wired’s Top 10 under 25.
I am now 22 and determined to work on re-decentralizing the Web. This is probably influenced by my time working at Mozilla and as a reaction to writing software for tracking people on social media.
What will your research be focusing on at the Berkman Center?
The Web is getting centralized. Big players are federating the cyberspace by owning user’s data and digital identity, Governments have power to apply censorship to inconvenient web pages and journalists. Security agencies spy on civilians beyond their mandate. New threats come from this: anti-democratic governments abusing their power, journalists unable to be reached, or even simply users unable to use and have control over the data that they own. Is this the Web that we want?
My work focuses on re-decentralizing the Web. In the Web of today, we are locked into very few services that do not interoperate with others, portability is a nightmare and we barely control how these services use our data. The idea is to have a distributed Web, where users can interact with others without the need of one central platform that acts as a man in the middle that holds our data, our identity, and control our actions.
My belief is that the solution is in separating data from services. In this way one can choose where to store its data and what application to use, hence a interoperability, portability and control. However, this in practice would raise new technological challenges: a standard language for data, a standard online identity, etc.
Although I have no final solution, I am developing the first building blocks, discussing how we can achieve this technologically and its impact on society, and writing the Decentralized Web Manifesto. There are two projects that I originally proposed: Bubbles - a way to empower users to own their data, and TaskTorrent - a Bittorrent for collaboration, but I am sure new projects will be defined on the way through my fellowship. I promise I will dive into details in a further blog post.
Decentralized web seems like an utopia, is it possible to realize? Would it be used by common users or only by Internet experts?
Yes, right now it is an utopia for many of us. It is definitely not possible to realize if there are no tools and no people working on this. I believe that my work will put the first bricks of a movement that is yet to come. I believe that only a mix of new research, developer communities, and new regulations will make this to happen.
I think we are living in an exciting time, where it is not just more and more people being connected to the Internet, but also devices. Soon my fridge and microwave will be connected to the Internet, and I am sure there will be a time in which the microwave will want to know what is in the fridge. Will those two communicate in the same language? Will they chat through a central platform? I don't think so. They must speak a standard language and communicate peer-to-peer. This is to me decentralization, and I want this to happen through the web.
However, I think it is important to say that I don't envision a web with no centralized place. This would be really an extremist claim and bad. Services like closed social networks, cloud storage, search engines, and app stores have provided excellent services that users love. However, here I am discussing the freedom of having alternatives to these systems.
What about security? All the communications will be encrypted, does it mean that even sharing illegal content (copyright infringement, illicit content, terroristic associations etc.) would be easier?
Although I see the risks mentioned, most of the concepts I propose have little or nothing to do with sharing illegal content. For example, interoperability between services means that my data can be used across applications. What does this have to do with sharing illegal content? Surely with new technologies we open the gates to new type of illicit use of the web, and it is in my scope to understand and evaluate the risks of this.
Why is the Berkman Center the right place to achieve your aim in research?
I believe the Berkman Center is an incredible opportunity for my interest on the impact of Internet on society. It could really be the place where my activist nature and passion for the decentralized Web could finally find a non-technical home. I might not have knowledge in Politics or in Law, but Berkman is the place where I can accelerate this and complement my skills.
More importantly, the people that I will meet will be key for shaping my ideas. A little ending anecdote: I was 16 when I met David Weinberger at a conference dinner for the first time. Six years ago I could speak very little and bad English, but inside me I strongly felt I wanted to learn from him one day. The year after, I moved from Italy to the UK, where I did complete my high-school and went to University. David changed my life in a dinner, and I am excited to see what happens after one year at the Berkman Center meeting all the seniors and new fellows. I am here now, after six years.
This interview was conducted by Dario Chaifouroosh, a summer 2015 Berktern from Polytechnical University of Turin, Italy, forthcoming engineer and strongly interested in the Internet of Things applications.