I’ve spent the last few weeks at home in Toronto enjoying the holidays with my family. It has been an especially cold winter – I don’t remember a Christmas this snowy and cold since I was in grade school (which has been a while). But, I didn’t let that stop me from exploring the city and snapping a few photos. The cold sucks … really sucks … but Toronto is a beautiful city with a lot to offer
I visited Paris this week and over about 5 days my relationship with a the city ebbed and flowed from extremes to shoulder shrugs. More than anything else, that probably reflects just how much the Paris has to offer. As a “world city,” a resident can find just about anything they want from unique historical landmarks to modern engineering marvels to culturally specific foods to a different and complex lifestyle.
Parisian’s architecture and food were by far the most interesting to me. As planned, I had my share of fancy wines, cheeses, and chocolates and, as expected, they were spectacular. I can tell that my palate has developed as the thought of cheddar cheese from the local food market no longer brings me the excitement it once did. Instead crave the Camembert or a Brie de Meaux with a sip of wine and a French made bread. In fact, the thought of those three ingredients mixed with a TV set and my partner is, at least for now (a preface worth making as I have just come back from Paris and can be pretty fickle), my version of heaven.
Overall, I had a great time – mostly when I could settle down with some fantastic cheese and bread, and stare at some architecture while reading a book. I didn’t need much of the fancy fashions or the shows. Here are some pictures of the architecture that stood out the most:
I am incredibly impressed with London. The city is larger and more diverse than I realised – and I am not talking about just ethnicity and culture. London’s architecture shifts and sways giving each area a unique feel. Not every place has a comfortable feel and you aren’t very likely to leave every place with a smile (especially spaces that scream gentrification or ego) – but most places will make you feel like aiming a camera. I went to Notting Hill today which, despite being a bit pompous, is absolutely gorgeous. Here are some pictures:
Authors: Ajay Sandhu and Danial Marciniak
The recent clash in Charlottesville, Virginia between rival protestors over a statue memorialising a general in the Confederate Army have raised long-debated questions about the extent to which members of hate groups – in this case white nationalists – can expect the protections of certain rights and freedoms. The most recognisable of these questions is “to what extent does the freedom of speech protect racist comments publicly stated by white nationalists?” This question has made its way to the US Supreme Court several times, including earlier this year when the justices denied the possibility of a “hate speech exception” to the first amendment. As white nationalists have found a safe haven in the freedom of speech and support from free speech advocates, anti-racist movements have found alternative methods of trying to silence expressions of racism.
In an era of social media, these alternative methods have included “doxing” which refers to the online collection and exposure of private and/or identifying information about white nationalists, often in an effort to critique racism, stigmatise white nationalists, and deter further expressions of white nationalism. As doxing requires the exposure of personal information online, new questions about the rights and freedoms of white nationalists has emerged; to what extent can members of hate groups expect their privacy to be respected? and what are the present and future consequences of denying white nationalists’ privacy? This blog expands on these questions by considering the potential impact of anti-racist doxing campaigns including the risky consequences of denying white nationalists’ their privacy.
Doxing white nationalists
In a recent article published by Broadly, Keegan Hankes of the Southern Poverty Law Centre’s Intelligence Project says that many white nationalists, including some who marched in Charlottesville, are “terrified” of the consequences of expressing their views online. As Hankes puts it, white nationalists recognise that “it’s hard to get a job, hard to make a living, hard to have a normal social life when all your friends and family know you believe in ethnic cleansing.”
In an era of social media, keeping such beliefs a secret is increasingly difficult as Facebook likes, Twitter posts, and Instagram pictures make it easy to for anyone to review and scrutinise white nationalists’ beliefs, preferences, and associations. The consequences are potentially life altering, as an association with white nationalism can be costly for employment opportunities, social status, and even family connections. There are many telling examples to draw from, many of which have been reported in the aftermaths of the events in Charlottesville:
- August Cole lost his job after being identified as a member of a white nationalist group that marched in Charlottesville;
- Peter Tefft was publicly rejected by his family (which earned favourable responses from social media users who celebrate the family’s “bravery”);
- Nicholas Fuentes received several threats from peers for participating in the white nationalist march in Charlottesville, and subsequently left his University;
- Christopher Cantwell, who has become infamous for his starring role in VICE media’s documentary on the white nationalist marches in Charlottesville, has been banned from a dating website.
