Showing posts with label #EFF. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #EFF. Show all posts

Crowdsourcing Patent Policy Reform

Trolling Effects is an interesting effort at using crowds to build a coalition of the willing to change federal policy. In this case the policies have to do with the patent system, the coalition to be built includes anyone receiving a demand letter from a "patent assertion entity" and organizations interested in innovation, ownership, and idea use in the digital age.

The idea is to develop a database of demand letters and a crowd of peers to help fight off the organizations that issue these letters and change the policies which regulate them.

The project is managed as a project of the Electronic Frontier Foundation with support from a coalition of nonprofits, including 

Not too much of a surprise that nonprofits that focus on internet freedom would turn to the internet to help with policy change. Do you have any other examples of such crowdsourced efforts (not just petitions or email blasts, but crowd-built shared resources?)

HT @juliepsamuels of #EFF for pointing me to this.

Freedom of Association and Digital Civil Society

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
So reads the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Amendment is part of the Bill of Rights, written by James Madison during the 1st U.S. Congress, as part of an effort to get the newly independent states to ratify this Constitution. All this happened between 1789 and 1791, but the ideas behind these rights have much deeper roots. Gordon Wood in The Idea of America traces them back at least to the ancient Romans and Greeks. The Amendment has a more proximal predecessor in the Virginia colonial Congress's Declaration of Rights, passed in 1776 during the American colonies were still at war with Britain.

I've been reading and re-reading as many historical interpretations of these ideas as I can. Why? Because the rights they protect are very much alive and under threat today. Civil society - much of which is organized through nonprofits - depends on people's right to peacefully associate with whomever they choose without fear of being watched or tracked by others. There is a fundamental need for individuals to know that their privacy is protected, in order for them to come together on behalf of a public purpose.

I'm heartened to see that many nonprofit organizations recognize this, and have joined together to protect the "right of people peaceably to assemble." The case I'm speaking of was filed yesterday in U.S. District Court by the Electronic Frontier Foundation on behalf of the following organizations:
  • First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles
  • Bill of Rights Defense Fund
  • CalGuns Foundation
  • California Association of Federal Firearms Licensees
  • Council on American Islamic Relations (National, California and Ohio chapters)
  • Free Press
  • Free Software Foundation
  • Greenpeace
  • Human Rights Watch
  • Media Alliance
  • National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (California)
  • Open Technology Institute
  • People for the American Way
  • Public Knowledge
  • Students for Sensible Drug Policy
  • TechFreedom
  • Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
The case will be known as First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles vs the NSA, but take a good look at that list of plaintiffs. That list is revelatory - environmentalists and techies, drug law advocates and churches, coders, free press advocates and interfaith organizers. There may not be many other things that such groups would agree on. But they recognize that their ability to pursue their diverse (and probably conflicting) agendas and goals depends on their right to exist. Which depends on our right to associate.

Here is the text of the full complaint brought to the court. It argues that association in the digital age needs to be protected with the same guarantees that association in town halls or private homes has been protected. As our mechanisms for communicating and associating have changed with digital tools, so have the means of limiting our rights to do so. These questions are at the very heart of digital civil society, and their resolution will shape how we function as a democracy going forward.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a related case, focused on the rights of individuals to keep their phone records safe from monitoring without search warrants. It builds on previous cases that have been denied by the Courts because the alleged spying by the NSA was secret and therefore the ACLU and its clients couldn't show standing to sue. The leaking of NSA documents revealed that the plaintiffs' phone records were monitored by the NSA and thus the ACLU's renewed pursuit.

Data and ...

On March 20 a group of researchers, policy makers, data experts, and nonprofit policy experts met to talk about Citizens United and the Future of the Social Sector. This was one of the #ReCoding Good charrettes I'm organizing as part of the Stanford Philanthropy, Policy and Technology Project - and a full synthesis of the meeting will soon be available on SSIR.

