CIVILIAN DRONE HYSTERIA: The Absence of a Regulation Mechanism

This post by Sayan Bhattacharya is a part of the TLF Editorial Board Test 2016.

 

We live in a world where presence of drones, more formally known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, are owned by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to high school kids who put them to several new non-military uses previously unimaginable. We live in a world where drones are conceptualized to do something as simple as delivery of items by Amazon to your doorstep to delivering radioactive vials to the office of the Japanese Prime Minister, from monitoring crops to capturing heart stopping footages which you would see circulating on social media platforms. In a world where these gadgets have flown uncomfortably close to US airspaces as many as 650 times, been used to smuggle contraband into prison cells, used to take pictures of inner premises of temples in India which are prohibited, interfered in police and firefighting operations and lastly crashed into civilian populations causing injuries. This article is placed in such a paradigm where clear absence of regulations have led to imposition of blanket bans post freak accidents and subsequent media hysteria leading to isolation of these progressive gadgets from our daily lives.

 

Some of the gravest legal concerns surrounding use of civilian drones are as follows:-

  1. Breach of privacy – Whether we will tolerate such breaches at the cost of advancement of technologies?
  2. Socio-technical factor surrounding how drones are perceived by different individuals – The perception of people surrounding a machine doing human functions prone to error in varying societal conditions due to lack of human decision making process.
  3. Civilian accidents – Whether we will ignore the hit and run cases of drones as in that of car accidents?
  4. Interference in daily lives – By allowing the beautiful machines that we’ve built to travel distances that we would rather not, how far do we let them go?
  5. Fairness of trade in case of delivery by drones

 

The lack of existence of a clear framework regulating use of commercial and non-commercial drones in most countries across the world has led to imposition of blanket bans on their very use. For instance, in October 2014 in India, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) announced that until proper rules and regulations are formulated, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) are forbidden from taking to Indian airspace for any non-government agency, organization or individual without prior authorisation. The use is only permitted if permission is obtained from a number of governmental agencies which are usually out of civilian reach like the  DGCA, Air Navigation Service Provider, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Home Affairs and other concerned agencies. The fact on paper is that no private organization has been given license to use drones. Toy stores and other private markets continue to sell drones and consumers buy them, unaware of the fact that such transaction and use is illegal.

In another provision the Indian government adopts a one size fits all policy wherein the draft guidelines distinguishes civilian drones into four weight categories: micro (less than 2kg), mini (less than 20kg), small (less than 150kg) and large (greater than 150 kgs). The draft mandates that all drones are to be registered irrespective of their weight. A huge error lies in not distinguishing Nano Drones in the said process which have limited commercial usage in terms of distance they can travel and the uses they serve. The nano drones in its very nature should be exempted from registration formalities, third party insurance policies, the minimum 18 year old age limit of piloting which are relevant only for heavier drones.

The United States of America came up with a set of progressive regulations which try to do away with the blanket ban system and fixes a central law for use of civilian drones earlier this year. The Federal Aviation Administration’s new commercial drone rules allow a broad range of businesses to use drones under 55 pounds(approximately 25 kgs), but with several restrictions:

  • The drones must be operated by a pilot who has passed a written test and is at least 16 years old.
  • Drones can be flown only below 400 feet during the day (as a matter of fact, drones usually don’t fly above 350 feet so envisages all possibilities).
  • They have to fly at least five miles away from airports.
  • They can’t travel at more than 100 kmph over civilian population.
  • They have to fly at a visible line of sight.

The perception surrounding use of drones in general doing day to day human work is that of apprehension. The negativity surrounding use of drones develops from the side effects of legalizing it like privacy breaches and freak accidents.Thus whenever an accident is reported, the media highlights only that portion and it becomes the generalized picture surrounding use of drones. This becomes problematic on two levels:-

  1. Leads to cases of people perceiving drones as a threat and damaging them physically and not accepting their usefulness mentally(several cases reported including destruction of state controlled UAVs)
  2. Leads to formulation of drone piloting policies solely to appease public sentiment resulting to blanket bans instead of regulating measures. This is the larger issue with media hysteria and subsequent public policy.

For instance, in Florida, after a few cases of privacy breaches were reported, legislation  prohibiting unmanned aerial vehicles from taking pictures of citizens was passed. On the basis of singular events the broader benefits of drones taking pictures like active citizen journalism, contribution to photography, contribution to science were completely ignored. Also the same legislation was a breach of freedom of expression according to rights bestowed by First Amendment as it drew an unfair distinction only extended to drones.

In a diverse geopolitical and mostly rural background like in India, where a balance between technology and individual rights need to be made, it is necessary that there is a need of presence of regulation mechanisms and not a complete blanket ban on the technology as whole which stops the very basic right of access to technology. Till the time we get used to the usefulness of the machines that we have built, drones will be perceived negatively. Till the time a proper regulation mechanism comes into being you can be sure that if Amazon executives are testing a drone delivery system so are prison inmates. 

Roboethics

Ed. Note: This post by Benjamin Vanlalvena is a part of the TLF Editorial Board Test 2016.          

