RightsCon 2016 + Creatives4Science + San Francisco
Human Rights & Technology
At the end of March (2016) I had the opportunity to visit San Francisco to attend RightsCon. Since 2011, RightsCon has been dedicated to topics around human rights, technology, and the web. It brings together companies, governments, activists, journalists, researchers, and scientists to learn about and to discuss ways in which we as stakeholders can make efforts to address these difficult and often urgent issues surrounding government surveillance, internet shutdowns, online bullying, harrassment, and terrorism, cybersecurity, and much more.
The conference was organized by Access Now (their wiki) at the UCSF Mission Bay Conference Center. Each day of the 3 day conference started at 9:00 AM and ended around 6:30 PM with 9 concurrent sessions happening about every hour.
While there was a scheduling app that was designed to help “plan” for the conference and which sessions I might want to attend, my schedule started to look a lot like this:
So without any way to be omniscient, I simply chose the session that I either: 1. knew the least about, 2. I could contribute to the discussion, and/or 3. I accidentally thought was one session, but turned out to be another. Regardless, every session I attended was both relevant, fascinating, and eye opening.
Some of the the highlights from the conference for me were the sessions on Intermediary Liability, The use of video for human rights accountability, The future of internet control, Calling out your haters, the encryption for beginners demo session, and the Fireside Chat: Ron Deibert, Edward Snowden, Amie Stepanovich.
Some of the other sessions I attended were:
- How to get media attention on your issue
- Addressing extremism online
- How Technology and Policy have been essential to Environmental Justice in California (I was excited for this one, but the conversation seemed to turn more about how electric cars, specifically the consumer level Tesla car, will be a fundamental solution to reducing air pollution… suffice it to say, I didn’t think this session was fully resolved.)
Also, I got to spend some time with some of the Open Web Fellows - a bunch of amazing people doing amazing things. Thanks to Melissa for organizing a fun baseball evening:
Digital Rights and Science
On the first day of the conference, I was sitting next to one of the engineers at Facebook who is working on user privacy. After finding that I was from the Mozilla Science lab, she remarked, “Hm, science? Interesting. So, do you do any advocacy?”. She seemed to be intrigued and not so sure as to why a “scientist” might be at a conference on digital rights. The Facebook engineer wasn’t the only person at RightsCon that didn’t immediately see the connection between science and human rights and this to me is problematic.
As we’ve seen in the discussions and public media coverage of Alexandra Elbakyan of Scihub, there are fundamental misunderstandings about the way science and research are done and for whom science is benefitting. For me, and many of those working in the open science community, the connection between human rights and science is clear - “to share in scientific advancement and its benefits” is a fundamental human right.
While in general scientists aren’t being jailed (or killed) for the types of knowledge and research they are generating (as many journalists face), the knowledge and the research they do are made inaccessible by expensive journal paywalls and a culture that reinforces and inventivizes these models of publication. What this means is that the scientific community is in many ways forced to subscribe to a culture that makes research difficult to access, reproduce, and build upon and this is a detriment to science and humanity as a whole.
I see a lot of parallels between what the digital rights advocacy groups and the open science community are doing to guarantee open access to knowledge and to enhance the accessbility and diversity of spaces like the web and places such as the workplace. We should team up. I hope to see more scientists at RightsCon next year (in Brussels)!
Creatives for Science
Along with attending RightsCon, I also had a chance to finally meet with Thea Boodhoo, the founder for Creatives4Science. Since the early days of my fellowship, we have been discussing ways in which we might be able to join forces to help bring more art and design into science.
Over lunch at Mission Picic we brainstormed about how to start building a community around “Creatives and Science” intersection. While originally, I thought I might be able to help Thea by helping to build the Creatives4Science web platform, we determined that the key to building Creatives4Science, at least for now, is to start with outreach - project examples, success stories, workshops, etc - which are all things that I happen to be better at than web development (though you have to start somewhere, amiright?).
With about 5 months left in my fellowship, I want to try to tie in my efforts as much as I can to building up the Creatives4Science community. Hopefully some of my fellowship projects will speak to those aspects of outreach (e.g. project examples, workshops, etc).
Tourist at home
When I tell people where I’m from, I usually say, “San Francisco”, but to anyone who knows the Bay Area, “Vallejo” which is actually where I grew up is faaaar from “The City”. As part of RightsCon, I had the opportunity to actually stay in San Francisco and live, so they say, “as the locals do”. I was able to rent a nice room in a house in “the Mission” close to BART and some really wonderful Mexican food. I also lived with 2 nice cats.
One of the things that was really cool about this trip was that this was the first time I took public transit all the way from San Francisco to my parents’ home in Vallejo. I took the Ferry from the Embarcadero to the Vallejo ferry terminal and then the bus all the way to the other side of town.
This may not sound that amazing, and its really not that fantastical, but considering that I never took the bus in Vallejo until now, I feel somehow really proud of this. I guess living outside of California for the last 4 years has equipped me with some new tools.