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International Ethics Roundtable 2014 Information Ethics And Global Citizenship

This are my notes on the International Ethics Roundtable 2014: Information Ethics and Global Citizenship at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, from the 24th to the 26th of April. The web site is at

Note that these are being written live so there will be all sorts of problems.

The conference was opened by traditional songs sung by native students and then by a spoken word poet, Ahmed Knowmadic (see also ). I liked how the conference organizers gave the first word to indigenous students and an immigrant who tells about Africa.

Rafael Capurro: Citizenship in the digital age

Capurro began by anchoring his talk in his story, but insisted that he is not a historicist. He drew on Hegel to say that it is important to know if we are free because that is the beginning of becoming free.

He asked what is the difference between citizenship in physical and virtual world. We need a new kind of thinking for digital citizenship. He mentioned the recent news from Brazil where the | Net Mondial conference is taking place.

Is concept of citizenship translatable to cyberworld. He goes back to Greek philosophers for ideas of citizenship. Diogenes is know for saying that he was a citizen of the world (cosmopolitan.) Traditionally citizenship is where you were blood. The Romans saw citizenship as a matter of blood. Diogenes connects to the polis and connects the polis to the cosmos. His cosmopolitan answer asserts that there is no difference between Greece and barbarians. The stoic school developed this idea of cosmic citizenship. Cosmos is put in order by right reason. It rests on shared ideas.

The Roman idea of citizenship changed things as the Roman empire was a sort of global empire. Augustine introduced the idea of citizen deii - citizenship of the city of God.

Kant introduced idea of law of nations and global citizenship. This would be based on universal hospitality. Hospitality is the right of a stranger to be treated fairly. It is a right to association. We share the surface of the globe and should be subject to common law of world citizenship. Kant was critical of colonial treatment of peoples. He favours a federation of free states that recognizes the differences. He imagined a peace league and peace treaty. Cosmopolitans should be free to visit others. Kant also believed that no one owned the earth.

Kant had a view that a well organized state can manage the selfishness of people. We don't need to be angels for a republic to work. His was not a moralistic view of trying to convert people into angels but a pragmatic view of how to manage selfishness.

Capurro talked about cosmopolitan communication. Free communication is the basis of freedom. Kant talked about public and private use of reason. Public use should be free, but private reason is where people are subject to some constraint (like being a minister who has to follow party line.) There is no freedom of thinking and communicating if there isn't freedom of the medium of communication.

Capurro also talked about metaphysical citizenship. We are intellectual beings and we are member of the kingdom of ends. Metaphysical citizenship is a bit like Augustine's

Coming now to the digital age - Habermas complains about being bombarded by mass media and too much information. For Habermas Kant could not forsee the excess of the internet. Habermas is also worried about free trade. Levinas and Derrida have developed an ethic of hospitality. There are questions about how who should own data, how it should be made public, and what roles should government play. Asking about rights of digital man is asking about citizenship in digital age. The cyber world is not an independent world (as announced by Barlow) - it is part of the rest.

At the same time that we proclaim the enlightenment governments (NSA) are acting as if they are exempt and that some nations are special. At the moment that you identity becomes a bitstream then it is a thing that can be mined and sold. There is a tension to having our public spaces owned by corporations like Facebook and Google. We need a respect the freedom of people to decide what they want to reveal and conceal. New forms of togetherness can degenerate into dystopias. There are tensions between visible and invisible hand. Do we trust either?

What sorts of international organisms do we need now that we are realizing that governments are abusing the internet. Capurro called for a phenomenology of messages (hermeneutics.) Who owns the power to decide messages?

I wonder if something has changed now that messages are not just transmitted, but also interpreted automatically. The medium is not longer just a message, but also an interpreter. It is no longer information that wants to be free, but code that is getting free.

Jared Bielby was the respondent. He asked about universal rights. Is the netizen a citizen of a democratic state. If so, where is the demos. He mentions how Heidegger felt that democracy may not be the best answer to technicity. He returned to the idea that we are all citizens of the world as strangers.

Capurro proposed some sort of digital living rooms paid for by taxes so not part of commercial web. These digital living spaces would be alternatives to commercial spaces we are becoming dependent on.