                                         Source: xkthe_three_laws_of_roboticscd

Liability in law arises to persons who are considered rational and have control over their actions. Techonology is advancing at a rapid pace; machines have taken over a lot of jobs requiring manual labour. Some argue that this is beneficial as it means humans as a race would be able to focus on other activities/specialize. However, with the rate at which things are developing, one wonders what kind of activity would be left for humans. We already have a ‘robot lawyer’ hired by a law firm, a robot which helped people with their traffic tickets and has already successfully challenged 160,000 tickets, there are also robots writing stories for news agencies, one wrote a movie, another drew art. Robots have already defeated us in chess and go. Though they might not be completely ‘intelligent’, there’s no doubt that someday they could catch up to us.

However, does such a fear of robots ‘taking over our jobs’ make us Luddites? As robots become more advanced and autonomous, the chain of causality becomes complex. Which brings us to the question of who becomes liable when a robot commits a crime, or more crucially, can a robot commit a crime or is it merely following orders or is its action simply a malfunction. Companies are considered to be non-human legal entities which can be made liable for their offences through fines or revocation of licences. Could we take an action in a similar direction?

Ethics in and of itself is a widely debated philosophical subject, so is the concept of personhood and consciousness. To bring in a third factor, robots, as ‘beings’ having the potential to possess ‘ethics’ or whether ‘artificial intelligence’ could be termed as consciousness is a legal quagmire. When the action of a robot causes the death of a person or an accident, the question arises, who should be liable, the manufacturer, the owner or the user?

As earlier mentioned, the idea of being liable for an action arises from the fact that the actor is considered to be autonomous. For self-driving cars, therefore, the trolley problem becomes relevant and the question of liability in cases of driverless cars crashing is pertinent.

Ethics, however, are not limited to drivers, and robots are not limited to such a function. There’s a plethora of situations which we must consider. If a robot, for example is to be truly autonomous and yet follow Asimov’s laws, what then, when there are multiple orders which are contradictory, how should a robot react if it’s owner who is in great pain and there is no scope for her to live, requests the robot to kill her? If a General is fighting in war and knows that if he were to be turned over be tortured and forced to spill secrets, requests a robot to kill him, should it? Who would decide what is ethical for robots used in war or war-like situations?

The question therefore arises, when our idea of what is ‘ethical’ or ‘moral’ itself differs among people, can we enforce such an idea on robots? Before we ask if we can trust robots with making moral decisions, can we trust humankind to make the same decisions?

If we make robots liable for their actions, do they deserve any rights? It would not be a first to give rights to non-humans. Animals, for example, have a number of people advocating for their rights. Questions are aplenty, in a trolley problem, if one had to choose between a human being and 5 robots who could through their research cure cancer or some other illness, who should be destroyed? What if the human being were the President of a country?

As time passes, AI will only develop further, when we have autonomous robots who have learnt to say no. The question of who should teach when it should say no also arises. What is morality but one programming oneself or being programmed subconsciously or otherwise to behave in a particular manner in a particular circumstance. How different then, would it be from teaching a child what is moral and programming a robot to act in a particular manner in a particular circumstance, is that not ‘right’ for it?

When we have more and more humanoid robots, and start to treat them like humans and have relationships with them. Questions of how they can be used will eventually arise. How would we view a relationship between a robot and a human? (The movie ‘Her’ comes to mind) What about robots used for sex? What if said robot is looks like a child? An animal? Does it matter only if they have ‘conscience’?

The ethics of robotics, is a difficult to address, and before we are overwhelmed with the advancement of technology, we must address these concerns.

 

 

 

For further information;

http://www.economist.com/node/21556234, Morals and the machine, The Economist.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Pq-S557XQU, Humans need not apply.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Umk7nQiaqkA, Should we give robots rights?

http://www.bartneck.de/publications/2015/anthropomorphismOpportunitiesChallenges/, Anthropomorphism: Opportunities and Challenges in Human-Robot Interaction.

http://www.androidscience.com/Ro-Man2006/1Kahn2006Ro-ManWhatIsAHuman.pdf, What is a Human? – Toward Psychological Benchmarks in the Field of Human-Robot Interaction.

Biotechnology, Ethics and CRISPR: A Panacea or Pandora’s Box?

Ed. Note: This post by Benjamin Vanlalvena is a part of the TLF Editorial Board Test 2016.

Change is inevitable. Through technology, humans have brought about changes not only in the environment but also within themselves. Whether these changes are ‘good’ or ‘bad’, the fact is that we have achieved things and gone to places we would never have dreamed of.

These changes have given us more control over how we live and how we affect and are affected by the environment.

What is it and how does it affect us?

CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. It is a tool/technique to allow for gene-editing. Genetic engineering and editing is not something new, and we’ve genetically modified mice, fish, pigs, tomatoes, etc. CRISPR is significant because it is much more precise, which makes it much more cheap and efficient. Biotechnology has played a huge part in the betterment of humankind through development of various vaccines and medicines and CRISPR could also play a role in the same and be quite beneficial.

According to the WHO, roughly 438,000 deaths were caused by malaria in 2015 alone, and CRISPR has been seen as a tool that could potentially eradicate not only malaria but yellow fever, zika virus, etc. Malaria is one of the many diseases we could prevent by editing genes in organisms; if research becomes fruitful, various congenital disabilities could also be prevented.

As of now, scientists from the United States and China have been given permission to conduct trials on humans which could be a cure for cancer.

