Friday, November 30, 2018

Public talk on Decolonization, Resistance and Creativity

I will be speaking on a public panel event on "Big Data from the South: Decolonization, Resistance and Creativity" organized by Stefania Milan, the PI for the DATACTIVE ERC project at the University of Amsterdam and Emiliano Treré at the Data Justice Lab, Cardiff University. The wonderful panel of speakers include Nick Couldry (London School of Economics), Merlyna Lim (Carleton University) and Ulises A. Mejias (State University of New York, College at Oswego).

The premise of this panel is based on the fact that datafication has dramatically altered the way we understand the world around us. Understanding the so-called ‘big data’ means to explore the profound consequences of the computational turn, as well as the limitations, errors and biases that affect the gathering, interpretation and access to information on such a large scale. However, much of this critical scholarship has emerged along a Western axis ideally connecting Silicon Valley, Cambridge, MA and Northern Europe. What does it mean to think datafication from a Southern perspective? This roundtable interrogates the mythology and universalism of datafication and big data, moving beyond the Western centrism and digital universalism of the critical scholarship on datafication and digitalization. It asks how would datafication look like seen… ‘upside down’? What problems should we address? What questions would we ask?

This panel is part of a bigger workshop on ‘Big Data from the South: Towards a Research Agenda’, held in Amsterdam on December 4-5.

Talk at Humboldt Berlin on Tech, Law and Access to Justice


On 28th and 29th of November 2018, I participated and spoke at a workshop titled  “The Future of Law: Technology, Innovation and Access to Justice” at the Humboldt University of Berlin.  The workshop was organised by the Chair for  Public Law and Comparative Law, Humboldt University of Berlin and the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung for Freedom. My talk was titled, "Above the law and below poverty: Databased obfuscations, activism and publicity from the global South." My talk argues that contrary to seeking to be protected through anonymity as the bulk of the current research alludes to, some of those at the margins may choose to put themselves at high risk by being visible and heard. The GDPR, rooted in the Western ideology of individual choice and rights, may have created a privacy universalism, begging the question of whether privacy is a privilege and a luxury. This talk draws from a decade of fieldwork and activism among vulnerable communities beyond the West to grapple with the question of whether privacy and activism are after all compatible.

Access to justice is understood as the ability for people to address their everyday legal problems, either through recourse to courts or other forums. It is estimated that globally, around 4 billion people live outside the reach of the law, and do not have the security, opportunity or protection to redress their grievances and injustices. Challenges of access to justice can manifest in multiple ways, these can include where courts and legal institutions are out of reach of litigants for reasons of costs, distance or even a lack of knowledge of rights and entitlements. It can also be caused because many judicial institutions are under-funded and as a result, there is poor infrastructure, inadequate staff and limited resources to meet the needs and demands of litigants who require such services. In many instances the text of law itself is riddled with complexities and that makes it difficult for it to be understood and used effectively. Access to justice  is therefore an expansive concept that has symbolic, financial, informational and structural implications for fights against poverty, inequality, violence and a lack of development. This significance has been recognized in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that see access to justice as a key driver for building peaceful and inclusive societies.

A key focus of this conference is to understand how technology, seen as a disruptor in several industries and economies, can leverage innovation to introduce solutions to some of the most intractable justice sector problems. The German government, particularly through its Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, has also identified the vast potential of digitalization and specifically targets the promotion of human rights and political participation in its recently published “Digital Agenda”. The conference aims to bring together leading lawyers, judges, academics, activists, technologists and researchers to discuss ways in which advances in technology, can bring greater access, efficiency and effectiveness to justice sector reform.


Invited to the COST Action Work group on Automation & Mobility

I have been invited to join the WISE-ACT project, “Wider Impacts and Scenario Evaluation of Autonomous and Connected Transport” and contribute my expertise on privacy, social inclusion and digital mobility in urban space and the future implications on how to organize mobility within public space. This is a new area for me to apply my expertise which is exciting as I have been doing research on how people are tracked with automated systems enabled by big data, be it with the tracking of illegal immigrant's movements via the biometric identity project in India or the banning of travel via the Social Credit system in China or the Smart card in South Africa. 

Basically, the project theme is as follows: Autonomous vehicle (AV) trials are currently taking place worldwide and Europe has a key role in the development of relevant technology. Yet, very limited research exists regarding the wider implications of the deployment of such vehicles on existing road infrastructure, since it is unclear if and when the transition period will start and conclude. It is anticipated that improved accessibility and road safety will constitute the primary benefits of the widespread use of AVs, whilst co‐benefits may also include reduced energy consumption, improved air quality or better use of urban space. Therefore, the focus of this COST Action is on observed and anticipated future mobility trends and implications on travel behaviour, namely car sharing, travel time use or residential location choice to name a few. Other important issues to be explored under different deployment scenarios are social, ethical, institutional and business impacts. To achieve this, it is essential to culminate co‐operation between a wide range of stakeholders at a local, national and international level, including academics and practitioners. Consequently, this COST Action will facilitate collaboration within Europe and beyond about this emerging topic of global interest.