Orientation

Accessibility of Online Information

Pattern ID: 
502
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
75
Robert Luke
University of Toronto
Version: 
2
Problem: 

There are many digital divides -- those based on economics, gender, race, class, and ability. We can understand these divides by dividing them into two main categories -- accessibility to, and accessibility of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Accessibility to ICTs means having access to the technologies that connect one to the network society. Accessibility of ICTs means that these technologies of access are accessible to those with disabilities. But what does it mean to provide accessible ICTs and online environments?

Context: 

"For people without disabilities, technology makes things convenient, whereas for people with disabilities, it makes things possible . . . [this] fact brings with it an enormous responsibility because the reverse is also true. Inaccessible technology can make things absolutely impossible for disabled people, a prospect we must avoid."

Judith Heumann, Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education. Keynote address to Microsoft employees and experts on disabilities and technology, Redmond, Washington, February 19, 1998

Discussion: 

Just as buildings are built with accessibility factored into their architecture from the ground up, so too must WWW and Internet architecture factor in accessibility initiatives from the outset to ensure equitable access to online resources. Accessibility standards such as the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative (W3C WAI) Guidelines offer developers guidelines for designing inclusive information infrastructures.

The WAI guidelines provide a blueprint for ensuring that ICTs used to access them are accessible to all. They are meant to prevent digital divides from growing disproportionately to the continued use of new technologies. By taking into account accessibility considerations, people with physical and/or learning disabilities are encouraged to become producers of information, and not just passive consumers. This is an important point, and a distinction worth making. It is one thing to ensure that ICTs and online media are rendered accessible for those using assistive devices (screen readers, special keyboards, mouse devices). It is another thing entirely to ensure that people with disabilities can actively participate in creating content for the online world. A key factor of accessibility is ensuring that those with disabilities can access both the information produced for and in the electronic world, and equally as important, can also access and use the tools needed to produce this content.

Here we can return to our accessibility to and ofdistinction. Accessibility of means making electronic information accessible according to the W3C’s WAI guidelines. Accessibility to ICTs means making the tools required to produce electronic content accessible also. These two taken together means ensuring that all people, regardless of ability, can participate equally in the production of the network society, in the information produced and broadcast via communication technologies. Creating knowledge from this information is what defines the network society. To our accessibility bifurcation we must add the ability to assess, to decode, and to use information, central components of what we can call digital literacy. Ensuring this knowledge benefits from all voices ensures that this network society is inclusive, representational, and reflective of the society at large.

Have You Unplugged Your Mouse Today?

What exactly does it mean to make Web content accessible? A review of accessibility issues by various disability groups will enable us to understand the barriers faced by a significant proportion of the population. It is useful to remember that the percentage of people with either a physical or learning disability that may impair access is around 20+% (54 million people in the US alone) (Waddell, 1999), and grows significantly according to age group.

How Many People Have Disabilities (US)?

Age Group Proportion of People with Disabilities
0 -- 21 10%
22 -- 44 14.9%
45 -- 54 24.5%
55 -- 64 36.3%
65 -- 79 47.3%
80+ 71.5%

Visual and hearing impairments are among the disabilities associated with ageing. U.S. Census Bureau (Qtd. in “Accessibility in Web Design” )

Disabilities that may impair access include visual, hearing, mobility, and cognitive impairments. To give you an idea of what barriers these users face, here is a list of some difficulties by disability group:

Vision --include blind and low vision people who use screen readers to access electronic information. Items that may be inaccessible or cause difficulty for vision impaired people include:
· Some Java elements
· Browse buttons
· Poorly labeled form elements
· Inconsistencies in layout
· Inconsistencies in language
· Surprise popup windows
· Multiple frames and nested tables
· Other problems included the illogical display of steps required for task completion, and confusing and ambiguous use of terminology

Hearing -- hearing impaired people need closed captioning for audio so this information will not be lost to the hearing impaired.

Mobility -- people with mobility impairments may use screen readers, laser and infrared head mouse devices, special keyboards and other products to access online and electronic information. They face problems similar to those encountered by the visually impaired.

Cognitive and Language/ Learning Disabilities -- people with these kinds of special needs use a variety of access devices to help improve access and cognition. Difficulty with language usage, the manner in which text and links are encoded, and the use of colors, fonts, sounds, graphics, all may have an adverse impact on LD people. Other issues include:
· Inconsistencies in layout and language
· Absence of alternative formats (no redundant display of information)
· Difficulty with multi-step activities
· Confusing terminology (e.g. "click here")
· Complexities in page/site payout and lack of clear and consistent instructions or other navigational aids.

Other factors affecting all disabled users include:
· Lack of experience with Internet/WWW technologies
· Lack of experience with assistive and adaptive technologies
· Operating system, software conflicts and difficulties
· Sites and technologies that do not support alternative access devices and strategies

Solution: 

Solution:

Following the W3C WAI guidelines is one way to ensure that all online information is accessible to persons with disabilities or to those who rely on adaptive and assistive technologies. Voluntary compliance on the part of all online providers will help the evolving standards of the WWW keep pace with the population. However, it is imperative to seek ways to encourage the accessible design of web materials from their first iteration. Inclusive design practices must take an active role in directing the development of accessible technology.

Equally as important is the need to educate all users and developers of ICTs on accessibility. This includes focusing on the ways in which the network society -- the culture in which ICTs are embedded -- can best respond to the needs of all people. This means looking at the social contexts in which technology sits, and examining the broader issues of access and living in a culture increasingly dominated by various mediating technologies. It means focusing less on individual accommodations and more on providing inclusive network infrastructures from the ground up. We need to develop a cultural or environmental approach to providing accessible ICTs and online environments. By building in “electronic curbcuts” from the ground up, online media and ICTs offer an inclusive opportunity for all people to participate in digital information exchange. Accessibility affects us all: Some of us directly; all of us indirectly.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Digital "divides" are based on economics, gender, race, class, ability, or other factors. We can view these divides in two ways — accessibility to, and accessibility of, information and communication technologies. Accessibility means being able to connect to the network society. It also means that these technologies are accessible to those with disabilities. We must find ways to design for accessibility at the onset. Accessibility affects us all: Some of us directly; all of us indirectly.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Wikimedia Commons

Positive Health Information

Pattern ID: 
746
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
74
Jenny Epstein
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Health information in the developed world exists in vast quantities, not only for the general public but also for health professionals. Much of this information depicts good health in terms of vigilance against the failings of our own bodies. This serves to create dependency on a high tech, commodity health system.

Context: 

The style of language and the content of information are very important in how information makes people perceive the world. Authors in many fields have noted patterns of communication that create distrust and enforce dependency by emphasizing danger from external, uncontrollable forces. If people have a sense of helplessness in the face of this threat, they do not act upon their own feelings and perceptions.

Discussion: 

Negative language has the effect of emphasizing threats, magnifying fears, and creating dependency. Reminding people of their mortality tends to make them hold more closely to traditional culture (Pyszczynski, Solomon, & Greenberg, 2003); this has implications for mental health, and can also be used to influence mass opinion and behavior. A recent example is the US administration’s use of language to create fear and mistrust among the public by creating the specter of a constant external threat (Brooks, 2003).