Ali Shiri: Exploring Information Ethics: A Metadata Analytics Approach

He studied a database (Scopus) searching for "information ethics." He looked at metadata rather than full text and recognizes that this is a surrogate. He used Automap, TAPoR, OpenRefine, Google Books Ngram Viewer, Many Eyes, and Datahero.

His showed a graph of frequency of the term which made it look like things peaked in 2008. He found 42 authors who have two or more articles in the database. Floridi, Capurro, Charess Ess, and Toni Samek show up high. Many of the authors are on the editorial board of the International Review of Information Ethics. Some of the high frequency terms include moral, media, society, digital, technology privacy. He did a co-occurrence analysis and found words like practices co-occuring with ethics.

The journals had predictable titles except for "Wool Record" which had some

Shiri had some interesting things to say about the top author keywords like "robot ethics" and "software piracy" and "artificial agents." He found that the indexer assigned terms had a number of medical terms like "consumer health information, genome, drug information." There are also terms having to do with the teaching of ethics and information literacy.

Shiri developed a set of facets that came out of his study. The growing areas are Health, Education, and Business.

I was surprised at the anxieties that people showed about his method. Capurro who went before followed a humanistic method drawing on dead white European men and no one seemed to object. The moment Shiri showed the results of analytics many seemed to feel there was something unethical about the method. The problem, of course, was that his analysis showed nothing happening in most of the world. The model being based on a database makes it look like most of what is going on is happening in the English speaking world.

Moyra Lang: The living archives on eugenics in Western Canada

Lang talked about eugenics and Alberta's rich history of eugenics. In 1928 Alberta introduced the Sexual Sterilization Act. Eugenics was a new science that could deal with social problems. This was repealed in 1972. She talked about the Living Archives project which is creating materials to increase awareness of the recent history of materials. There is an interesting tension between the privacy rules controlling health records and the need to tell about the ethics. Many of the people involved want their stories told.

The web site with the materials is available at - parts are not finished, but there are a number of interesting modules.

John Pateman: Human rights, social justice and social development

Pateman is looking at how quantitative metrics can be used to understand potential for social change. 21% of Canadians are active library users and most resources go to them. Another 25% are passive users. Typical profile of user is white, middle class, female, older, and educated. The 54% of non users are the ones that we should direct resources to. He talked about a needs-based service. Bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services and great libraries build community.

Pateman is the chief librarian of the Thunder Bay library. He was presenting an action plan that was designed to address the excluded. It seemed to me a very different view of what a library is - one that moves away from a library being a provider of information. I wonder if at some point the library overlaps with other social services.

Others wondered what a "user" is of the library. Is it those with a card? Or those who come to sleep in the warmth? Information can be had online through a cell phone. Perhaps the library is becoming a public space and librarians are now social workers.

John T. F. Burgess: Flourishing and narrative identity within the information professions

Burgess talked about the control of ethics. How do codes of conduct get enforced. Shaping behaviour that is generally accepted can by done by shame and social norming. Social norming doesn't work when people try to reform things. Burgess is trying to introduce virtual ethics as alternative to existing dominant ethics.

  • Deontology - deontological ethics is adherence to rational code
  • Consequentialism - acting in accord with anticipated good
  • Virtue ethics - dedicated to sense of character derived from ones purpose

Virtue ethics is non-transgressive, normative ethic. There is an emphasis on duty rather than subordination to a code that one can trans-gress. Virtue ethics tries to develop a mature character through habituation.

Burgess proposes a hermeneutical method that tries to build a narrative about librarianship and how it responded to crises. We need narratives that build character not reinforce existing practices. He sees as problematical the way libraries tell stories that lead to the conclusion that they should be funded. They are self-perpetuating organizations. He would like to see us develop an ability to plan in a resilient fashion. He would like to see us develop the stories and telos that help us plan beyond the immediate.

Kimberli Kelmor: Constitutional bases of a right to information: Is there a global consensus?

Kelmor started by talking about the strength of constitutional rights. She showed an interesting graph of countries with legislation that protects rights to information. There are between 60 to 78 countries that have a constitutional right of some sort. There seems to be a global consensus. What is the right of access to information?

