Category Archives: Research

In the News: Augmented Reality (AR) research featured in UW Today

A policy paper I helped develop and write while working with the UW Tech Policy Lab at the University of Washington has just been featured in UW Today. The paper summarizes our research into the legal and technical implications of AR technologies, and provides some recommendations that policymakers should take into account when considering regulation.

The White Paper is available here: Augmented Reality: A Technology and Policy Primer.  An earlier workshop paper we presented at an UPSIDE workshop at UbiComp ’14 is available on SSRN here: Augmented Reality: Hard Problems of Law and Policy.

From the UW Today article:

Though still in its relative infancy, augmented reality promises systems that can aid people with mobility or other limitations, providing real-time information about their immediate environment as well as hands-free obstacle avoidance, language translation, instruction and much more. From enhanced eyewear like Google Glass to Microsoft’s wearable HoloLens system, tech, gaming and advertisement industries are already investing in and deploying augmented reality devices and systems.

But augmented reality will also bring challenges for law, public policy and privacy, especially pertaining to how information is collected and displayed. Issues regarding surveillance and privacy, free speech, safety, intellectual property and distraction — as well as potential discrimination — are bound to follow.

The Tech Policy Lab brings together faculty and students from the School of Law, Information School and Computer Science & Engineering Department and other campus units to think through issues of technology policy. “Augmented Reality: A Technology and Policy Primer” is the lab’s first official white paper aimed at a policy audience. The paper is based in part on research presented at the 2015 International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing, or UbiComp conference.

Image credit: Leonard Low / Wikimedia commons

Presentations at APC and PLSC-Amsterdam

It’s been a busy (but fun!) weekend.

I presented two papers at the Amsterdam Privacy Conference – one on ALPR database disclosures by police departments under freedom of information law and the other on body-worn camera adoption by police in the United States. Members of my research team at TILT also organized a panel on privacy ‘bubbles’ in public space related to our longer-term research project on re-imagining privacy for the twenty-first century.

At Privacy Law Scholars Conference (PLSC) – Amsterdam, we had our paper, A Typology of Privacy and the Right to Privacy, workshopped by a wonderful group of scholars from all over Europe and North America!  I also led a session and commented on a paper by Arno Lodder about legal regulation of police use of web-crawling technologies.

Chapter published in new book: Social Dimensions of Privacy

A paper I’ve co-authored with my UW iSchool colleagues Adam D. Moore and Cheryl Metoyer, entitled Privacy in the Family,  is now out in the new book Social Dimensions of Privacy: Interdisciplinary Perspectives published by Cambridge University Press and edited by Beate Roessler and Dorota Mokrosinska. CUP | Amazon

The book also includes contributions from Dorota Mokrosinska, Beate Roessler, James Rule, Gary T. Marx, Priscilla M. Regan, Daniel J. Solove, Judith Wagner DeCew, Koen Bruynseels, Jeroen van den Hoven, Beate Roessler, Annabelle Lever, Colin J. Bennett, Adam Molnar, Christopher Parsons, Kirsty Hughes, Valerie Steeves, Anita L. Allen, Helen Nissenbaum, Andreas Busch, and Paul M. Schwartz.

Social Dimensions of Privacy (Cambridge University Press, 2015)

From the book’s description:

Written by a select international group of leading privacy scholars, Social Dimensions of Privacy endorses and develops an innovative approach to privacy. By debating topical privacy cases in their specific research areas, the contributors explore the new privacy-sensitive areas: legal scholars and political theorists discuss the European and American approaches to privacy regulation; sociologists explore new forms of surveillance and privacy on social network sites; and philosophers revisit feminist critiques of privacy, discuss markets in personal data, issues of privacy in health care and democratic politics. The broad interdisciplinary character of the volume will be of interest to readers from a variety of scientific disciplines who are concerned with privacy and data protection issues.

In the News: I’m featured in an NPR story on ALPR Database Analysis

I am featured in a story from today’s All Things Considered on National Public Radio (NPR) on the topic of automated license plate reader (ALPR) data. I discuss some of my preliminary data analysis using a few databases received from the Seattle Police Department under state freedom of information law.