Much health information, especially advertising from hospital corporations and pharmaceutical companies, uses this technique. A paternalistic (doctor knows best) and commodity-driven medical system produces an endless stream of information that encourages the perception that natural processes, such as growing older or pregnancy, are fraught with danger. This inhibits the spread of health information that is not based on the treatments that this system has to offer.

Language may not only be negative; it can also be empty (Brooks, 2003); complex issues are broken down into broad statements with little meaning. In health care information, this pattern of communication places the cause of ill health on the individual. The complexity of individuals’ relationships to the world they live in and the effects on individual health of pollution, poverty, and unhealthy social norms and values are ignored. People come to construe healthy behavior in terms of dependency on a medical industry that constantly invents not only new cures, but new diseases for the cures it already possesses (Blech, 2006).

Empty language is like empty calories. It tastes good and you can eat a lot of it, but you don’t obtain much benefit. A great deal of health information tempts us to feel that we are well-informed. We are bombarded by advertising and public health campaigns that do little more than create mistrust of the inherent healthy processes we possess. To reduce complex health issues to taking a pill ignores people’s emotional needs and the complex connection between body and mind; instead it emphasizes the negative aspects of their health.

The use of estrogen replacement in post-menopausal women illustrates this. Estrogen replacement was pushed on women as a way if combating the “problems” of growing old such as osteoporosis, heart disease, memory loss and drying skin. The unspoken message was that there was something wrong with growing old that taking medication could correct it. Preventative approaches, that emphasized a lifetime of healthy behaviors and the inherent correctness of aging, were ignored.

In pattern 47, Health Center, Alexander et al. (1977) describe a medical system that emphasizes sickness over health. By contrast, they show the Pioneer Health Center in Peckham, an experiment from the 1930s, as an example of medical care that focuses on health instead of sickness. In the same manner, health information must distinguish between healing and medicine. We need to hear messages of what is right with us and what needs to be done to stay in touch with the inherent health of our bodies.

Many alternative health practices, such as yoga, polarity treatment, or acupuncture focus on the inherent healthiness of the body. In these practices, the underlying concept is on healing, the natural process by which the body repairs itself. The rise of alternatives to conventional medicine reflects, in part, the lack of substance people feel from the information they receive after a visit to a doctor. Health-related discussion forums, that include both lay and professional perspectives but avoid the disease-mongering (Marshall & Aldhous, 2006) influence of industry funding, offer a way to make sense of information from various health related sources without falling victim to negative language and information; people put information into the context of everyday life and validate positive perceptions of themselves. This type of information has substance to it, not only because it is active rather than passive; it has the positive effect of engaging people in independent, creative thinking.

Solution: 

Health information should emphasize the idea that people are inherently healthy. It must inspire trust in the body’s ability to heal itself, once a healthy path has been taken. Where information of this kind is insufficient, either create it or supplant it with participant-controlled interactive forums.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Health information in the developed world often depicts health in terms of vigilance against external, uncontrollable forces. This fosters distrust and dependency on a high-tech, commodity health system. Positive Health Information is built on the fact that people are inherently healthy. It inspires trust in the body's ability to heal itself, once a healthy path has been taken.

Pattern status: 
Released

Powerful Remittances

Pattern ID: 
785
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
73
Scott Robinson
Universidad Metropolitana
Version: 
2
Problem: 

The amount of remittances that people working in the developed world send home to their families is huge, estimated to approach US$232 billion in 2006. This figure surpasses by far the total of direct foreign investment and overseas development aid. Many countries, in fact, around the world, now rely on remittances as a major source of foreign exchange. World Bank technical reports fret about how best to leverage remittance income. While remittance transfers has become a growth industry (e.g. “banking the unbanked”), public policy has to date been reluctant to regulate this phenomenal resource flow apart from the usual concerns about money laundering. Remittance transfers grow annually, but this growth curve is not indefinite. Low-paid "guest workers" (many working "illegally", i.e. sans documents) in richer countries send a portion of their paychecks to their families back home. Their cheap labor allows many industries to remain competitive. In the recipient countries, this foreign exchange often represents a large percentage of GDP. While the amount of money is large, the percentage of funds siphoned off as commissions at various points during the transfer process is also significant, but steadily dropping. Five years ago the average transfer cost was often close to 15%, whereas today it is around 5.5%. Nevertheless, there is considerable room for further transfer cost reductions via innovative information technologies and regulatory reform. Remittance transfers from the migrant refugees from recent structural adjustment policies and "market failures" represent the flip side of global capital flows.

Context: 

The poor countries generally have few job opportunities and their "best and brightest" leave the country in what amounts to a new form of resource extraction (if not a new form of inverse "colonialism"). This process seems to be self-perpetuating, as the respective national Diaspora circuits become consolidated and young men and increasingly women as well migrate Northbound, to the United States or Europe, or Westbound to the Gulf States, upon reaching adulthood. Migration patterns may vary significantly within countries. Village cultures, family and ritual life has adapted to these new circumstances, often less than a generation old. Transnational communities are now the norm in many regions of Mesoamerica, Mexico to Nicaragua, the Caribbean microstates, regional pockets in northern South America and sub-Saharan Africa, amongst South Africa

Discussion: 

National elites quietly applaud these incoming resources; unfortunately, some would like to tax them as income as some US state legislatures also propose. This money is an aggregate of private, family funds that paradoxically provoke a positive multiplier effect for local merchants and economies, while reducing somewhat demands for social services from public funds and improving the balance of payments in national accounts. Remittance flows in hard currency reinforce central banks’ stock of foreign exchange, in effect reducing interest rates for the minority with access to credit. Banks and money transfer operators (MTOs to the financial community) now accept foreign government identification cards (e.g. Mexico’s Matrícula Consular ) thereby bypassing strict migration controls in some countries. Global remittance flows may be a contemporary form of social Darwinism whereby "remittances seem to be taking care of local needs." While in the job and remittance-generating host countries, workers from poor countries are often exploited, denied basic rights and services while paying local taxes, and increasingly, demonized by racist “seal the borders” ultranationalists.

Mexico has taken the lead in leveraging migrants’ remittances via a 3 for 1 program now operating in 16 states of its federal system. Begun in Zacatecas in 1992, for each dollar a migrant organization earmarks for investment in public improvements in specific locations back home, the municipal, state and federal governments contribute another dollar. Gradually, many municipios are paving their plazas, building sidewalks, refurbishing the churches, adding bathrooms to primary schools, etc. This program can be exported and other countries are discussing its implementation.

The emergence of these remittance economies is a function of emigration patterns that attest to the failures and limitations of the capitalist development model. Near monopoly MTOs (e.g. Western Union and Money Gram) dominated the early phase, but the profits to be made attracted many new players, including regional companies and most recently, commercial banks and credit unions. Workers deliver cash to a MTO receiving window, often in franchises located in small businesses and storefronts in migrant urban neighborhoods or small towns next to labor intensive industries (furniture, poultry and meat packing, fruit and vegetable farms). The licensed MTO moves the funds via their electronic network, situating the remittance at the assigned location on the receiving end in the migrant’s home country. Often the remitter is unaware of the foreign exchange rate used (US dollars or Euros to his/her local currency), and MTOs have been sued for offering exchange rates well below the market value on the day of the transaction. In addition to service commissions, exchange rate “spreads” are a major component of MTOs’ bottom line.