White nationalists may have been able to stave off some of these consequences in the past by carefully managing their online profiles. According to Hankes, white nationalists are known for scrubbing images and creating alternative social media accounts in an effort to avoid the offline consequences of online racism. However, this attempt at privacy is growing difficult as anti-racists and digital activists have launched doxing campaigns intended to expose white nationalist by publishing their personal details online. Twitter users such as @YesYoureRacist have led #MaskOff doxing campaigns by linking photos of individuals participating in white nationalist protest to their social media accounts in an effort to name, shame, and, presumably, deter expressions of white nationalism. There is little if any consideration of white nationalists’ privacy.
It is not our intention to sympathise with white nationalists or to argue that their message deserves respect in any way. This blog is our attempt to raise questions about doxing as a new method of exposing racism and the long-term implications for privacy and free expression. We argue that doxing is essentially a form of surveillance with the potential to have a chilling effect on expressions of dissent including but not limited to white nationalism. Accordingly, we suggest a deep consideration of several related questions about the impact of doxing.
Does an individual’s privacy depend on their political views?
It seems as if the standards of privacy do not apply when doxing white nationalists, whose hateful ideology is treated as a sufficient reason to collect and expose their personal information. Some might defend this approach by arguing that those who spread hateful ideologies give up their privacy, especially when their views encourage discrimination and violence. The violence of white nationalists at the Charlottesville protests may lend support to such an argument. On the other hand, it is unlikely that the majority of white nationalists encourage violence. Accordingly, doxing non-violent white nationalists implies that privacy can be ignored when targeting individuals whose politics a doxer disapproves of. We ask if this is a suitable standard of privacy; Does an individual’s privacy depend on their political views? if so, who are the doxers in charge of approving or disapproving of particular political views? Furthermore, how do those doxers make their decisions? While the unethical nature of white nationalism is an easy assessment in a society that values equality, such moral judgements may not be as easy when doxing individuals supporting more ethically complex politics. Accordingly, if we enable doxing against white nationalists, should it be acceptable when targeting those voicing their support for abortion or doctors who support a patient’s right to die? How do we determine when doxing is acceptable and when it is not?
Is the anti-racist goal achieved by ignoring white nationalists’ privacy?
Doxing intends to silence its victims, either by enabling a constant stream of threats, eradicating someone’s feeling of safety, or by shaming and creating negative consequences for voicing an opinion that is widely denounced. In the latter case, doxing operates as a form of deterrence as the subjects of doxing lose their social status and those who have similar opinions are given an opportunity to see what awaits them if they express themselves. This form of doxing seems to be more easily available to doxers targeting the alt-right given established campaigns which name and shame white nationalists online. Public shaming may sound like an ideal method of deterring hate speech, however, “terrifying” racists into silence may have unexpected consequences. Through censoring white nationalists, doxers may inadvertently add to white nationalists’ narratives about being unfairly silenced while simultaneously reducing opportunities to publicly debate and challenge racist ideas. That is, instead of directly challenging and discrediting racist ideas, doxing has the potential to push explicit racism into hiding in less popular online forums. The only time racist ideas will be expressed is when they can be sufficiently coded so as to avoid critique. We ask if this is an effective means of combating racism or if it is better to publicly debate and challenge freely expressed racist ideas?
Does the ineffectiveness of doxing give us reason to respect white nationalist’s privacy?
Doxing is often the work of online “mercenaries” who are prone to errors such as mistaken identity. For example, Kyle Quinn of the Engineering Research Centre University of Arkansas recently received a frenzy of online hatred after he was mistakenly identified as a member of the white nationalist protestors in Charlottesville who was photographed wearing an “Arkansas Engineering” shirt. We ask if the unregulated and error-prone nature of doxing gives us reason to respect the privacy of white nationalists? Further, if we support doxing, how can we ensure that cases of mistaken identity will be less likely?