Questions Remain About How To Use Data From License Plate Scanners (link to transcript on NPR’s website)
By Martin Kaste
May 27, 2015

Facebook Savvy Migrants? Research Notes from the U.S.-Mexico Border

(cross posted from The Information, the UW iSchool’s blog):

Editor’s note: This post discusses some initial findings from an on-going research project by authors Bryce Newell and Ricardo Gomez about the use of Facebook by undocumented/irregular migrants from Mexico and Central America.  The research is funded by the University of Washington’s Royalty Research Fund, and is being conducted in affiliation with the UW Information School’s Information and Society Center.

Sitting in a small migrant shelter in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, just a few hundred yards from the Arizona border, we are surrounded by dozens of migrants sitting at picnic-style tables waiting for breakfast to be served by a small numbers of volunteers. The shelter has chain-link fencing for walls, covered in banners to keep out the sun (and the prying eyes of “coyotes” and their recruiters), a simple roof, and concrete floor.  Technology use in the shelter is minimal, although occasionally a phone will ring and a migrant will pull a cell phone from his or her pocket and step outside to talk.  We ask the migrants if they have used Facebook; just short of a quarter of the migrants in the room raise their hands.  How many have used Facebook since leaving home (either since deportation or while on their way to the border to attempt a crossing)?  About half of the hands go down.  The results, though limited, are a little surprising.  Many of these people have virtually no physical possessions and very little (if any) money. Yet, as we learn over the next few days, some of them find the time to look for an Internet Café and login to Facebook, to communicate with family or to share pictures and other information with their “friends.”

On August 5, Reuters published a story about how human smugglers (or “coyotes”) use Facebook to solicit potential customers looking for a guide into the United States from Central America.  The story, entitled “E-coyotes: The Central American people smugglers who ‘Like’ Facebook,” presents data collected from interviews with government officials who claim to watching social media for illicit smuggling activity, smugglers who use Facebook to solicit and keep in contact with clients, and migrants who have used Facebook to find information or share pictures from their border-crossing treks with family members.  The article notes that:

“There is no data on how social media is used for planning the arduous treks to the United States, but anecdotal evidence from smugglers, migrants and police suggests many use sites like Facebook to share tips, meet fellow travelers and communicate with customers and fellow coyotes.”

Initial findings from our research (which is on-going) confirm that some migrants use Facebook and other tools for various purposes related to clandestine border-crossing.  Additionally, migrant shelters provide access to Facebook, in some cases, because it is “the biggest technological tool” to help them re-connect with family members during uncertain times of transition. Much of the use of Facebook by these individuals is similar to that of many others in society. However, because we feel our findings add some interesting and important information to our societal understanding of this interesting phenomenon, we write here to contribute to the discussion.

Although most of the migrants we talked with did not use Facebook, just fewer than a quarter of those we informally surveyed said they had a Facebook account, and half of those said they had used the site recently (or at least since leaving home).  Volunteers at the shelter, some of whom had recently spent time in other shelters throughout Mexico, stated that a number of migrants use Facebook while staying in the shelters.  In some shelters that provide computer access, migrants frequently use Facebook to communicate with family and friends.  In others, computer access is not widely available, but is still used by shelter volunteers to help migrants find and communicate with family members.

As is it not uncommon for migrants to be robbed of physical possessions (by gangs, mafia, or crooked police officers), and for their abusers to use physical contact lists to phone the migrants’ relatives to coerce payments, at least one migrant expressed that he wanted to use Facebook to store contact information, because then he wouldn’t risk losing the ability to contact family or friends, and his family wouldn’t be put at risk.

During a detailed interview with one young man from Central America, we discovered that he had uploaded a series of photographs from a digital camera at an Internet Café just prior to meeting with us. We had given him the camera as part of a related project, Foto Historias, where we are exploring, through participatory photography, how immigrant day laborers, recently deported immigrants, and prospective immigrants to the US reflect their values and culture through photos and stories. The young man stated that he had taken and uploaded photos of the border fence to Facebook so that his family,

“could see the wall, because they’ve heard about the wall so here they can see it in pictures… and so that way they will know where I am.”