In the United States, undocumented workers often use a fake Social Security identification card and number. Employers accept them at face value and send obligatory salary deductions to the Social Security Administration that deposits these funds in a special Earnings Suspense Fund (ESF). This account now receives over USD$7 billion a year, a significant sum that will never be reclaimed by workers in the future. The ESF is a de facto migrant subsidy to the US social security capital budget. It remains an open question if this amount equals or is less than the value of social services non-tax paying migrants receive at the state and local levels.

This pattern of massive remittance transfers can be more transparent and cost efficient while leveraging resources for migrant families and organizations committed to growth back home. Information technology can substantially reduce remittance transfer costs and improve transparency if both financial and telecommunications regulatory reforms were in place. Experts in the field admit that commissions and exchange rate spreads totaling 2.5% of the amount sent home allows for a healthy profit for MTOs. Commercial and financial elites, both in the North and the South, at present profiting from the poor, are probably not going to willfully innovate in this fashion. Accelerating the citizenship process and then, mobilizing former migrant voter turnout may lead to immigration policy reforms in the North. Simultaneously, migrant organizations need to continue to fight for their rights, services’ access, job safety, and civic respect in the framework of each respective national "guest worker" policy. Also, there is immense potential in using the power that can be derived from the aggregated sums of small proportions of remittances to bring pressure to bear on political elites in the home countries. This is beginning to happen in Mesoamerica where returning migrants manage collective remittances, run for public office, win, often reconfigure local priorities and lobby for reforms at other levels. The power of leveraging this amount of money via political lobbying and policy reform will have impacts both in the North and South.

Solution: 

Non-profit foundations working with migrant organizations could set up alternative networks of cost plus transfer mechanisms and otherwise protect remittance transactions while lowering costs still more. Stored value cards will play a strategic role in this process. Voice over Internet Protocol free or low cost phone calls will contribute to lower communications costs, a significant aspect of each migration circuit. International financial institutions could offer matching funds for specific investments back home. There is room for innovation and experimentation for migrant organizations and their supporting transnational communities. Emerging remittance economies may reconfigure local politics over time.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

People leave poor countries in search of jobs. Village cultures and families have adapted to this and to the significant sums of money sent home. Information technology innovation can reduce remittance transfer costs and improve transparency. Financial institutions could offer matching funds for investments while non-profit foundations working with migrant groups could set up alternative transfer networks.

Pattern status: 
Released

Participatory Budgeting

Pattern ID: 
471
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
71
Andrew Gordon
University of Washington Evans School
Chris Halaska
Social Design
Problem: 

Developing a budget is a task often left to financial "experts" even though the decisions that result from the budget-making process impact everyone, and the ideas that inform budget decisions often are improved by the experience and insights of a wide range of individuals. Budget development is in fact a "political" act, with "winners" and "losers" most of whom never participate in the process.

Context: 

Properly understood, budgets and the budget development process are tools through which social values are expressed and manifested in useful public activity. This pattern explains the importance of budgeting and encourages participation in all stages of budget development. Public budgeting connects to several other patterns. For example: participating in the creation of budgets is an ideal way to foster Civic Intelligence (1); joint budget development helps create Shared Vision (9); public budgeting via online tools is an example of Using Collaborative Technologies for Civic Accountability (257); and understanding budgets is one aspect of Power Research (128).

Discussion: 

A fundamental step in the life of any organization is the design of a budget. The decisions which are made early in the process (e.g., What is to be budgeted for? What are the sources of income? Who is to be paid? What are the categories of effort which are highly compensated and what effort is to be considered voluntary?) often set core parameters for the future, and impact not only the ways in which time and money are spent, but also the values and reputation of the organization, and even its soul.

But budgeting is often treated as a "technical" process which should be handled by experts rather than as a political activity in which many people should be invited and encouraged to participate. One way in which budgets can be more easily discussed publicly is to use online tools to disseminate budget information, host public discussions, and create sample budget variations -- though from our experience, we believe this should be coupled with face-to-face discussions whenever possible.

The best-known example of participatory budgeting is found in Porto Alegre, Brasil, where community residents (now numbering in the thousands) have cooperated since 1989 in annual deliberations about the allocation of a portion of the municipal budget. Poor citizens are vastly more engaged in this process than is typical in budgeting processes, and increasing proportions of the city's revenue have been directed towards improving the most impoverished parts of Porto Alegre. While there is some disagreement over how much of this outcome to attribute to the participatory budgeting process, there is no doubt about the increased sensitivity of all citizens to the importance of budgeting decisions. In June, 1996, the United Nations declared the "popular administration" of Porto Alegre as one of forth urban innovations at the Second Conference on Human Settlements.

Various related experiments in participatory budgeting have taken place on several continents since Porto Alegre, typically fine-tuned to local circumstances, with an evolving set of principles promoting conditions that enhance the effectiveness of the process.

Several important attempts at involving typically excluded citizens in the budget allocation process have occurred in the U.S. -- often during progressive periods. Two of the most significant were the Affirmative Neighborhood Information Program during Mayor Harold Washington's tenure in Chicago (Kretzmann, 1992), which failed to survive successor administrations; and the Seattle Public Schools multi-year experiment in decentralized, "school-based" budgeting, supported by an online budgeting tool (Halaska, 2000).

In the Seattle experiment, a vastly increased proportion of district resources was redistributed from the central administrative offices to individual schools. School principals were encouraged to engage in a public budgeting process where trade-offs (e.g. reduced class size vs after-school music programs) were actively debated -- both in public meetings and online. The process was messy because "democracy is messy" and was controversial at every stage, in part because it surfaced hidden assumptions about core values in public education. Some participants believed that this process had the potential to provoke a fundamental rethinking of the purposes of the education process itself.

Key findings from the Chicago and Seattle experiments align with the principles of Porto Alegre and elsewhere. For example, it is important that significantly different approaches to budgeting such as these become so embedded that they cannot readily be set aside by later regimes. Equally critical is that traditional budget staff be convinced about the importance of participatory budgeting. While philosophical and political discussions about larger scale budget issues can be done without technical assistance, detailed information about current costs and funding formulas typically reside with budget staff. Without their support, key budget information can be difficult to obtain. Moreover, while the ideology of participatory budgeting has wide appeal, critical studies should be undertaken to determine under what circumstances participatory strategies have lasting effects and whether, in the case of participatory budgeting for example, systemic changes such as in the labor market must occur for poorer citizens to benefit from these new strategies in the long run.

Solution: 

Budgets for organizations in the public sphere should be developed openly and inclusively, in public meetings and using publicly accessible online tools. Budget assumptions should be discussed, and rethinking of assumptions, priorities, and allocations should be encouraged, no matter how far they depart from current practice. At every stage, the results of the process should be made public for feedback and refinement. Attention should be paid to what has been learned from experience (for example, about the wisdom of convincing traditional budget staff of the utility of public budgeting), and studies of the long-range impact of participatory budgeting are essential.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Budget development is often thought of as a dry, technical task, best left to "experts." But budgets are critical tools through which social values are expressed. Developing a budget, with its criteria and categories, is a "political" act. Participatory Budgeting helps to bring in people who generally don't participate in the process. There are now many successful examples in which whole communities play substantial roles in the budgeting process.