The ethical dilemma

The issue with gene-editing and changing the DNA of a species is that once we go through with it, there’s no turning back. The side-effects might be noticeable only after decades, however, should we restrict ourselves and allow tens of thousands of people to die because of something that could happen? There is no clear answer. Biotechnology and ethics have troubled us for a long time. Is it moral to let a foetus if you know it will suffer from a chronic or terminal illness? Should we allow euthanasia for someone who is in extreme pain? The question of being ‘pro-choice’ or ‘pro-life’ (abortion) continues to plague us. Likewise, editing of genes through CRISPR or some other means that might be developed in the future is yet to be unanswered. Regardless of what the consequence may be, we can be assured that change is inevitable, whether we like it or not, it is open in the market and no matter how we react to it, whether we ban it or regulate it, research would go on.

We’ve seen enough movies to think about the potential dangers that could arise though possibly not as extreme (“I am Legend” anyone?). When we think of gene-editing we need not restrict ourselves to simply curing of disease but we could start to have ‘improvements’ in the human body. This begs then begs the question, does it not lead to further discrimination or disparity between people? Scientists or doctors would be incentivised to provide better services to persons with deeper pockets, however Kurzgesagt,a Youtube channel claims that such a disparity is already present and possibly would always be present. Maybe it’s better to have differences as long as the worst harm suffered is not as bad as earlier was? Maybe it would be better to have some people excel at things and other not excelling as long as those worst off are not suffering from preventable harm; though attempts should be made and continued to be made to reduce the gap differences, should we prevent ourselves from any form of advancement simply because we wouldn’t be able to have what those who are better off have?

Such questions are pertinent because though the lens with which we look at gene-editing right now might be limited to curing of diseases; the idea of a designer baby is not something people haven’t thought of. However, as with all forms of scientific advancement, we must ask ourselves, for we are at the threshold of a new era in human history. Change might not be immediate, but it is certainly inevitable. What does the future hold for us, will humanity evolve and move forward or will we use CRISPR to doom ourselves further?

 

For more information, watch:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UfA_jAKV29g, CRISPR: A Gene-editing superpower, SciShow

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAhjPd4uNFY, Genetic Engineering Will Change Everything Forever – CRISPR, Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnzcwTyr6cE, How To Eradicate One Of Our Deadliest Enemies – Gene Drive & Malaria, Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell

http://www.livescience.com/53015-when-is-gene-editing-dangerous.html, LiveScience.

 

BLOCKCHAINS: THE TRUE INNOVATION BEHIND BITCOINS

Ed. Note: This post by Vishal Rakhecha is a part of the TLF Editorial Board Test 2016.

Bitcoins have disrupted e-commerce not because of the idea of virtual currency but the peer- to-peer system it has developed. The USP of bitcoins was the decentralised structure of data entry. Any participant in the entire network can make an entry into the ledger if they follow certain rules. This reduced the dependence on trusted third-parties (Pay Pal, Master Card, etc.) or a centralised authority (governments). This has been made possible using an open database called Blockchain. This article will give a brief explanation of blockchain and the possible applications it can have across sectors.

Blockchain is a ‘distributed public ledger’ system which has records of every single transaction ever conducted using a bitcoin. The idea behind blockchain is very simple. All information during a given time-period is stored in a block with its hash – a cryptographically shortened version of the data set given. Each block acts like a page of the ledger. The hash of each block has to be related to the previous block turning it into a chain of blocks, hence the name. Any data once entered into a blockchain cannot be erased or modified. This makes the blockchain transparent and authentic, yet anonymous. The blockchain system has been created in such a way that any user or attacker with enough power to be able to tamper with the network will find it more favourable to become a part of the system and benefit from it rather than harm it.

One sector where blockchain can have a large influence is the financial sector. One of the major issues affecting large financial institutions is the lack of synchronisation of the ledgers within their own company and when they deal with other companies. The lack of centrally available data to all participants in the business leads to an increase of the need for trusted third-party intermediaries who offer unbiased dispute-resolution mechanisms. This problem increases as the number of units engaged in the same project increases. The data in a blockchain is chronologically listed and collectively maintained by all parties involved. The amount of computational power required to change any data in the ‘ledger’ is extremely high and will far outweigh the benefits derived from tampering the data. Use of this technology will also lead to a reduction in the need for an intermediary to decide the validity of the information. Embracing this technology will also reduce the friction between companies as they will operate from a single source of ‘truth’.

Digital asset management is another possible application for the blockchain technology. Bitcoins are not software/data actually getting transferred from one individuals account to another; they are simply a record that at some point your account received that bitcoin. This means that we can embed any asset to the blockchain network like securities, stocks, even fiat currency, discount coupons, tickets, etc. This will enable us to use a purely digital asset management system, with the advantages it provides for the end-user as it will make the transaction more secure and transparent. The other benefits of using the blockchain technology are the impossibility of creating counterfeits and auditability. The blockchain algorithm can also be embedded with the rules framed according to the regulatory bodies, which makes it all the more important for them to encourage the use of them.

