Shannon Dosemagen enjoys kayaking on the unexplored waterways of Louisiana, where she occasionally spends time away from her busy, urban life. Shannon has always been in love with the outer world, and the unequivocal serenity that nature brings to its visitors.
When the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill occurred, Shannon took action. She noticed a clear divide between the public and the information regarding how the spill was progressing. “We could physically smell oil being burned on the Gulf miles away in New Orleans,” Shannon says.
She soon partnered with several other soon-to-be co-founders of Public Lab and launched a full-scale aerial mapping of the Gulf using big red balloons and $40 digital cameras tied to kite strings. The question of “What are you doing?” raised by BP contractors and representatives of the coast guard and other governmental agencies, came about with interest, rather than with the intent of shutting them down. Civic technology, in this event, became a friendly and visually-engaging mode of collecting information in a “Do It Yourself” way, which encouraged many environmental activists around the Gulf region to take action.
Oftentimes, environmental monitoring tools are created for corporations, government agencies, and research institutions to gather information about natural disasters and public health concerns, but not so much for the people who might be the most directly affected by these environmental burdens. Shannon Dosemagen sees this problem as grounds for the public to gather information on their own, create alternative forms of data, and directly engage with the environmental hazards and public health issues that have been increasingly affecting the lives of many around the world.
Shannon wanted the Public Lab to be a space where people could bring different sets of experience, knowledge, and expertise to the table and create something together. This may include a scientist working with a community organizer and a designer to build a project together. In terms of how members of the Public Lab create, it is similar to how people in physical makerspaces get together and create projects, but a lot of the initial work done at the Public Lab is through online platforms. Twice every year, Shannon and members of the Public Lab host Barnraisings, an event that originated from the 1800s where communities would gather and build a barn structure. The work that the Public Lab is doing is not much different; they believe in the empowerment and entrepreneurial spirit that community-driven activities promote.
Shannon is putting in as much time as possible into considering the end results of what it means for people to collect data, and then using that data on behalf of their goals and objectives. Her primary research and work at the Berkman Center will involve the know-hows of using information, and putting together standards and norms that people can use as guidelines for future research. In the field of environmental monitoring, according to Shannon, “there is not really a clear sense of how community members can work with government agencies or other stakeholders to create changes for the betterment of environmental boards.”
Shannon, who is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Public Lab and an Ashoka Fellow, looks forward to engaging with the interactive family environment at Berkman. She sees this opportunity as way for her to put aside some of her time at the Public Lab to delve deeper into bigger questions of scientific reasoning that she has had before starting her work at Public Lab.
Maria Paz Canales is a Chilean antitrust lawyer and UC Berkeley Master of Laws with a Certificate of Specialization in Law & Technology. She will research and analyze the design of regulations and technologies that break traditional cultural industries online and create new markets and models in which creators and users may exercise digital freedoms.
Do the approaches to technology differ in Chile from the approaches in the U.S.?
The approaches differ and intersect in several different aspects. The most notorious point of difference between both countries approaches is related to the level of development of each one. Chile as a developing country is still more a consumer of technology produced by developed countries, among them prominently technology coming from the U.S. That fact also has an impact in the accessibility to technology that is high in Chile for some high-income groups of Chilean population, but still relatively low for the vast majority of the society (given Chile’s high inequality rates). There are some technologies that have been increasingly available in recent years spurred by the regulatory market framework developed by the authority that has provided incentive to investment and competition. This is the case of telecommunications services, particularly mobile telephone services and wired and mobile Internet access. However, engagement with technology is still mainly associated with the use and consumption of technology, rather than innovation development within the country.
On the other hand, in terms of technology regulation and technology uses there are a lot of similarities. Like the U.S., Chile is a member of the main international treaties related to the protection of Intellectual Property (TRIPS, Berne Convention, PCT, among others). In 2003, Chile also signed a Trade Agreement with the U.S. with an extensive Intellectual Property chapter that established several obligations in order to homologate intellectual property regulation to provide equivalent level of protection in both countries. Furthermore, even if the reality of technology dissemination differs, as I have pointed out, the uses for those that can have access are not so different. Internet use is increasingly intensive in education and business environments. Users are confronted with the same questions related to fair access to information, protection of their privacy, and respect of their human rights in general in the context of technology services use.
Chile has implemented the latest technologies in telecommunications, financial services, private health services and mining. In recent years, it has spurred local technology innovation to provide support to more efficient mining exploitation, given the relevance of this activity for Chile’s GDP. The government also has developed a digital agenda to try to offer services, information and assistance of different governmental agencies through Internet. This public effort to provide access to technology services to the whole population also fostered the creation of the Telecommunications Development Fund (FDT) to support Internet access for schools, and broadband access and broadband backbones for rural and remote areas.
It is possible to identify two clear future challenges for Chile in relation to technology (which are intimate connected): making technology available to an increasing number of people and moving from consuming technology to fostering local technology innovation production.
What kinds of digital innovation do you expect to be most influential to how we process technology?