Pattern status: 
Released

E-Consultation as Mediation

Pattern ID: 
475
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
70
David Newman
Queen's University Belfast
Version: 
2
Problem: 

How can we improve public consultation between citizens and their public servants? How can we facilitate the participation of groups who currently don't take part, and use their input to find policy consensus?

Context: 
  1. Formal public consultations initiated by government agencies.
  2. Informal communications between representatives (MPs, councillors, ...) and their constituents.
  3. Community and voluntary organisations attempting to consult their members and clients to determine their response to a policy initiative or government consultation.
  4. Media or community sponsored discussions on a local issue.
  5. Mediation between anatogonistic communities who have conflicting interests.

Note that the pattern applies most strictly to the final context, where a government body is mediating between competing interests (e.g. in a planning inquiry). It is one of a number of patterns that can be followed in the other situations.

Discussion: 

Current public consultation is deficient in a number of ways. Few people have the time or language skills to respond in writing to 20-page consultation documents. It is mainly professionals with a financial interest who do so. Rarely are public meetings attended by more than a few local retired people. The language of the documents is often obscure and couched in public sector jargon. The questions asked are the ones the officials feel safe asking, not the ones local communities would ask. The style is not one that engages the interest of anyone who is not a committed activist, let alone young people.

This has become very clear in places, such as devolved regions of the UK, where public consultation has suddenly grown very fast. In Northern Ireland, equality legislation forced 120 public authorities to consult on how they were planning to measure the equality impact (gender, race, religion, age, class) of each of their policies over the next 5 years. This led to 120 long documents being sent to the same 80-120 voluntary organizations, with 8 weeks to reply. Their choice was to ignore them (whereupon the officials could continue to do what they had done before) or to spend every day drafting replies, with very little time to talk to the people who would be directly affected.

Contrast this with experimental use of ICTs in public consultations in the Netherlands, the use of Internet chat to hold discussions between young people in East Belfast (the only neutral venue at the time) on human rights, and research into on-line mediation support systems in Germany (for planning disputes).

Can we design an appropriate use of software to support electronic public consultation that improves both its effectiveness in reaching different people, and its efficiency in controlling information overload and consultation fatique?

Consider consultation as an inter-organizational learning process. Knowledge is transfered between citizens and government, as they learn from each other. In particular, the policy makers need to better understand the needs, life experiences, and preferences of different actors in civil society (sometimes called stakeholders). In doing that, they act as both apprentices, learning from citizens, and mediators, managing disputes between different groups of citizens.

When there are strong disagreements between different groups, a mediation or negotiation model is appropriate, based on what we understand about dispute resolution in communities that have been affected by conflict. This can be used to build a pattern of the process, and identify technologies to support different stages in that process.

Solution: 

Considering public consultation as a series of mediation and negotiation processes, it should be possible to participatively design software that supports these human processes, in the stages identified in the table below.The technologies that can be used at different stages are described in more detail in a guide to e-consultation.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

In good public consultations knowledge is transferred between citizens and government as they learn from each other. E-Consultation can be seen as a Mediation process which is run in stages. At the beginning issues and needs can be collected from stories in forums and social media. Policymakers need to better understand people's needs, life experiences, and preferences in order to participatively design solutions to social problems.

Pattern status: 
Released

Equal Access to Justice

Pattern ID: 
806
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
69
Donald J Horowitz
Wash State Access to Justice Tech Principles Comm
Version: 
2
Problem: 

The fundamental principle of full and equal access to the justice system, particularly for those who suffer disparate barriers or are otherwise vulnerable, faces new opportunities and challenges from the advances in information and communication technologies, which can provide increased pathways for quality access but can also perpetuate or exacerbate existing barriers or even create new ones.

Context: 

This pattern is based upon a trailblazing effort by the Washington State Access to Justice Board, an agency of the Supreme Court, to define principles and develop implementation strategies, means and methods, for ensuring that technological capabilities and advances are effectively incorporated throughout the state justice system in ways consistent with the fundamental principle that all persons should have equal access to justice. A recent legal needs survey had revealed that 87% of all low income people in the state who had civil legal problems were unable to secure legal help, and that residents of rural counties had substantially less access to technology-based resources than their urban counterparts. Therefore the overriding intent of the effort was to develop, implement and institutionalize principles within all justice system agencies to increase access to justice system information, resources and services for all, and especially those who most need it.

Discussion: 

Currently, technology is creating opportunities for people to use their home or nearby library branch or community center to find out about, initiate or respond to court or other law related needs, obligations or requirements, communicate and exchange documents with their legal service provider or others in or associated with the legal system less expensively, using less time and effort, without having to travel to a central city, and with less time away from work or other necessary resources. This can be especially important for the elderly, persons with disabilities, persons with limited financial means, and those who can’t afford to miss time from work for reasons of financial need or jeopardizing their employment. Similarly, a person with limited mobility or hearing may be able to get information electronically about his or her rights as a tenant; a victim of domestic violence can learn on the Internet what she can do and in fact be able to start the legal process of protecting herself. The courts and other parts of the justice system can operate more productively and less expensively, making court and legal records and information more readily available, and receive filings, fees, documents and information, all electronically.

However, the means of using these very possibilities also create the risk of worsening old barriers or erecting new barriers to access, causing greater disparities. While the opportunities described above seem positive, these innovations assume access to a computer, reasonable proficiency at using them and their necessary software programs, reading capability, fluency in English and sufficient phone or cable and electricity availability and capacity at affordable cost to support sufficient connections and streams of information and interactivity. Without all of that, those who have the tools and means, the proficiency and the necessary infrastructure available get further ahead, and those without fall further behind in having the justice system work for them. The lack of equality gets greater, not less.

On December 4, 2004, the Washington State Supreme Court became the first court in the United States, perhaps the world, to formally adopt by Court Order, a set of authoritative principles to guide the use of technology in its justice system. The stated purpose was to ensure that the planning, design, development, implementation and use of new technologies and the management of existing technologies by the justice system and associated organizations protects and advances the fundamental right of equal access to justice. Over a three-and-a-half year period, the Washington State Access to Justice Board drew on the input and involvement of a diverse group of approximately 200 people and organizations from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds to develop formal Access to Justice Technology Principles to serve as the practical operating norm for justice system organizations and entities throughout the state.

The Access to Justice Technology Principles broadly define access to justice as the meaningful opportunity to: (1) assert a claim or defense and to create, enforce, modify, or discharge a legal obligation in any forum; (2) acquire the procedural or other information necessary to improve the likelihood of a just result; (3) participate in the conduct of proceedings as a witness or juror; and (4) acquire information about the activities of courts or other dispute resolution bodies. Access to justice, moreover, must include timeliness, affordability and transparency.