Protecting intellectual property and preventing the creation of copies of a piece of art or music is also a possible use of blockchains. Startups like Ascribe provide notary services to artists and writers; they can upload their work and receive a digital key for it. The idea behind this is pretty straight forward, the author’s composition is added to the blockchain; this becomes a permanent proof that the author owns the work. Every time someone copies or uploads that work the creator gets to know about it. This would mean that at least at a theoretical level that there can be no duplicates without the creator’s permission, making licensing and transferring easier for the artists.

Last year around May, the government of Honduras has tied-up with a startup called Factom to keep up its land records using blockchains. The benefits for government authorities are as great as they are for corporations, creating a decentralised system for data entry for land records, vehicle registrations, patents and almost everything that requires a certain amount of permanence. Use of blockchains will also make transfer of information within governmental departments to manage their records within and between departments. A more radical idea proposed by some is making voting a purely online activity, by giving each individual a voting token and making the system more transparent and accessible. Use of blockchains in state machinery will lessen the inefficiencies generally associated with bureaucratic operations.

The system is self-regulating in terms of it not requiring any outside entities having to interfere or dictate the way the system has to work so as to ensure that every single participant remains honest and tries not take advantage of the system. It will also significantly lower the cost of spending on expensive intermediaries and will further facilitate the growth of a more connected and transparent mode of governance. This will also pave way for increasing accountability standards for state bodies and corporation towards citizens and shareholders respectively. The possible advantages of using blockchain make it very attractive system for governments and corporations to invest in and they should try the system to test it.

POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS IN A DIGITAL AGE

Ed. Note: This post, by Kaustub Bhati, is a part of the TLF Editorial Board Test 2016.

The digital media, be it the digitalised version of 24×7 print media, the social networks or the instant messaging. The internet, much like the radio in its era, has radically altered who is electable. Before the digital landscape arrived, there was a vividly different set of candidates who would win that don’t have even a chance of winning now. Academic research has consistently found that people who consume more news media have a greater probability of being civically and politically engaged across a variety of measures. In an era when the public’s time and attention is increasingly directed toward platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, scholars are seeking to evaluate the still-emerging relationship between social media use and public engagement. The Obama presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012 and the Arab Spring in 2011 catalyzed interest in networked digital connectivity and political action.[1]

A motivated group of people with a targeted message can, with the right approach, build mass support and make a huge impact on political or commercial issues. The charm of the internet for grassroots campaigners is comprehensible –millions of people who can be identified by their interests and concerns, and reaching them is cheap and easy. From the consumer’s standpoint, technology like Twitter and Facebook make it much easier than ever to join a campaign or take action for a given cause.[2] Digital campaigning is all about gathering the right information and using it to inform consistent, targeted communication. The best thing about digital campaigning is that while your follower base may be geographically dispersed, online they will have a tendency to cluster together around their collective interests and concerns. This makes them easier to access – searching for Facebook groups or like-minded tweets is a lot quicker than knocking on 10,000 doors.[3]

The Barack Obama campaign was the first political campaign in history to truly harness the clout of social media to spread the word, reap support and get people involved. The Obama campaign reached 5 million supporters on 15 different social Networks over the course of campaign season; by November 2008, Obama had approximately 2.5 million (some sources say as many as 3.2 million) Facebook supporters, 115,000 Twitter followers, and 50 million viewers of his YouTube channel. The campaign team didn’t just create a facebook page and a youtube channel and expect things to kick-off themselves rather they created an environment of energy and participation, imbued in the participators a sense of purpose which enabled people to connect in real time and show their support.[4] No other presidential candidate has ever been able to integrate digital media with campaign propaganda this effectively, resulting in its major contribution to the way to Oval Office. The Obama campaign exemplified the massive, evocative impact that social media can have on getting young people engaged and involved. Mybarackobama.com was not simply a website; it was a crusade that made politics accessible through social media people were already using every day. It altered the face of political campaigns forever; but even more so, it made getting involved as easy as opening up an internet browser and creating an online profile.

Narendra Modi’s campaign team has used some very innovative and timely decisions that has helped give high visibility and add potent muscle to the election campaign using the digital media. They understood the consumer insights using various survey data’s and concluded that Brand Modi was greater than Brand BJP and banked on this in their campaign. They came up with extremely catchy slogans and bombarded them through various advertisements, messages and radio broadcasts. They were catchy, easy and everybody could say them and articulate with them and hence bond with the individual on a personal basis. The various radio programs such as chai pe baat aimed at interaction with the agrarian workers and twitter replies helped facilitate the successful inclusion of these classes in the supporter base.

The largest and best-known inquiry in this turf so far is a 2012 study published in the journal Nature, “A 61-Million-Person Experiment in Social Influence and Political Mobilization,” which proposed that messages on users’ Facebook feeds could significantly impact voting arrays. The study data advocated that certain messages endorsed by friends “increased turnout directly by about 60,000 voters and indirectly through social contagion by another 280,000 voters, for a total of 340,000 additional votes.”[5]

Hence, in a digital age, where everyone is connected every second of their lives and effective media teams, focused campaigns and a barrage of propaganda to stir the sub-conscious at the decisive time has become much easier and affordable, tapping this massive pool of resource should be a must for candidates in any political elections to grow a steady and reliable support base through the extensive use of communication technologies available at their disposal.