How will doxing affect protests in the future?
The three questions above need to be addressed with an eye towards emerging facial recognition technologies. These technologies are already grabbing the attention of privacy advocates with news of a Russian app that is able to match photographs of random people on the streets with their social media profile pictures. Employing facial recognition technologies, doxers will be able to avoid all the tedious manual labour of searching for their targets’ personal information. Instead, the faces in images from white nationalist marches could be searched within seconds and published online together with reliability scores of the matches. Advanced apps could algorithmically identify an individuals’ social network either to locate more white nationalists or perhaps warn a white nationalist’s network of their peer’s racist politics. Thus, facial recognition technologies have the potential to facilitate quicker and more efficient naming and shaming. Accordingly, we encourage a close examination of the implications of automated doxing and its implications for privacy in public spaces. We ask if anyone should be able to find out what protest or demonstrations others have been a part of, and for years to come? Would this make people hesitate to take part in protests? In addition, does doxing have the potential to undermine participation in protests and expressions of free speech? If so, should we be standing against doxing and standing for white nationalists’ privacy – if for no other reason than to defend the ideal of open protests and free expression.
Most recent publications
This article presents the central findings of the Police on Camera project and offers details into the strategic orientation many research participants expressed when asked about policing on camera.
This article argues that instead of engaging in counter-surveillance, police officers allow themselves to be recorded and engage in what I call “camera-friendly policing,” which involves efforts to control how they are perceived while video recorded.
This article outlines the findings of one of the first studies examining how police understand and respond to cameras and photographers.
This article analyses the situation surrounding police visibility and questions the extent to which videos of the police are producing uniformly negative outcomes for them
This article analyses the extent to which videos of the police are producing uniformly negative outcomes for them. As co-authors, Kevin Haggerty and I shared all duties.
This article discusses the increasingly fraught relationship police
Much needed stress relief after a very tough few months. Haven’t boxed in years. Nothing calms my soul more. Everything else – all the essays, the reviews, the data collection, the editing, the lectures, the students – somehow fade into the background. All there is, is your fists and the target. In many ways, this is what got me through my last few years as a PhD student. It was one of the few ways I remembered to give my mind a rest.
I recently interviewed Tanya O’Carroll, a Technology and Human Rights advisor at Amnesty International, to discuss government surveillance and its impact. I framed our discussion around the most common response researchers studying surveillance receive from the public: the “nothing to hide” argument. The nothing to hide argument alleges that government surveillance programs serve a security purpose and should not to be opposed by innocent people. This blog outlines O’Carroll thoughts about the nothing to hide argument and it’s flaws, the importance of privacy rights, and the ‘encryption mentality’ that she thinks should replace the nothing to hide argument.
Explaining the Nothing to Hide Perspective
The tone of O’Carroll’s work changed radically in June 2013, when Edward Snowden revealed the extent of the US and UK governments’ surveillance program. “I remember it literally almost like a war room straight afterwards,” O’Carroll recalled, “It was time to massively beef up our work, to ask ‘what are we doing to tackle technology as a human rights issue.’” Since then, O’Carroll’s work has attempted to raise awareness about the “dark side” of technology by examining how digital and online technologies in particular are used to conduct bulk surveillance.
Unfortunately, O’Carroll faces a significant barrier; the public have dismissed arguments exposing the harms of bulk surveillance and stated that they have “nothing to hide” and therefore “nothing to fear” from government monitoring. “That’s the first thing that most people say to us,” explained O’Carroll, “all of the comments over and over again are saying ‘yeah, okay, fine, it might be an abstract violation of this abstract right called the right to privacy, but, if I’m not doing anything wrong, why do I really care whose looking at my completely boring and mundane text messages and emails.’”