Briefly paraphrased, the six Access to Justice Technology Principles are:

1. Requirement of access to justice: Introduction of technology or changes in the use of technology must not reduce access or participation and, whenever possible, shall advance such access and participation;

2. Technology and just results: The justice system shall use and advance technology to achieve the objective of a just process by impartial and well-informed decision makers and reject, minimize, or modify any use that reduces the likelihood of achieving that objective;

3. Openness and privacy: Technology should be designed to meet the dual responsibilities of the justice system of being open to the public and protecting personal privacy;

4. Assuring a neutral forum: All appropriate means shall be used to ensure the existence of neutral, accessible, and transparent forums which are compatible with new technologies

5. Maximizing public awareness and use: The justice system should promote ongoing public knowledge and understanding of the tools afforded by technology to access justice

6. Best practices: Those governed by these principles shall utilize “best practices” procedures or standards to guide the use of technology so as to protect and enhance access to justice and promote equality of access and fairness.

A broad-based interdisciplinary implementation strategy group then developed a set of practical strategies and initiatives to transform the principles from the words of a court-ordered statement of vision into a pervasive operational reality through the state justice system. Once the principles are truly institutionalized in justice organizations, then, as a matter of ordinary routine, the design for every new technology project would incorporate accessibility and usability and increase transparency of and information about the justice system for all users, especially those who are or may be excluded or underserved as well as those experiencing any barrier to accessing justice system services. Essential actions include: (1) Development and maintenance of a Web-based Resource Bank; (2) Initial and ongoing communication to and training for justice system and associated agencies about the ATJ Technology Principles and available resources for implementation; (3) Demonstration projects; (4) Public awareness and usable information. Additional requirements address policy-level governance and guidance as well as ensuring the continuing relevance, effectiveness and use of the Principles over time.

Solution: 

A great deal has been said and written about what has come to be called “The Digital Divide,” both domestically and internationally. Respect for and use of the rule of law is an essential way to move to a less divided, more equitable society and world. Accessible quality justice for all individuals and groups is a recognized worldwide value that crosses cultural as well as geographic lines. Meaningful access to justice can and does empower people to be part of creating their own just societies. This effort is the first such undertaking, and can provide a useful example that can be adapted and used not only in other places, but in other sectors of basic public need, such as access to health care, access to food, access to safety, and other essentials.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

The principle of full and equal access to the justice system faces opportunities and challenges from new technologies. While technology can provide new pathways it can also exacerbate existing barriers or create new ones. Technology can allow people to use their home, library, or community center to find out about, initiate or respond to law related requirements, and communicate and exchange documents less expensively, using less time and effort.

Pattern status: 
Released

Free and Fair Elections

Pattern ID: 
588
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
68
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Erik Nilsson
CPSR Voting Technology Working Group
Version: 
2
Problem: 

The process by which the votes of the people are gathered and counted is critical to the government's claims of legitimacy, and to the continued faith of the people in their government. While vote counting sounds straightforward, ensuring the accurate counting of votes in an entire country is quite difficult. Many obstacles can obstruct the democratic process including inadequate access to the voting process, inaccurate counting, late results, and results that are not convincing to the electorate. Some of these obstacles are structural, others are due to human error while others result from intentional manipulation and intimidation. Computers, which seem to offer the promise of increased speed and accuracy of collecting and counting votes accompanied by the possibility of decreased costs, offer new challenges to the legitimacy of the voting process, including high-tech election fraud.

Context: 

Democratic states offer their inhabitants the important potential for self-governance. Their legitimacy and their effectiveness suffer when the actuality falls too short of the ideal. The responsibility for Free and Fair Elections falls on all citizens although some are in better positions for promoting and maintaining authentic democracy.

Discussion: 

In national democracy, essentially the entire population of a nation above a certain age is entitled to vote on one or more questions put to the electorate, usually including what party or individuals will govern the nation. National democracy is the means of generating government for almost all industrialized nations. Furthermore, it is the stated objective of the world's great economic powers to eventually instigate national democracy for all the world's nations. For this and many other reasons, democracy is the most effective approach to producing legitimate government.

Democracies by definition face three major tasks: This pattern is concerned with the second task, determining the "will of the people" while others concern themselves with informing the "will of the people" and implementing the "will of the people." Any deviation in any phase of the process calls into question the entire process. A nomination process that unfairly denies the nomination of certain people poisons the entire process; how can the voting itself then be meaningful when the candidates on the ballot are the product of a corrupt systems?

While the forms that democracies assume vary widely, voting is a key component of each. Thus, the process by which the votes of the people are gathered and counted is critical to the government's claims of legitimacy, and to the continued faith of the people in their government.

Voting is nearly always a critical milestone in the process of determining the people's will. Voting is the critical culmination of an ongoing deliberative process where decisions are actually made: between, for example, candidates vying for a position or for a new proposal to support or limit something. Because voting often determines significant issues it is often subject to immense attention and pressure. While some of this pressure is normal politicking (which varies from place to place), other is unethical, illegal and unfair. The voting process presents an irresistible opportunity for people who want things to go their way regardless of issues of fairness or legality. At the same time the voting process seems to offer innumerable opportunities for unfair interventions at nearly every stage.

Elections vary from place to place, in jurisdiction, in primary or final (general) elections, in selecting officials from candidates or approving or disapproving legislative changes, and most kinds of elections have a whole range of complex activities associated with them. The best recommendation depends on the goals. Beyond that, one can talk about things to avoid. So an "antipattern" is easier than a pattern, if a pattern is a kind of recommendation. In every case we still want "fair elections" however.

The expression "Free and Fair Elections" originated in the first post-apartheid elections in South Africa in 1994. The idea is that the outcome should be generated by a process that gives people free access to their franchise, then fairly calculates the result.

How can Fair Elections be guaranteed? What technology and administration are required to support national democracy? How can elections be trusted? What danger signs of unfair elections can we detect? What recommendations can we make? While vote counting sounds straightforward, ensuring the accurate counting of votes in an entire country is quite difficult. The requirements and constraints associated with Fair Elections introduce numerous challenges. Voters must have adequate access to the voting process, and this access must not be politically biased. The vote counting must be accurate. The results must be produced promptly.

Elections present a special problem, in that it must be ensured that voter person voted at most once, and each voter's votes were accurately counted. However, the votes of any particular voter must remain forever secret. This combination of assured accuracy and secrecy is very unusual outside of voting.

Elections produce results which are just vote totals (plus undervotes if they are permitted and overvotes if they are possible). Results imply outcomes: who (or what) won. Results have two metrics of quality: (1) accuracy (which obviously can't be measured directly) measures how closely reported results match true results; and (2) confidence (which is closely related to "transparency") measures the feeling in the electorate that the reported results are correct.

Total accuracy and no confidence is about as good (or as bad) as the reverse, but they lead to very different kinds of bad. What one wants is an elections process that, for an affordable cost, produces outcomes that are very rarely wrong, even though everybody recognizes that results are seldom perfectly correct.

Also, the results must be worthy of confidence. It's useless to produce a perfectly accurate result, if people are not persuaded that it is accurate. So there must be good reason to believe the election results. The election process must be conducted in public view, and each step of the process, as well as the process as a whole, must be comprehensible to most ordinary voters. Non-partisan officials should monitor the entire process and voting equipment should be based on open specifications and untarnished by partisan and commercial interests. The chain of custody must be carefully maintained and documented for a wide variety of materials including ballots, unvoted ballot stock, poll books, and so on.

