The MPC network examines various issues with data and transparency.
Project 1 - Digital Political Campaigning and Lack of Transparency.
Use of digital technologies in political campaigning present benefits and harms to the democratic process. On benefits, digital political campaigning can better engage hard-to-reach parts of the electorate; and it can help politicians identify issues that voters care about. However, this requires that campaigns are conducted honestly and openly, otherwise we descend into covert, attempted manipulation of electorates. Unfortunately, digital political campaigning is currently opaque, presenting many harms. MPC members have analysed this problem for the Political Studies Association on the 2017 UK General Election - ‘Was it ‘AI wot won it’? Hyper-targeting and profiling emotions online’; and on the 2019 UK General Election, ‘Against opacity, outrage and deception in digital political campaigning’. They have also produced invited written evidence for the UK parliament. These include a submission to the House of Lords Select Committee on Democracy & Digital Technologies in 2019: AGAINST OPACITY, OUTRAGE & DECEPTION: Towards an ethical code of conduct for transparent, explainable, civil & informative digital political campaigns. It also includes a submission to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Electoral Campaigning Transparency in August 2019:CULTURE CHANGE Incentivise political campaigners to run civil and informative election campaigns. Further afield, in 2020, group members submitted evidence to the Inquiry into the Impact of Social Media on Elections & Electoral Administration, for the Electoral Matters Committee, Parliament of Victoria (Australia). Combating digital political disinformation in election campaigns was also the subject of Vian Bakir’s Fellowship at the Centre for IT & IP Law (CITIP), University of Leuven, Belgium in Dec. 2019 (see blog post). She has written about undue influence in digital political campaigns here.
Project 2 – Personal Data Storage Apps.
Funded by Innovate UK/Technology Strategy Board grant (2020-21), Taking Back Control of Our Personal Data: An ethical impact assessment of personal data storage apps, involves working closely with personal data storage app developer, Cufflink, (a world-facing company based at Bangor University’s M-SParc Science Park) to understand UK citizens’ views and to ensure that ethics are built into the app’s design.
Project 3 – Societal Transparency Arrangements.
Another project examining data transparency is ESRC-funded project (2015-17), DATA-PSST (Debating and Assessing Transparency Arrangements: Privacy, Security, Sur/Sous/Veillance and Trust). This generated three documentaries (with documentary-maker Dyfrig Jones); 7 policy briefs; a final report summarising the outputs of the project; and a report on public feeling on surveillance and privacy. It also generated a Special Issue on Veillance and Transparency Post-Snowden in Big Data and Society (guest-edited by Vian Bakir, Andrew McStay and Martina Feilzer.
Project 4 – Veillant Pantopic Assemblage.
Following the leaks by Edward Snowden in 2013 of massive state surveillance of citizen's digital communication flows in a host of liberal democracies, Vian Bakir coined the term 'veillant panoptic assemblage' to highlight contemporary society's profoundly unequal arrangements of mutual watching. Her work on the veillant panoptic assemblage was used by legal scholar, Yvonne McDermott, who applied this concept to a legal context (on data protection and consent in the information age). These insights found their way into a 547-page landmark judgment by the Indian Supreme Court on 24 August 2017. India's Supreme Court ruled that privacy was a constitutional right, deserving of protection. Its ruling was a response to a constitutional challenge to the Government of India's Aadhaar card biometrics project – which aimed to build a database of personal identity and biometric information covering every Indian resident – the world's largest endeavour of its kind. This ruling was also cited by Jamaica’s Supreme Court in its 2019 declaration that a mandatory identification system is unconstitutional and a breach of privacy.
Project 5 – Immersive Art Installation ‘Veillance’.
Veillance makes visible state and commercial surveillance of people's digital communications. Funded by Arts Council Wales and The Space, and created by artist Ronan Devlin, it involved significant interdisciplinary input. This installation developed real-time responsive software to surveil unencrypted data flowing through attendees' smart devices when connected to the exhibition's wifi. It showed the public the extent to which their data and communications are routinely surveilled by commercial and state surveillance organisations. Attendees' web browsing revealed words that are identified by UK and US global security services as 'triggers' for potential suspicious activity. These words were re-rendered creatively in real-time to appear as floating texts, projected on the four walls of the exhibition space. A list of websites with which attendees' devices were communicating was also created in real-time, illustrating the constant communication between attendees, their data and outside surveillant organisations. The team launched the Veillance installation at Pontio Arts & Innovation Centre in Feb 2017, with a public panel on the importance of art in public education on complex, abstract issues like data surveillance; and why the public needs to understand these issues. Veillance exhibited at FACT (Liverpool) in 2016 and at Pontio White Room (Bangor) in 2017.