[1] How does social media use influence political participation and civic engagement? A meta-analysis, http://journalistsresource.org/studies/politics/digital-democracy/social-media-influence-politics-participation-engagement-meta-analysis

[2] Mark Wallace, Grassroots Campaigning in the Digital Age, http://www.portland-communications.com/publications/the-quarterly-issue-4/grassroots-campaigning-in-the-digital-age/

[3] Id.

[4]  Juliet Eilperin, Here’s how the first president of the social media age has chosen to connect with Americans, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2015/05/26/heres-how-the-first-president-of-the-social-media-age-has-chosen-to-connect-with-americans

[5] How does social media use influence political participation and civic engagement? A meta-analysis, http://journalistsresource.org/studies/politics/digital-democracy/social-media-influence-politics-participation-engagement-meta-analysis

ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGIES

Ed. Note: This post by Kaustub Bhati is a part of the TLF Editorial Board Test 2016.

Have you ever seen a Paralympic athlete run and wondered how is he doing that? The answer to that query is assistive technology. Assistive Technology is basically an umbrella term, used for any software or hardware designed to help a user get past the area of their disabilities. It encompasses any device which helps assist, adapt and rehabilitate a disabled person.

Disability is seen as a socially constructed phenomenon that results from barriers that are present in the environment. This view of disability locates it within the environment rather than the person[1] and Well-designed high quality assistive devices, or daily living aids, that support independent living for the handicapped and disabled, seniors, or those with a medical condition or injury should make life easier and safer for the aged and disabled.

Technology is a ubiquitous part of our daily life which makes our daily tasks simpler and the devices that have sprouted from this realm of technology ranges from a simple walking frame to whole exoskeletons for people who cannot support themselves to brain and spinal implants helping quadriplegic people to control robots using just their thoughts. Professor John Donoghue, creator of BrainGate, achieved this feat of sending brain signals to robotic arms to move around. The only problem with this technology is that such implants tend to abrade tissues, cause inflammation and finally rejection of the implant by the host body but this problem is seemed to have been solved by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. They have made a flexible implant named ‘e-dura’ which is made from a silicone rubber that has the same elasticity as dura mater, the protective skin that surrounds the spinal cord and brain and has the potential to correct nerve damage. It has successfully gone through animal testing and is up for human test phase. The World Health Organisation organized a key stakeholders meeting in Geneva on 3 and 4 July 2014 and established a global initiative: the Global Cooperation on Assistive Technology (GATE). This is in partnership with stakeholders who represent international organizations, donor agencies, professional organizations, academia, and user groups. The vision of the GATE initiative: A world where everyone in need has high-quality, affordable assistive products to lead a healthy, productive and dignified life. The GATE initiative has only one goal: to improve access to high-quality affordable assistive products globally.[2] In India too, Universities such as IIT Delhi work extensively in this field and have come up with some unique technologies of their own such as, The Refreshable Braille Display, a device that enables people with visually impairment to read digital text through tactile interface, that is, it gives a line-by-line embossed braille script on the display of textual Content in PDF format.[3] Other such inventions sponsored by the government of India are, the SmartCane, a device that uses ultrasonic ranging to detect objects in its path and generates tactile output in the form of different vibratory patterns. These vibrations convey the distance information and thus enable the user to negotiate the obstacles from a safe distance.[4]

Indian companies such as BarrierBreak, in lieu of world leaders in assistive technologies from Israel such as PresenTense, ParaTrek and Sesame Enable, are the frontrunners in this field. In collaboration with Royal National Institute of Blind People and the W3C Consortium (World Wide Web Consortium) they are paving the way for greater cohesion of technology and social need.

Assistive Technologies promotes greater independence by enabling people to perform tasks that they were formerly unable to accomplish, or had great difficulty accomplishing, by providing enhancements to or changed methods of interacting with the technology needed to accomplish such tasks. This is a very exciting time for new developments in assistive technology. Not only are existing AT programs regularly updated, but new and previously unseen technology is on-route to improve accessibility for persons with disabilities.[5]

By contemporary approximations, more than 4,000 assistive technologies have been designed for the disabled and seniors. These devices include the whole shebang, from wheelchairs to a wide assortment of high-tech tools and many companies today are turning their research and expansion to assistive technologies.[6] It is a turf which should be encouraged by governments worldwide to encourage emerging entrepreneurs and start-ups in actively engaging and inventing new technologies to help the disabled all-around the globe.

[1]  Albert M. Cook, Janice Miller Polgar, Assistive Technologies: Principles and Practice

[2] Global Cooperation on Assistive Technology (GATE), http://www.who.int/phi/implementation/assistive_technology/phi_gate/en/

[3] Assitech, http://assistech.iitd.ernet.in/

[4] Ibid

[5] Assistive Technology: Devices Products & Information, http://www.disabled-world.com/assistivedevices/

[6] Ibid

Throttling Net Neutrality: A Fast Lane to Success?

Ed. Note: This post by Ashwin Murthy is a part of the TLF Editorial Board Test 2016.