Furthermore, this must be accomplished on a limited budget. Elections administration is never a particularly high spending priority.

Solution: 

In democratic societies everybody has the responsibility to help ensure Free and Fair elections. Voters in democratic socities deserve a process that is easy, safe, and private. Voting — and running for office — in democratic socities should be universal and encouraged. All aspects, in other words, should be Free and Fair.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

The process by which the votes are gathered and counted is critical to claims of legitimacy and to the faith of the people in their government. While vote counting sounds easy, ensuring accuracy is not. Some of the obstacles are due to human error, while others result from intentional manipulation and intimidation. In democratic societies everybody has the responsibility to help ensure Free and Fair Elections.

Pattern status: 
Released

Ethics of Community Informatics Research and Practice

Pattern ID: 
865
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
67
Randy Stoecker
University of Wisconsin
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Community informatics, which focuses on deploying information technology in support of community objectives, often imposes technology on communities without building the leadership and knowledge of community members to control the technology. Whether researchers or practitioners, community informaticians too often enter communities having already decided what the issues and solutions should be, reducing rather than enhancing community empowerment.

Context: 

Any time that a professional is working with place-based, virtual or identity community attempting to improve its ability to gather, use, and communicate information, there is a risk that the professional

Discussion: 

The developing field of community informatics occupies an intersection between information and communication technologies, community development, and community-based research. All three fields are attempting to improve community life, especially in communities excluded from normal access to power and wealth, and can inform a code of ethics for community informatics.

In the information and communication technology field corporate-driven design has been ethically bankrupt, but participants in the open-source software movement and related organizations such as Computer Professionals for social Responsibility and the Free Software Foundation have highly developed ethical principles. The focus of those ethics is that people have the right to not just information itself, but also to the means of producing information. Thus, people have the right to use software and to access the software source code to understand how the software works with information: This right carries the obligation to improve the software and to make your improvements public (Free Software Foundation, 2006).

Community development focuses more on the relationship between the practitioner and the community. The Community Development Society (2006) emphasizes that the practitioner should promote participation of all community members, work to enhance their understanding of the complex dynamics affecting their community and how those factors may impact options for community development, and build their leadership capacity to take charge of its own community development process.

The field of community-based research lacks a singular code of ethics, but past problems with the practice, particularly in First Nations contexts, have led the Canadian government (2006) to develop an ethical code that can apply to all research with communities. This code emphasizes that any research should be a partnership between the community and the researcher, with a research design that fits the community culture, where control over the research is shared by the community, and benefits from the research flow to the community.

The following principles for community informaticians flow from these sources:

• Build the community’s information power—this requires that the researcher/practitioner assists the community in knowing how to decide what information they need, how to make informed choices about how to get that information, and how to access and adapt the tools they need to achieve their information objectives.
• Build the community’s relational power—this requires that the researcher/practitioner assists the community in building its own democratic practices and develops leaders who can shepherd those practices, and in organizing interventions in ways that build relationships among community members.
• Build the community’s public power—this requires that the researcher/practitioner assists the community in knowing how to focus their information power and their relational power on impacting the broader external conditions imposed by corporations and governments that oppress and exploit communities, thus democratizing the broader society.

Under these principles, traditional research that extracts information from communities, processes it elsewhere, and only builds the careers of academics, or traditional practice that practices the same information extraction and then returns to sell the community on an externally-designed intervention, are no more acceptable than the multinational corporation that extracts raw materials and then tries to sell back finished products. Such purposeful underdevelopment is the antithesis of these ethical principles.

These principles can have uncomfortable implications particularly for researchers. Building a community’s information power and relational power means, minimally, that at the end of the project the community knows enough that it can do the next project on its own if it wishes. That requires a researcher who can help community members develop their research and program design skills. Researchers must also give up culturally rigid standards of what constitutes good research, and understand that the community may have its own research processes and its own standards of what constitutes good information, such as oral traditions and folk art, that require the same status as positivist science. Researchers or community members, then, must have special skills in community organizing that can direct the research process (Stoecker, 1999).

For practitioners, who may be used to applying a common toolkit to problems in communities flung far and wide, these principles can also require important changes. Following these ethics require that the practitioner work with community members to not just apply a tool, but to understand it, how it is created, and how it can be adapted to their unique circumstances.

As an example of these ethics, consider a project to help a group of nongovernmental organizations, where one organization has incompatible databases, and another wants to communicate more efficiently with its membership. You convert the first organization’s data to a common format, and set up an e-mail list for the second. But these interventions would violate the principles outlined above. Instead, the first thing step is bring all the organizations together to talk about their issues and trade ideas with each other, both to build relationships between the organizations and to empower the knowledge that people already bring to the table. This can also help identify knowledge gaps that the group can then collectively work to fill. Perhaps no one there really knows about databases and so they start a process to educate themselves in their options, perhaps to the point of developing enough expertise among the organizations that they can design and manage their own databases. As the other organization talks about its need to communicate with its members, they may discover that the more “efficient” mechanism of e-mail will actually be less efficient as fewer members pay any attention to the mass e-mails. Old fashioned phone calls may be, in the end, much more efficient because more people actually get the information even though they take more time.

The processes illustrated above require a much longer time frame to complete, and require much more time of community members and organizations. Importantly, however, they produce much greater and more sustained capacity in the community.

Solution: 

Within the field of community informatics, achieving lasting community empowerment requires that community informaticians practice the principles of building the community’s information power, and their relational power, to build their public power. Doing so means making sure that community members can find, use, and control information tools and build relationships among themselves in the process. The result will be stronger, more information self-sufficient communities that can build a stronger and better informed democratic society.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Community informatics combines information and communication technologies, community development, and community-based research to help improve community life, especially in excluded communities. A Community Informatics Ethics that ensures that community members can find, use, and control information tools while building relationships among themselves can result in stronger, more self-sufficient, and engaged communities.

Pattern status: 
Released

Media Diversity

Pattern ID: 
593
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
66
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Democratic societies rely on diversity of viewpoints and ideas for the intelligence, engagement, enthusiasm and wisdom that they need to stay alive. This is particularly important during this current era of globalization and critical public issues that require public engagement. At the same time people all over the world are receiving more and more of their information from the mass media which is becoming precipitously less diverse. The control of much of the world's media is becomingly increasingly concentrated in a handful of giant corporations.

Context: 

Although the exact situation will vary from place to place, virtually all communities are affected by the lack of media diversity and all communities have opportunities to help promote media diversity. In the consolidating world of corporate mass media, large companies are touting mergers and monopolistic ownership practices as being conducive to diversity of programming and community representation in broadcasting. This claim of diversity is a facade that circumvents and ignores the idea of true community access.

Discussion: 

A rich, dynamic universe of public thinking helps to ensure that all sides in public matters will be taken into consideration thus promoting social — as well as economic — innovation. A paucity of diversity doesn't just jeopardize societal innovation however. It becomes a threat to democracy itself. When media diversity is too low, public opinion is less likely to provide the oversight that democratic societies require and is more likely to be engaged in public affairs and less willing to entertain new ideas.