O’Carroll speculates that the nothing to hide perspective is born of a lack of information about how surveillance data is used to control. Most of us do not realise, she explained, that the employment opportunities we receive, the insurance prices we pay, the treatment we receive from police, are increasingly the result of decisions made by algorithmic analyses of surveillance data. Most of us also do not realise, O’Carroll added, that these decisions can facilitate discriminatory hiring practices, exploitative pricing, and invasive police monitoring (see Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil) Even the political information we receive can be determined by algorithms which personalise the political news that appears on our websites. The result, “…doesn’t look like propaganda,” O’Carroll clarified, “it doesn’t look like a big democrat or republican or Brexit campaign poster on the side of the street. It looks like a post on your Facebook feed that is directly appealing to your tastes and interests.” Despite the seemingly harmless look, O’Carroll continued, these Facebook posts can have a significant influence on our political leanings and voting behaviour by creating “filter bubbles” that reinforce pre-existing biases and political polarisation.
Unfortunately, O’Carroll admitted, few consider such issues. There is a lot of “terrorism theatre,” she explained, which tells the public that regulations limiting bulk surveillance can undermine their safety and security. As a result, the public can be quite passive in the wake of government surveillance programs. This may also be a consequence of “…a failing of some us digital and privacy advocates,” O’Carroll added, “we’ve been so stuck in the sort of abstract or theoretical debate about privacy that we’ve failed to communicate its importance to people.”
The Importance of Privacy
Furthermore, when considering the value of privacy, O’Carroll added, it is important to remember the circumstances of those who face a disproportionate amount of surveillance. “The big eye in the sky is not aimed equally at everyone,” she explained, “I say this to my friends and my family every time the debate comes up. I defend [privacy rights] not just for myself. I defend [privacy rights] because there are other individuals who are unfairly treated as suspicious by the state.” The value of privacy then, can be found in how it serves those who are the most disadvantaged among us, those most likely be targeted by intrusive surveillance. To argue that surveillance is harmless and should be tolerated is a privileged position which ignores the experiences of the disadvantaged. “I think it is the time to put a battle cry out for privacy again,” O’Carroll concluded, “[…] it is the time for us to really stand up for the right to privacy.”
Standing up for the right to privacy can involve changing how we vote, joining pro-privacy protests, and/or writing to our local political representatives. However, it need not be so formal. Standing up for privacy rights can also involve changing our everyday behaviour by obstructing government surveillance. According to O’Carroll, this means developing a new mentality to replace the nothing to hide perspective.
To illustrate this, O’Carroll reflected on the mentality, which she later called an “encryption mentality,” that she’s developed since the Snowden revelations. She started by offering an analogy concerning how our attitudes about the safety of seatbelts have developed over time. “We’ve evolved to understand that if you walk out in front of a moving large piece of metal, also known as a bus, it is bad. So, you don’t want to do that. We didn’t necessarily evolve the mentality that when we are in a car, a seatbelt helps protect us. It’s a more abstract idea, because you can sit in a car and feel quite comfortable not wearing a seatbelt. We have to hammer it into our head, combined with law, that we have a better chance of surviving if we are wearing a seatbelt.” Overtime, O’Carroll explained, “people develop a feeling that when you get into a car, if you don’t wear your seatbelt, you feel exposed.”
Similarly, O’Carroll continued, she has developed a feeling of being exposed when she does not encrypt her emails or texts. “I have reached a point where I feel like I’m not wearing my seatbelt when I’m not encrypting things. I think I probably use end-to-end encryption for 20 to 30 percent of all of my communications now. It’s second nature for me to encrypt.” This is the mentality that she thinks should replace the nothing to hide argument. “I think that is where we need to get to as a society, so it becomes second nature, like wearing a helmet on a bike, or a seatbelt in your car. You don’t have to do it all the time, but you start to want to and you feel safer when you do.”
To help hammer home her message about the harms of surveillance and the importance of encryption, O’Carroll is working on a project which challenges governments’ claims that surveillance is not a human rights concern. “We are set to show that there is harm and that it is not just that the right to privacy is violated…it can also be discrimination. Not everybody is equal in the eyes of surveillance, and it disproportionately impacts certain communities. So, we are looking specifically at the impacts of mass surveillance programs in the police and security sectors and the impacts that those powers […] on already over-policed communities.”
You can find out more about Tanya O’Carroll’s work about the human rights concerns raised by surveillance and big data by following her on Twitter.