Net neutrality in its most basic understanding is the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and the Government regulating the Internet must treat all data of the Internet the same. In a situation however where these bodies can increase the productivity of the provision of Internet to the consumer by discriminating between different sites and their data packets, the question arises as to whether this too would be against the principle of net neutrality and thus should be rendered unviable. Perhaps the clearest example of the same would be slowing down certain sites in exchange for speeding up other sites, a process known as throttling and fast-laning. Each site is essentially a collection of data packets (packets of information transmitted via Internet). By distributing data packets of different sites at different speeds, a level of optimisation can be reached that cannot be provided by distributing the data packets of each site at the same speed. Thus more data intensive sites could be given priority over less consuming sites – multimedia sites over text-based sites is the simplest form of distinction to understand. This could be extended even further, where ISPs divide which sites to speed up, thus allowing the consumer to choose which is most beneficial for their personal use. In the Indian context, this could be understood in the example where Airtel would ‘speed up’ all multimedia sites (YouTube, Vimeo, Netflix, etc.) and ‘slow down’ all other sites while BSNL would do the same with news sites (The Hindu, Times of India, Al Jazeera, etc.) and so on.

At first glance, this system seems entirely advantageous to the consumer, allowing a choice in ISP catered to one’s needs and is not explicitly against the definition of net neutrality given by TRAI (after phenomenal participation of activists) in its Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs For Data Services Regulations, 2016 (or rather lack of a definition as pointed out by Rajeev Chandrasekhar in his letter to TRAI). This definition merely speaks of differential pricing and tariffs based on content of the sites and not differential speeds. However, the spirit of the Regulations, and net neutrality as a principle, is against such measures of differential speeds in provision of data packets and speed allotted to different websites, a point which TRAI Chairman RS Sharma brought out in his interview with The Wire. Further, the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), a group dedicated to working on and protecting network neutrality in India, provided a clearer definition of net neutrality, which is against this measure proposed. It could be argued that abandoning net neutrality in such a scenario is beneficial, however as clearly elucidated by an article by the Indian Express and an article by Save The Internet, net neutrality is a necessity for the Internet to be beneficial for its consumers. Net neutrality has always been a core principle upon which the Internet was created, a point which Web creator Tim Berners-Lee along with the Professors Barbara van Schewick, and Larry Lessig brought out in their open letter to European citizens, and such fast lanes and throttling requires discrimination based on the content of the data packets which is against the principle of net neutrality. TRAI through its regulations has made it clear that it is in fact in support of net neutrality, and thus such a measure is against Governmental policy and rules. The current legal position on net neutrality is rather lacking, restricted to the Regulations made by TRAI, however it could extend far beyond this rudimentary definition.

Furthermore, while this system may appear to be beneficial to the customers, it comes with its own share of problems. When delineating that multimedia sites would be boosted by Airtel, there must be a metric for determining what sites would constitute multimedia sites. In the current context of the Internet, such lines are blurred to the point of non-existence. News channels all contain multitudes of videos while many video sharing sites use large quantities of text in their content, preventing a metric to be easily created. Allowing ISPs, or even the Government, to determine this metric creates a specific mould based on existing, already successful sites. All multimedia sites would have to resemble YouTube or Netflix, creating a lack of diversity available to the consumer and a monopolization of these original already powerful sites that create the mould. New players to the market would be at a substantial disadvantage, having to conform to these moulds and thus would have to compete directly against their already established, bigger competitors, providing the same content to an already saturated consumer looking for something new.

This specific topic of throttling and fast-lanes will be taken up by the Government and the Department of Telecommunications, however there has been no mention of deadlines or time periods within which one could expect change. Organisations such as IFF are pursuing the issue and striving for complete net neutrality, however this leads to the question of whether such an absolute net neutrality is in fact beneficial. Considering that net neutrality may entail certain suboptimal procedures and measures, it could be argued that compromises could be worked out to reach a more efficient version of what we possess today. It is easy to perceive such a measure as positive and beneficial to the consumers; similar debates revolved around Facebook’s Free Basics and Internet.org where, among other things, it was questioned whether net neutrality was of a higher value than providing free internet to millions. However, it must be realised that disposing of net neutrality, apart from losing its immense advantages, also disposes with a fundamental part of why the Internet is what it is – a space for freedom and creativity, a zone for innovation and expression. Throttling is just an example of abandoning net neutrality, however the scope extends far beyond, all in the name of ‘optimisation’ and better performance and delivery of service. This choice between the two is something that the government and citizens must take into account –is it better to sacrifice certain principles that should be held as inviolable and paramount in the aims of a high level of optimisation and productivity or to uphold these principles and settle with a perhaps less oiled machine, a machine that does the task yet does not attain its full potential?

YouTube’s Copyright Policy – An Explanation

Ed. Note: This post by Ashwin Murthy is a part of the TLF Editorial Board Test 2016.

Digital media has become the norm of the modern world and in the field no website is as dominant as YouTube. YouTube, currently a Google subsidiary, controls the market when it comes to video sharing, outpacing the other video-sharing providers by millions of views and users. YouTube presently has more than a billion users and has even allowed the growth of a new career in YouTube personalities, the most famous being PewDiePie. As a natural product of being a video sharing service, multiple videos use content that is copyright protected.