Ben Bagdikian is generally credited with the sounding of the alarm on media concentration in the U.S. His book, The Media Monopoly (1983) revealed the disturbing fact that 50 corporations owned the majority of US media companies and this trend towards concentration was continuing. That trend has continued unabated for the 20 or so years since the original publication and now five corporations own approximately the same percentage of media output in the U.S as the 50 did in 1983. Today media corporations argue that when a company is able to monopolize a market, they can provide a more diverse array of cultures and voices than if that media landscape was broken into independently owned outlets. To use radio as a simple example, executives claim that when a corporation owns the majority of a market, the number of different formats increases dramatically. While it may be true that different formats increase, it's doubtfuil that this reflects an increased diversity of opinion. Many media corporations use the opportunity to record one radio show which they then rebroadcast from all of their other stations with similar formats, sometimes "localizing" the show with a few references (pronounced correctly hopefully).

A lack of media diversity invariably means media concentration and media concentration exacerbates problems of media homogeneity. The problem of media concentration extends beyond mere banality; it represents a major threat to the ability of citizens to act conscientiously and to govern themselves as democracy requires. Media concentration brings power above and beyond what mere information provision would demand; illegitimate political and economic power invariably comes with the territory and the nearly inevitable cozy connection with political elites leads to a self-perpetuating cycle that is extremely difficult to break. When media concentration reaches certain levels, it then can keep an issue out of the public eye and, hence, off the public agenda. An important and relevant point of fact is the virtual blackout on stories involving media consolidation over the past two decades. Intense media concentration also allows companies to more easily work with government to pass legislation in its favor, notably overturning laws that combat media concentration; and not stepping on government toes because of possible retribution. It may already be too late. As Bagdikian notes, "Corporate news media and business-oriented governments have made common cause."

The U.S. is not the only victim of media monopolization: Conrad Black in the U.K. and Canada, Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, and Rupert Murdoch in Australia (and, now, after a special act of congress, in the U.S. as well) [more?] and many others are huge players in national markets while global media consolidation is now proceeding ahead in increasingly troubling ways.

In the 1990s, when use of the Internet was beginning to explode into the among the general population — or, more accurately, of people who are relatively well-off economically, especially those who live in countries that are relatively well-off economically — some of the digerati were quite eager to dismiss any protestations over media monopolization in the "smokestack" (i.e. non-Internet-based) media industries that included broadcast, print and others. They reasoned that the inherent nature of the Internet made it more-or-less immune to human tinkering, in contrast to humankind's inventions. Not only was it inalterable but it would soon prove the obsolescence of the old-fashioned media and, at the same time, provide diversity of viewpoint despite corporate or government efforts. Within several years of the Internet's inception it has become incredibly commercial and now, 10 or 15 years later, a mere handful of sites accounts for half the number of sites first seen as their web browser is invoked. This is not to say that the Internet is not important. It's absolutely critical as millions upon millions of political actions initiated by civil society has demonstrated. And it's absolutely clear that citizen activism will be indispensable to prevent control from being seized gradually or not-so-gradually by corporate and/or government bodies. It's also clear that older forms of media should be not abandoned to corporate entities &mdash even if you believe that the Internet will put them all of business anyway!

Our media and information systems do not exist in a sealed bubble independent of the capitalist structure. Because you must either own or hold stakes in a news or entertainment company to have any semblance of control over its content, the rich control our news and entertainment. While community-operated media does exist in nearly every city, its saturation and distribution into the communities is extremely low because of financial restrictions. The news and entertainment offered by these resources are vastly diverse from the corporate-owned outlets, often representing conflicting accounts and stories. Because the conflicting programming often represents the viewpoints of a different social class than of that which owns the corporations, this programming rarely makes it into the mass media. The corporate owners claim they can provide an adequate diversity of community voice, when in truth the diversity they provide is severely limited by their moneyed interests.

People can get involved in the struggle in many ways. One of the most direct ways is to create and support independent media. This not only means developing videos, comics, zines, blogs, etc. with alterative points-of-view, it means developing funding and distribution approaches, and fighting for representation within the political system. For while it may be true that globalization and new communication technologies change the rules of the game, there are still likely to be rules and for this reason civil society must be vigilant: changes in protocols, domain name registry, domain servers, etc. etc. can have vast repercussions.

One of the most effective approaches, however, remains the development of public interest policy that promotes media diversity. Although critics of this approach are likely to scoff at its quaint, "smokestack" modus operandi, governments in democratic societies have an obligation to support democratic systems and the democratic experiment may be terminated earlier than anticipated by its original proponents if they fail in this duty.

The policies that governments can enact fall into two broad categories: those that limit the enclosure by the big corporations into various regions or "markets" and those that promote media diversity by promoting alternatives to corporate mono-cultures such as government subsidies or tax breaks to independent media or specific set-asides for radio or television spectra, etc. Media diversity represents both a desired state for the media environment and an absence of concentrated ownership of media. For that reason people need to fight for both: media diversity and diversity of media ownership.

Solution: 

Democratic societies require diversity of opinions. Although government is often negligent in this area, media corporations cannot be allowed to assume too much concentration. As in other realms, power corrupts, and media corporations are of course not exceptionss to this rule. Citizens must vigilant to ensure that a diversity of opinions is availale and that citizens have access to the media. Diversity of ownership of media is one approach that is likely to promote diversity of opinion in the media.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Democratic societies rely on diversity of viewpoints and ideas for the intelligence, engagement, enthusiasm and wisdom that they need to stay alive. At the same time people all over the world are receiving more and more of their information from the mass media, whose control is becomingly increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few giant corporations. Citizens — and government — must be vigilant to ensure that citizens have access to Media Diversity of opinions.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Wikimedia Commons

Privacy

Pattern ID: 
589
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
65
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Everybody has information, activities, thoughts and events from their lives that they'd rather keep to themselves. Unfortunately for them, corporate marketeers, government security forces and criminals, both amateur and professional, are working hard to uncover and exploit these secrets. While it's clear that some information of this sort needs to be uncovered for the common good (news of an impending terrorist attack, for example), this need is sometimes invoked as a pretext for trampling on privacy protections. Without adequate safeguards, dictators and other authoritarians (including many in putatively democratic societies) spy on critics of their regimes, an activity that can result in harassment or even torture or death of the critics in many places around the world.

Context: 

Legitimate governments, civil society, and concerned individuals must work together to prevent the all-too-common privacy abuses where the powerful prey upon the less powerful. In what the Kinks call "the wonderful world of technology" the basic ingredients including massive amounts of personal information in digital form, ubiquitous communication networks and inexpensive and miniscule surveillance devices, coupled with the social equation of eager snoops and unsuspecting dupes, has helped create an explosion of privacy abuses and the potential for untold others. The fact that human identities themselves are now routinely "stolen" reveals the severity of the threat and how much "progress" is being made in the advancement of privacy abuse.

Discussion: 

In 1763, the noted English Parliamentarian William Pitt in his "Speech on the Excise Tax" declared that "The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the force of the Crown. It may be frail; its roof may shake; the wind may blow through it; the storms may enter; the rain may enter – but the King of England cannot enter; all his forces dare not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement."