  • A political/democratic justification - right to info is needed for citizens to be participants
  • Instrumental justification - right to info needed for other rights
  • Proprietary justification - info is created by government for people
  • Oversight justification - info is needed to have oversight of government

Kelmor worries that legal rights seem to be focuses on government information. She feels that all sorts of other information rights should be protected.

She wants to move towards better laws protecting rights to information.

Friday, April 26th

Nathaniel Frederick Enright: Global citizenship for a surplus population: The right to the city in the state of exception

Enright began by talking about Lt. Col. Ralph Peters (former army intelligence officer) who was given an award for fiction. Peters also wrote a paper on "Constant Conflict."

"The de facto role of the US armed forces will be to keep the world safe for our economy and open to our cultural assault. To those ends, we will do a fair amount of killing ..."

Enright quotes Innis about the dangers of present-mindedness that dangerously emphasizes the present state without understanding the history of the present.

Could the idea that we live in an information society be a form of present-mindedness. Enright suggests that if you define information as a reduction of uncertainty then there is nothing more certain about this age of constant emergencies.

Enright wants to reconceive information to show the violence between labour and capital. The conventional narrative focuses on legitimizing violence. He wants to discuss how violence is part of neoliberalism. He quoted Henry Giroux on neoliberal violence being produced by inequality.

Information in neoliberal thinking is just a good that can be bought and sold. He tried to then connect these ideas to ideas of urbanity and right to the city. Information society is an urban world. Urbanism is now global. Developments in IT seem to compound urban polarization.

Neoliberalism can be read as an attempt to commodify citizenship itself. Global citizenship is therefore an oxymoron. If everyone is a citizen then citizenship has no value and can't be sold.

Enright's right to the city is a challenge to the ownership of the city.

There was an interesting discussion about whether the historical evidence supports the critique of neoliberalism. Could it be argued that neoliberalism has ameliorated things?

There was also a discussion on what role information plays. He seemed to be moving to a view that the city could be a site of resistance through information.

John Buschman: Citizenship and Agency Under Neoliberal Global Consumerism: A Search for Informed Democratic Practices

Buschman gave a great and dense paper that started with a New York Times editorial on The Piketty Panic. Piketty has put his finger on something that is changing the discourse.

He looked at some of the key terms in the call for papers like "global" and "citizenship." Massive processes that are global and which don't have to answer to nations give us the illusion of personal choice.

We have become global actors, but can't depend on community in resistance. All resistance has become personal - we are all expected to do it alone.

He made an interesting point about the illusion of democracy. Habermas points to the problems with the public sphere, but still feels it is better than other political forms. The danger is that there is declining publicness. Globalization seems to be a process of depoliticalization.

Citizenship is the ground on which we can talk about information ethics. He feels the state is important still to information ethics because it is only through the nation that citizens have any power. Alas, consumption has become patriotism.

Is consumption all that is left of agency? The postmodern claim is that what we consume builds identity. Non-consumption can become a form of agency. Neoliberalism may have worked at creating its own resistance. Buschman also mentioned how we are surrounded by and participate in all sorts of organizations that can be sites for renewed citizenship.

"We will not achieve static solutions for a dynamic situation."

We had a short exchange on the issue of maker labs. I was surprised at how both Buschman and others seemed to dismiss the maker community as an upperclass phenomenon that paints itself as heroic. There is some truth to this, but there is also an engagement between the maker community and the arts community that holds promise.

Panel: Edmonton Public Library & information ethics

We had a panel composed of Amanda Bird, Carla Haug, Erik Kormarnicki, Peter Maguire & Laura Winton - all recent graduates working in the Edmonton Public Library (EPL) or Calgary.

EPL is governed by a board. It has about 600 staff of which 10% are librarians. EPL has a service-led philosophy. Three communities that need help are people in prison, homeless people, and people with mental illnesses.

The EPL has changed its politics in response to community input - so they no longer require a Edmonton address. They recognize that there are a lot of couch surfing homeless who don't have addresses.

She talked about the EPL's programme to a Women's Prison here. They have had to censor books they deliver because of concerns by prison staff.