To help protect these companies and their copyright protections, YouTube has created a system called Content ID. This system allows copyright owners to easily identify their content on another person’s or channel’s videos and take action against the same. A database of files and content is submitted to YouTube by the content owners. When a video is uploaded to YouTube, it is scanned against the database. If a match is detected, a Content ID claim is raised and the owners of the content that has been copied are informed. They then have the option to do one of four things:

  • Mute the audio that is copied/matching
  • Block the entire video from being viewed
  • Track the number of views
  • Monetize the video by running ads

Monetizing the video is the most common measure that the content owners take, one that bears very little publicity and negativity associated with it and is also the most profitable. The choice between sharing the revenue generated from these ads with the uploader is up to the content owner. Not everyone is given this Content ID privilege – only copyright owners who meet specific criteria are allotted the same.

More serious however is when the copyright owners submit an official legal copyright infringement notification, instead of merely accepting Content ID actions. This notification can be submitted through a very simple form, the uploaded content is removed keeping in line with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This will then place a strike upon the uploader, which initially has no penalty apart from removing the uploaded video. If the live stream or archived live stream is removed for copyright, then the uploader’s access to live streaming will be restricted for 90 days. Three strikes however will cause the account to be permanently banned, deletion of all videos from the account and a ban from creating an account on YouTube. Strikes can be removed by waiting three months and completing the Copyright School (a ‘corrective’ test and series of instructions on the YouTube site), getting a retraction from the issuer or submitting a counter notification, disputing the challenge.

Certain content, even if using copyright protected works, may be allowed if it is ‘fair use’. YouTube has certain fair use guidelines, which speak of which content would and would not be protected by fair use depending on certain characteristics including the amount and substantiality of the work used in comparison to the entire work as a whole. Thus if 90% of the content of a video uploaded is of a music video, such as Ezra Furman’s song ‘Restless Year’, then it would not be protected by fair use and would be liable for takedown. However, if a part of the music video is used to create content on something original, such as a discussion of emerging trends of fashion, it would be protected and no claim would be allowed. Excerpts used verbatim for the purposes of criticism, teaching, reviewing or proving an analytic point are all part of fair use.

In theory this measure is a unilaterally positive measure, however in practice certain issues have been raised. This quasi-legal system allows for an easy way for certain companies and individuals to easily make money without getting involved in lawsuits or disputes, simply through the filling of a single form. Further, there is no penalty for filing a false claim. It essentially becomes an automated action, where a claim is made with only potential benefit and no downside. The action by YouTube is first taken, and only after this can the uploader fight for a refraction/counter claim. This allows for gross abuses of the system, the most publicised being of film critic Doug Walker on his YouTube channel ‘Channel Awesome’. His review of the movie ‘My Neighbour Totoro’, ironically a recommendation and in complete fair use, was claimed against and he was hit with a copyright strike. His channel was hit with massive restrictions from YouTube and ad revenue was stripped from every video he uploaded. The redressal systems neither worked nor were easily accessible, and only after he made a video that got wide attention did YouTube take it seriously.           YouTube musician Miracle of Sound was hit with copyright claims against the music he created for his own channel and others. Game critic Jim Sterling, as explained in his video on the issue (explicit language) was forced into a rather innovative action – he used footage from multiple games published by companies like Konami, Nintendo and Rockstar in a single video, causing them all to raise Content ID claims on the video which effectively nullified the claims to a point where no action at all could be taken. This pointed to the critics an example of how easy the system had become to abuse and game for only potential gains.

This led to the creation of the movement #WTFU (Where’s The Fair Use) by Doug Walker and supported by multiple high profile YouTubers calling YouTube and Google to take action and change the existing policies towards fair use and copyrights. YouTube responded, stating that they would take action to make a change, however change is yet to be seen. YouTube has to balance a fine line between allowing for creative content and protection of copyrights and intellectual property. However, it has become evident that their algorithms for discovering this content as well as their mechanisms for dealing with copyright issues are outdated, biased towards the issuing party and difficult to redress if wrong. Change is necessary to create a platform that can better deal with the immense number of users that YouTube possesses and until it arrives, YouTubers like Channel Awesome and Jim Sterling will actively fight against the blatant issues that exist within the system.

Encryption and the extent of privacy

Ed. Note.: This post, by Benjamin Vanlalvena, is a part of the NALSAR Tech Law Forum Editorial Test 2016.

A background of the issue

On December 2, 2015, 14 people were killed and 22 were seriously injured in a terrorist attack at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, which consisted of a mass shooting and an attempted bombing. The FBI announced on February 9, 2016 that it was unable to unlock the iPhone used by one of the shooters, Farook. The FBI initially asked the NSA to break into the iPhone but their issue was not resolved, and therefore asked Apple to create a version of the phone’s operating system to disable the security features on that phone.

Apple however refused which led to the Department of Justice applying to a United States Magistrate judge who issued a court order requiring Apple to create and provide the requested software and was given until 26th February, 2016 to respond to the order. Apple however announced their intention to oppose the order. The Department of Justice in response filed a new application to compel Apple to comply with the order. It was revealed that they had discussed methods to access the data in January however, a mistake by the investigating agencies ruled out that method. On March 28, the FBI announced that they had unlocked the phone and withdrew the suit.