In the meantime, I wanted to highlight a few themes from that meeting that are very much on my mind.

1) Data and stories

We were honored to be joined by Jane Mayer of The New Yorker at the March 20 event, along with Dan Newman of Maplight and Lee Drutman of The Sunlight Foundation. Mayer is an investigative reporter, whose stories on the Koch brothers and Art Pope have been critical in helping Americans see the emerging intersections between politics and nonprofit organizations. Maplight is a data nonprofit - it collects, curates and shares data on money and politics. The Sunlight Foundation focuses on government transparency and uses a lot of data and data visualization to show patterns and connections.

The journalist and the data wonks agree - they need each other. Stories need data, data need stories. For example, check out the story on money and politics that ran on This American Life, informed by data from Sunlight Foundation. There was further reporting on the story, "Take the Money and Run for Congress" on NPR's Planet Money podcast. 

You can listen to the episode here, see the charts and read Planet Money's report here, and check out the analysis Sunlight's Lee Drutman conducted for these stories here.

Let's get past the false dichotomy between data and stories and get on with making change happen. Some new finds that I'm playing with and learning about that fit into this intersection:

  • drag and drop dashboards to mix web data with video and other context. Find the stories in your data. This system is so easy to use that if you don't use it, you really just don't want to.
  • PopTech's World ReBalancing App - go ahead, play with it. From @poptech and @datanoborders
  • Civic Data Challenge - a new challenge to take municipal data and make it useful. Brought to you by National Conference on Citizenship, Knight Foundation and others. 
  • Catalyze4Change - 48 hours to generate idea for ways out of poverty (from Rockefeller Foundation and Institute For the Future)

The point of all this? It's getting ever easier to use and make sense of data. This is great because it means we can get to the next step, using the data to inform decisions, find new opportunities, think differently about change, and work with new partners. The point all along has been not about tech and not about data but about making change happen. We're getting there.

2) Data and a different kind of transparency

Another big point in the Citizens United discussion was the role of transparency. When it comes to money and politics, a lot of the discussion has been (and will continue to be) about donor disclosure. My summary at SSIR will have more to say about this. For our purpose here, however, I want to think about this a little bit differently.

Back in the early days of the web, folks often asked "What do I need a website for?"  Nowadays, people think "If I can't find it on a search engine, it doesn't exist." Lots of nonprofits (not so many foundations, fewer than 30%) have since built websites because they want to be found. They need to be findable to be relevant.

This same dynamic is going to work on philanthropic data. More and more governments and businesses are finding ways to use their data, publicly, to inform decisions. Check out what the UN is up to with its Global Pulse initiative. More and more people are mashing up multiple data sets - or using apps that do the mashing for them - in order to think about how the world works.

As this unfolds, nonprofits and foundations (which have a lot of data) are at risk of being irrelevant because of their opaqueness - if their data isn't findable, it isn't usable. If the data aren't visible, they can't be part of new solutions.

(Photo from UN Global Pulse)

And if nonprofits and foundations aren't part of new solutions? Well...I'll leave that to you. Here's what I had to say about this last year at Personal Democracy Forum. Here's what Fast Company said about the UN Global Pulse initiative and "data philanthropy."

I'll be talking more about this (5 whole minutes more, that is) at an Ignite Session at the Council on Foundations conference on May 1st. Hopefully, they'll share it.

3) Data and change

Digital public goods is the next topic for our #ReCoding Good charrettes. Is there such a thing? Is the digital economy - and the changes it makes to funding, creation and distribution - fundamentally shifting the dynamics of using private resources for public good? I think this is true though I don't yet know the full scope or scale of it.  Efforts at data philanthropy and data commons, the digital rights work of organizations such as Creative Commons, Media Democracy Fund and Electronic Frontiers Foundation are pointing toward a new set of digital goods, digital associational relationships, and digital assets. We'll be talking about this on April 19 - with SSIR blog posts before and after as always. Please join us.