The mission of the EPL is "we share". He sees the purpose of the library as helping people accessing the resources they need to solve the problems they have. He talked about a study into the top barriers. He reflected on information ethics affects his job and projects like his study. Any study affects services.

A panelist talked about a maker space. Library maker spaces are free compared to community spaces. In response to the issue of how we can provide maker spaces when children can't read, she reflected on a "yes, or" approach where we do both maker spaces and children's literacy.

She talked about dealing with situations - her life is not thinking about ethics. It is

She reflected on Capurro's idea of a digital living space. Libraries are not completely free spaces - they are regulated spaces funded by society. She wondered if we don't turn certain ideas like freedom, openness into transcendental values. The libraries has regulations so it is not really completely open. EPL is not giving anonymous and limitless space to patrons. This doesn't mean that EPL hordes these things. Edmonton owns these things.

She talked about the hassles of e-readers. They have to walk a line between what users want (e-books) and what can be provided. There are all sorts of issues around copyright and what people will do with what they have. What is the difference between giving out a book on growing pot and letting someone print a bong? Sampling is an issue. How do they protect the rights of the patron and of copyright holders.

Staff don't just hand out stuff, they give help. How does this make them complicit if, for example, someone wants to print a gun? What is the difference between

She concluded that the maker space is being used by all different types.

A data librarian wrapped up. She talked about evidence-based librarianship. A big part of what she does is advocacy - documenting what the library does in order to get more money from the city. There are a lot of ethical issues around reporting. She talked about accountability. They have to advocate, but they are also a public organization that is part of a larger system.

They are now going to open data. To have open data is an enormous job. It takes a lot of work to really make data accessible. Do you share data that people may not understand? Is that patronizing or good stewardship? They also have to prioritize.

The last speaker talked about issues around advocacy and storytelling. There is a danger of shifting from advocacy to marketing. Stories get used to create a heroic narrative for the library. He had a great quote about how to target stories for organizational gain.

The defining feature of libraries is an internal discourse of emergency that justifies libraries to market themselves. Libraries are partnering with marketers with very different values. How to keep their values?

We all agreed that the panelists were our heros.

Kristene Unsworth: The justice of big data and global citizenship

Unsworth has been looking at how different organizations are using big data. She has a project titled the "Ethics of Algorithms". She talked about a book called "The Ethics of Big Data" that argues that big data has changed the social contract. If this is so, then we need to critique the trails of data that we individually and collectively leave behind.

She then talked about genomic data. Genomic data is supposed to develop better ways to treat disease. How does the potential uses of genomic data affect our sense of the social contract and uses of big data. Genomic data is about us - it is us. We are our data. Thus the information is not just about us, but is us. This leads to the draft genomic data sharing policy. This policy is about how genomic data will be shared by scientists.

She then shifted to talk about the use of social media by state agencies. She discussed Rosseau's social contract theory and whether it changes things. Do we feel that a society that gathers lots of data on us has changed the contract? Do we still want in when spied on.

She pointed out that with big data we are looking for outliers - at least in the case of intelligence. Can we justify surveillance by the need to treat everyone equally? She argued for an emancipatory politics where people can discuss in public the various emerging policies. We have to create opportunities for debate if we want opportunities for justice.

An issue that came up was the asymmetry of information access between individuals and state.

Ke Lin: Active citizens, good citizens and insouciant bystanders – Chinese university students’ cyber civic participation via the internet

Lin talked about social media use in China. There are some 251 million users of social networks. There are civic uses of social networks and these are what she is studying. She commented on how most Chinese are lurkers rather than participants.

Morongwa Masemula: Ethics in public education: The case of science education in South Africa

Masemula's paper was an invitation to think through course design for ethics. She has been trying to both modernize the science education curriculum (which seems stuck in a colonial nightmare) while also finding ways to teach about the problems of science, especially as it applies to Africa. She talked about how traditional herb knowledge can be delegitimized by science or plundered by bio-tech/pharmaceutical companies. She also talked about how it was important for a country like South Africa to have a curriculum recognized by the West. There is a strange surveillance of ex colonies that makes them have to be more conservative in their choices. If I understood her, Masemula was saying that the science curriculum she is designing has to reassure donors and outsiders that they are serious about science. A developing country can't afford to be experimental.



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