The dilemma

Privacy is a recognised fundamental right under Article 17 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights and Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Encryption is a process through which one encodes or secures a message or data to make the content readable only by an authorized party or by someone who has the decryption key. Apple claims that it does not perform data extractions as the ‘files to be extracted are protected by an encryption key that is tied to the user’s passcode, which Apple does not possess.’ This, according to the FBI Director, James Comey, is a cause for concern as it means that even with a court order, the contents inside the device of all kinds of criminals would not be accessible. Having a backdoor or ‘golden key’, though slightly different [though not totally] from mass surveillance, as agencies herein would be having the capability to access data stored in the devices as compared to a constant monitoring of data. It’s no longer a matter of constant surveillance but the potentiality of other non-governmental persons gaining access through some illegitimate means. The major contention is that there is an assumption either that those who have access to the key are ‘good people’, who have our interests in mind or that the backdoor would only be accessible by the government. The Washington Post reported that the FBI had (after failing to get Apple to comply) paid professional hackers to assist them in cracking the San Bernardino terrorist’s phone. This itself is a cause of concern as it is proof of vulnerabilities existing in our phones which are seemingly secure.

A data that is encrypted cannot be considered to be totally secure if there is some party which has a means to bypass said encryption. The FBI’s request is therefore problematic as it gives it a backdoor to the data which would be a vulnerability which effects all users. One should bear in mind that the trade of such ‘zero-day vulnerabilities’ is not something unheard of and the NSA or FBI having such tools which keep our data secure is problematic as such tools could be end up in the hands of hackers or leaked. One of the most hard hitting points raised is the issue of national interest, that terrorists or paedophiles use encryption and that it is a “safe space” for them. However, a creation of a backdoor according to the former NSA chief, Michael Hayden, would  be futile as terrorists would be making their own apps based on open-source software, the presence of a backdoor would simply make innocent persons less secure and vulnerable to people who would be taking advantage of such backdoors.

While the intention of the agencies might be good or in the interests of the public, one should keep in mind that once a backdoor is provided, not only is this a dangerous precedent but the dangers of such an encryption leaking an effecting the lives of common persons is huge.

For more information, visit:

https://tcf.org/content/commentary/weve-apple-encryption-debate-nothing-new/

https://www.aclu.org/feature/community-control-over-police-surveillance

https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/how-terrorists-use-encryption

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=peAkiNu8mHY

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZz86r-AGjI

Rights of persons with disability and Copyright

Ed. Note.: This post, by Benjamin Vanlalvena, is a part of the NALSAR Tech Law Forum Editorial Test 2016.

How are disabled persons affected by Copyright Law?

The onset of the digital era has brought in an ease of access for persons with disabilities greater access to resources earlier not available not to them through assistive technology.

Copyright laws are set in place to protect the interest of the right-holder of the creative work. However, every time a visually impaired, blind or print disabled person wanted to convert the work into a format compatible with a screen reading software, they would have to reproduce the book in its entirety. A lot of E-books and other similar digital media content have Digital Rights Management (DRM) Systems which place technical restrictions to prevent the copies from being copied. This conflict between persons with disabilities having the right to access information and the copyright holder’s right to control copying of their work created an obstacle for such persons with disabilities leading to a ‘global book famine’. According to the World Blind Union, roughly 5 percent of the millions of books published were made available in formats which would be accessible to persons who are blind, visually impaired or print disabled. This is a cause of concern considering that there are 285 million persons in the world who are blind, visually impaired and print disabled, 90 percent of whom live in low-income settings in developing countries.

What has been done to address the interests of both parties?

To balance the interests of both parties, on 27th June 2013, the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled was adopted by member States of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and with the ratification of the treaty by Canada, 20 countries having ratified the treaty, the treaty will come into force on September 30, 2016.

What is the Marrakesh Treaty and what does it attempt to do?

The Marrakesh Treaty is a recognition of the rights of blind/visually impaired/print disabled persons and the difficulties and obstacles faced in getting information from the books. It calls for contracting parties to adopt provisions in their respective domestic laws to permit reproduction, distribution works in accessible format for persons who are blind, visually impaired or print disabled. It is pertinent to note that this does not apply to all persons but organizations defined either under Article 2(c) of the treaty or in the domestic laws.

The Marrakesh Treaty takes note of Technological Protection Measures (“TPMs”) and in Article 7 states that Contracting Parties are to take measures to ensure that circumvention of the same would not be deemed illegal if used for the purpose mentioned in this treaty.

The treaty allows distribution of copies in an accessible format to for the exclusive use of beneficiary persons without the authorization of the right holder (even distribution to/import from another country).

The definition of a beneficiary in the Marrakesh Treaty is quite broad and is inclusive of persons suffering from dyslexia, paralysis, etc. Though it does not apply to audio-visual works according to Article 2(a), it applies to works in audio forms such as audiobooks. One must also note that Article 12(2) of the Marrakesh Treaty states that it is without prejudice to other limitations and exceptions for persons with disabilities provided by national law.

Beyond the Treaty

A number of countries in their national laws provide exceptions which are broader than the one provided in the Marrakesh Treaty. The scope in the Indian Copyright Act for example, allows for such an exception to be available for the benefit of persons with disability, which is inclusive of all disabilities requiring a special format to access the work. Countries like Australia, United Kingdom and United States of America also have some similar provisions of exceptions for persons with disabilities.

While the Marrakesh Treaty does not address the issue for every person with disabilities [such as those who are hearing-impaired] it is still a commendable step in that direction.

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