When asked why he wanted to learn how to use Facebook, another man from Michoacán, Mexico told us:

“I have never been in a shelter like this. And I like everything that happens here…. If one day I’m back… in the United States, I could tell friends and migrants to come look for this place for the shelter. Because when I was in Tijuana when they caught me, they mugged us on the mountains, and they took away my money. And then when I was taken to a control post in Tijuana, I didn’t have any money and I had to ask, beg around to other people, and I did not know that there was this kind of place just like a shelter. Many people can learn about this. So that I could tell other people, like other migrants and other friends, to look for these kinds of places, so that they don’t suffer like I suffered. Where to sleep, or [to find] clothes, or food.”

Although these findings are only preliminary, and we are continuing to gather data, we do see evidence that Facebook is being utilized by migrants, along with other forms of communication (e.g. phones, text-messaging).  Additionally, quite a few migrants who had not used Facebook in the past expressed interest in using it in the future, citing conversations with other migrants who were using the social media website more actively.  The availability of Facebook in migrant shelters throughout Mexico (which is mixed) may also contribute to the phenomenon.  Regardless, Facebook presents some valuable opportunities to migrants to find information and connect with family members or others (coyotes?), but could also pose some risks.  Unsecured access points could open up personal and family contact information to traffickers, much like they have historically re-dialed previous calls from public phone booths or stolen paper-based contact lists.



Seattle Police Dept ALPR Scans by Census Tract (Jan 9-Apr 6, 2013)

I’ve been busy analyzing a number of automated license plate recognition (ALPR) databases disclosed by the Seattle Police Department.  These databases were disclosed under state freedom of information (FOI) law, and I am currently mapping scans of license plates, visualizing scanning patterns, and I hope to publish some additional findings in the near future, in the meantime, here’s a sneak peak at the number of scans by 2010 Census Tract, darker colors mean more scans.  Hover your mouse over any tract to see the number of scans that occurred within its boundaries.  The database covers scans by the SPD’s PIPs system, which is mounted on Patrol Vehicles that roam the city scanning plates.  See the Viz here.

Cross-Post: Metadata Surveillance, Secrecy, and Political Liberty (Part Two)

(Image: NSA slide leaked by Edward Snowden describing the PRISM surveillance program)
(Image: NSA slide leaked by Edward Snowden describing the PRISM surveillance program)

My second post in a two-part series on metadata surveillance and liberty has been posted to the Digital Media Law Project’s blog (DMLP Blog).

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a widely ratified international human rights treaty, includes provisions that relate to liberal and republican conceptions of freedom that are relevant to current discussions about mass government surveillance and communications intelligence gathering. Article 17 of the ICCPR states that, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation.”  Article 18 guarantees the freedoms of thought, conscience, and religion, and Article 19 guarantees the “right to hold opinions without interference” and the “right to freedom of expression.”  The European Convention on Human Rights, an important regional – rather than truly international – treaty, also provides similar protections, as do the constitutions and charters of many other democratic countries. The relevance of these treaties and philosophical accounts of freedom are tied directly to all three of the questions posed in my first post in this series but, I think, they are most interesting when applied to the third question: what transparency and oversight mechanisms ought to govern the collection of communications information by governmental intelligence agencies?

… [continue reading at the DMLP blog]

Cross-Post: Metadata Surveillance, Secrecy, and Political Liberty (Part One)

I have just written a new post for the Digital Media Law Project’s blog about some of the implications of government metadata surveillance.  For the full post, which was posted today, go to the DMLP Blog.

As much of the world is now undoubtedly aware, the National Security Administration (NSA), and many other signals intelligence agencies around the world, have been conducting sophisticated electronic surveillance for quite some time. Many might have expected that such extensive surveillance was occurring, both domestically and globally, prior to Edward Snowden’s release of classified information in June 2013.  Indeed, we’ve known about the existence of government driven metadata surveillance and international intelligence cooperation and data-sharing for years.  The UKUSA Agreement, which links intelligence agencies in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, was declassified by the NSA in 2011, but its existence was reported much earlier.  

What we haven’t known, perhaps, are some of the specifics… [continue reading at the DMLP blog]