This is not an easy question to answer, given the constant change in technology status. A lawyer is probably not the best situated to foresee what will be the most revolutionary field, but if I have to name a few, there are a number of recent digital innovations that are generating increasingly new challenges for traditional markets and traditional regulations: cloud computing services, big data processing, the “Internet of things”, (especially for healthcare services), the new platform of services offered in the so called “sharing economy”, and crypto currency initiatives.
What all these innovations have in common is that they all are technologies that are trying to customize services to be more accurate to each user’s needs. In several of these cases, as shared services or crypto currencies, we can see the eroding of the traditional intermediation of services, putting users directly in touch, which is having a tremendous disruptive effect on the traditional market by remodeling relevant markets and market sharing. In others cases, like cloud computing services and Internet of things, we can see the substitution of physical equipment to provide more flexible (hopefully more affordable services) that can serve in better way and lead to more people taking advantage of scale economies in the use of technology equipment. Big data mining has proven to have a tremendous impact in the development of better products and services and more efficient production of them. All of these different technologies present particular challenges for traditional regulations that were crafted for a more “physical” reality. Some of these technologies would need regulatory intervention to set frameworks that balance the protection of the innovation benefits with the risk of abuse against consumers.
What are the biggest challenges to incorporating innovative and new technologies into laws and regulations?
The first big challenge is understand technology and understand the markets where that technology plays a relevant role. My experience shows that in this field there are a lot of advantages in creating space for discussion that includes companies, experts, regulators and civil society organizations. There are so many times when regulations are drafted with the best intentions to foster innovation and protect users, but the misunderstanding of what are the characteristics of what is intended to be regulated deceives that purpose, or even worst, ends with a regulation that does not make sense for the pursued goals and that could damage innovations, markets and users. Regulators need to be educated and supported in the understanding of new technology.
There is also a huge risk for some countries to cut and copy legislation crafted for foreign realities. I truly believe that any regulation should be crafted after a careful understanding of the regulated object and the characteristics of the market in which that regulation would operate. Of course taking a look at foreign models can be useful as reference of goals and regulatory tools design, but a plain copy of regulation is a poor and ineffective method of regulation. After the process of technology assessment and studying existing models, the definition of regulation goals should be clearer for the regulators. It would also allow more effective design of the regulatory tools to address those goals.
Then, there is a final challenge of designing regulation that can be technologically neutral enough to survive a technological change that will continue occurring. Of course it is always possible to update regulation, yet regulatory process is costly and subject to a political prioritization. Furthermore, the certainty of a clear regulatory framework favors innovation, to avoid distracting valuable resources in legal evaluation and defense. A regulatory framework with clear bright lines and broad definitions that provides general guidelines in the form of principles pursued by the regulatory framework are very useful for the purpose of maintaining the efficiency of regulation in a technologically changing environment. A flexible framework for specialized agencies to interpret according the principles and clear rules provided by legislation is a stable and efficient combination for regulations in technology fields.
While the United States has a significant number of privacy laws, other countries often have more comprehensive and fewer privacy laws. For lawyers, researchers, or practitioners in any field trying to apply the many United State privacy laws, it may not always be easy to know which laws may apply or how to properly comply with the laws (if they are written broadly). What is the state of privacy laws in Chile and in other parts of the world that you have worked with?
The trend in the vast majority of the world is having data privacy laws that apply in general to any field of activity that involve collection and processing of personal data. There are also some activities, like financial services and healthcare, which commonly have specific regulations in order to reinforce user protection, given the sensitivity of the data collected.
Chile has a personal data protection law that follows in gross lines the European model of data protection. Data collection requires specific consent from consumers and can only be used for the purpose listed by the consent given and cannot be shared with third non-affiliated parties without consumer consent. Although this regulation sounds very protective in the wording, there is a serious lack of enforcement in Chile because there is no specific authority on charge of verifying compliance, and the claims under data protection law have to be made to common civil law jurisdiction judges that many times lack the knowledge about how to handle claims made in a highly technological context. There is a lot of uncertainty in general in the application of the law, but in my experience many national and international companies in the country try to address the lack of guidelines by implementing the best practices in international standards.
The constant tension in this matter is based on how much regulation is needed to protect consumers in the proper way and at the same time allow companies to take advantage of information collection to improve their services and products offer. Highly protective laws can have an unintended effect of harming the ability of companies to compete and innovate. Low levels of protection for users can minimize the ability to exercise human rights. In an international context, the level of protection of each country can determine the flux of investment and the allocation of data processing facilities.
The European models of general protection for data privacy, with their requirement of equivalent protection to share European data with foreign entities, have been successful in the spread of their regulation beyond boarders to protect personal data. That regulation, however, has not proven been equality effective in some cases for the compliance of the established protections. Today, there is an increasing frustration in consumers about the vulnerability of their data collected by different private and public entities and a general sense of lack of protection against data breaches or illegal use of their data for the collection entities. This reality probably requires the review of laws, but also the engagement of private companies in social responsible review of their own policies to address users’ legitimate concerns.
Interview by Rod Ghaemmaghami, a third year law student in Washington, D.C. at the George Washington University Law School. Rod is fascinated by Privacy Law and is excited to watch the balancing act between innovative technologies and laws regulating technologies. In his free time, Rod writes poetry unironically.