Now nearly 250 years after Pitt's speech modern day rulers use technology to easily enter the tenements, both ruined and intact, of millions of people without a warrant or the problems associated with actual physical entrance. In the campaign to re-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger to the governor's office in California, according to Michael Blood (2006), "The Schwarzenegger campaign has stockpiled millions of names, phone numbers and addresses with consumer preferences, voting histories and other demographic information." Then, based on assumptions about consumer preferences (a Democrat, for example, is more likely to drive a hybrid vehicle, while a Republican is more likely to drive a pickup truck or Cadillac), they employed "microtargeting" to carefully craft messages to appeal to the people they believe they now understand based on their interpretation of the data. According to Blood, "The idea is an outgrowth of techniques that businesses have long used to find new customers. ... Few people might realize how much information is publicly available, for a price, about their lifestyles. Companies collect and sell consumer information they buy from credit card companies, airlines and retailers of every stripe."

Why is technology so crucial — and so threatening right now? The quick answer is plenty of product and buyers. The laundry list of new technology is growing daily and institutions are not afraid to (ab)use it. Some, if not most, of the technology is plagued by problems that are either "built-in" (or otherwise inherent or inevitable) to the technology and/or subject to misuse. "Face recognition" software, at least currently, falls into the first category. John Graham, for example, of the Giraffe Project, faced a problem in the second category when his name showed up on the U.S. "No fly list" for no discernible reason. After several letters to the government he finally received word that his "identity has been verified," meaning, presumably that yes he is the "John Graham" in question. Currently his name has not been removed from the list, whether this is attributable to incompetence, work overload, or basic mean-spiritedness is not easily determined.

According to Privacy International,

"Privacy is a fundamental human right. It underpins human dignity and other values such as freedom of association and freedom of speech. It has become one of the most important human rights of the modern age.

Privacy is recognized around the world in diverse regions and cultures. It is protected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and in many other international and regional human rights treaties. Nearly every country in the world includes a right of privacy in its constitution. At a minimum, these provisions include rights of inviolability of the home and secrecy of communications. Most recently written constitutions include specific rights to access and control one's personal information. In many of the countries where privacy is not explicitly recognized in the constitution, the courts have found that right in other provisions. In many countries, international agreements that recognize privacy rights such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or the European Convention on Human Rights have been adopted into law."

The organization also points out that "The recognition of privacy is deeply rooted in history. There is recognition of privacy in the Qur'an and in the sayings of Mohammed. The Bible has numerous references to privacy. Jewish law has long recognized the concept of being free from being watched. There were also protections in classical Greece and ancient China.

Although privacy is seen as a fundamental and universal right, it's not easily to define. For one thing, it does depend to some degree on culture and context. New communication technology as well as new surveillance technology has shown also that privacy — and the threats to it — also change over time. Generally speaking, "privacy protection is frequently seen as a way of drawing the line at how far society can intrude into a person's affairs" (Privacy International, ____). United States Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis explained privacy simply as the individual's "right to be left alone."

Privacy can be divided into the following separate but related concepts (Privacy International, 2006):

Information privacy, which involves the establishment of rules governing the collection and handling of personal data such as credit information, and medical and government records. It is also known as "data protection";
Bodily privacy, which concerns the protection of people's physical selves against invasive procedures such as genetic tests, drug testing and cavity searches;
Privacy of communications, which covers the security and privacy of mail, telephones, e-mail and other forms of communication; and
Territorial privacy, which concerns the setting of limits on intrusion into the domestic and other environments such as the workplace or public space. This includes searches, video surveillance and ID checks.

Each of the types of privacy concept mentioned above has a variety of ways in which the privacy can be abused or invaded. What can be done to stop or slow down these abuses? You can spy on some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time. You can't spy on all of the people all of the time… yet.

The ultimate aim is self-restraint where government and other groups and institutions that have a propensity o invade privacy stop doing it. Whether apocryphal or not, there was a feeling that "Gentlemen don't read other people's mail." Although it's not always obvious, there are always (presumably) limits to what people or institutions do that are either self-imposed by habit or by fear of retribution or other penalties.

Unfortunately it's not the case that people should just trust governments or businesses or other people or institutions who might feel obliged to invade your privacy. What can individuals do to protect their rights? And what can individuals do to get out from problems where privacy has already been invaded? As individuals and as members of organizations (like the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Privacy Information Center, and Privacy Rights International) who stand up for privacy rights we must anticipate abuses, monitor powerful (and otherwise snoopy), develop policy, negotiate and engage with authorities (law enforcement, legislators), redress abuses. There are many ways in which people can — and should — take personal initiative. These include encrypting e-mail, shredding, protecting yourself from identity theft; and, generally, falling for scams. Initiating lawsuits against the government and corporations for breaches in privacy can be an effective tool of the citizenry in behalf of privacy although ideally it would be much preferred if these institutions could be counted on to police themselves adequately.

The idea that "an innocent person has nothing to fear" is an illusion. Worse, it shows a lack of knowledge that is almost breathtaking. If privacy is the "right to be left alone" then different people will have draw different boundary lines — but everybody will draw one. On the other side of that boundary are institutions and people who will cross that line if they are emboldened to do so. There are also of course times when government or police are legitimately obligated to cross that line, but they will need to do so in a manner that is legitimate for the times. There is never a time when there is no line. Thus privacy is important to everybody in the world. It is also an important policy to consider for groups of people as well. When, for example, would it be necessary to forcefully bring a small group that existed communally for centuries into a cash economy. When is it ethically acceptable to bring the "word of god" (one of them at least) to people of another religion? When does one bomb a country to bring the benefits of democracy to it?

We'd like to think that people would not have to resort to extraordinary measures to protect themselves from privacy intrusion and invasion After all, in the "best of all possible worlds" people wouldn't bother about privacy. Fortunately we don't live in the best of all possible worlds. There is ample evidence in fact that the assault on privacy has only just begun. There are a number of problems that are simply "waiting to happen" Google, for example, owns an immense amount of information about virtually everybody who has ever searched for anything online. While it may be true that, as their mission statement states, they'll "do no evil," how can we be sure about the company in five or ten years time. And just as spammers keep finding way to send electronic dreck, the unethical collection of personal information may be done by new types of spybots, which could be part of e-blackmail rackets, possibly in conjunction with faked digital evidence. Although some people have less reason to fear government, business or criminal impinging on their privacy we all face problems, real and potential of abuse. For that reason privacy rights are often strongly associated with human rights, for example. Privacy is not just an issue for dissidents or political activists.

Solution: 

We are all living in an era when new technology and security concerns — both genuine and feigned — raise tremendous threats to privacy. The threat is real and the struggle against it must be equally as strong. Be cognizant of the critical importance of privacy and work conscientiously on all fronts to protect privacy rights. Public education is important in this area as are public campaigns against privacy invaders.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Everybody has information, activities, thoughts, and events that they'd rather keep private. But marketeers, security forces, and criminals are uncovering and exploiting these secrets, leading, sometimes to harassment or even torture or death. We need to be aware of the importance of Privacy and work to protect privacy rights and resist privacy invaders.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
John Thomas
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