The End of Mass Surveillance?

Posted: October 21st, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: human rights, politics, privacy, technology, thoughts | No Comments »

Mass surveillance, introduced hastily under the pretence of guaranteeing security, is hopefully seeing the beginning of its end in many countries. A perfect example of technological step forward that was made because we could, but actually should not have, mass surveillance was set back only after several protracted legal battles in Europe. It was also an attempt by some to fundamentally reconfigure the relationship between the state and the individual (because without privacy there can be no constitutional democracy, no free elections, no freedom of speech, no human dignity).

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) showed in several decisions that privacy as a fundamental right is here to stay. The Court started with the quite unprecedented nullification of the Data Retention Directive (Joined Cases C-293/12 and C‑594/12 Digital Rights Ireland) in April 2014:

As regards the necessity for the retention of data required by Directive 2006/24, it must be held that the fight against serious crime, in particular against organised crime and terrorism, is indeed of the utmost importance in order to ensure public security and its effectiveness may depend to a great extent on the use of modern investigation techniques. However, such an objective of general interest, however fundamental it may be, does not, in itself, justify a retention measure such as that established by Directive 2006/24 being considered to be necessary for the purpose of that fight.

As for the question of whether the interference caused by Directive 2006/24 is limited to what is strictly necessary, it should be observed that, in accordance with Article 3 read in conjunction with Article 5(1) of that directive, the directive requires the retention of all traffic data concerning fixed telephony, mobile telephony, Internet access, Internet e-mail and Internet telephony. It therefore applies to all means of electronic communication, the use of which is very widespread and of growing importance in people’s everyday lives. Furthermore, in accordance with Article 3 of Directive 2006/24, the directive covers all subscribers and registered users. It therefore entails an interference with the fundamental rights of practically the entire European population.

It then continued just one month later to establish a strong pro-privacy stance in the Google Spain decision (C-131/12) in which it established “the right to be forgotten” and forced Google to remove certain search results if people legitimately request it.

The latest blow to mass surveillance came earlier this month, when the CJEU declared the EU-US Safe Harbor arrangement void in the Schrems case (C-362/14). Safe Harbor had been used by many US corporations to process the personal data of EU citizens as the US itself lacks as strong privacy laws as the EU requires (which are the toughest in the world). The case, which was brought by Austrian student and privacy activist Maximilian Schrems against the Irish data protection body for their reluctance to take on Facebook resulted in the CJEU stepping in an declaring the whole Safe Harbor arrangement invalid [1].

Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and a lot of others have all been impacted and have made alternative arrangements. Many of them have come out in the support of stronger privacy rights. Microsoft Chief Legal Counsel Brad Smith writes:

But privacy rights cannot endure if they change every time data moves from one location to another. Individuals should not lose their fundamental rights simply because their personal information crosses a border. While never stated quite this directly, this principle underlies every aspect of the European Court’s decision, and it makes sense.

Add to this the daily reality that personal data is often moved not by individuals, but by companies and governments. Typically, individuals are not even aware of where their information is being moved or stored. It is untenable to expect people to rely on a notion of privacy protection that changes every time someone else moves their information around. No fundamental right can rest on such a shaky foundation.[2]

Apple CEO Tim Cook has explained their approach to privacy:

We do think that people want us to help them keep their lives private. We see that privacy is a fundamental human right that people have. We are going to do everything that we can to help maintain that trust. …

Our view on this comes from a values point of view, not from a commercial interest point of view. Our values are that we do think that people have a right to privacy. And that our customers are not our products. We don’t collect a lot of your data and understand every detail about your life. That’s just not the business that we are in.[3]

Cook’s mentioning that “our customers are not our products” is a dig against Alphabet (formerly known as Google) and, of course, Facebook, which are the companies that have built a huge business by enticing a big part of the world’s population to trust them with their private data. Those companies are the ones with the most to lose from the resurrection of the right to privacy. Facebook is already grasping at straws by claiming somehow that better privacy protections endanger the security of users[4]. Google has in the past tried to undermine the privacy concerns against it by riding the freedom of information horse, but has recently also started to take things more seriously as it understands that its business model is threatened. Google’s SVP Rachel Whetstone even offered a rare mea culpa early this year at a speech in Bavaria:

Finally, let me turn to privacy. I want to start by making clear Google hasn’t always got this right. It’s not just about the errors we have made–with products like Buzz or the mistaken collection of WiFi data–but about our attitude too. These have been lessons learned the hard way. But as our swift implementation of the Right to be Forgotten has shown, they are indeed lessons we have learned. [5]

There are plenty of politicians, (security) officials, companies and others who took the decision to ignore the right to privacy and contributed to the creation and utilisation of mass surveillance which has resulted in probably the most large-scale infringement of human rights so far in history. Meanwhile this cost has had no significant benefits: it has not made anyone safer or prevented crimes and even if it did manage to prevent some in the future, it would not be close to the worth the cost to our values, democracy, society and economy.

While it may have seemed to some (including Estonian president and chief tech evangelist Toomas Hendrik Ilves [6]) that so-called Little Sister (i.e. private businesses) is more dangerous to privacy than Big Brother, then now they have been proven wrong. Preserving privacy in the digital age is as much in the interests of tech companies as it is for the consumers and it is still the governments that we should be most worried about. The fight will continue, but in more balanced way because there is more awareness of the cost of mass surveillance. There are a number of court cases pending and there are stronger and stronger voices globally that something has to be done in order to guarantee better privacy protections for everyone.

Thankfully there are those who have dared to start this fight against great pressures. Edward Snowden of course, along with Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian and others deserve thanks from all of humanity for what they did at great personal cost. But we also should be very thankful to the judges who have done their job and used their powers for good. They have proven themselves as the last bastions of rule of law, democracy and human rights (even of our political leaders terribly failed us) and saved us from immediate privacy dystopia. We should all thank them and the people and organisations who brought the cases and continue to do so. They are heroes who have helped and continue to help to nudge humankind to a better future.

Post scriptum: My own small contribution to the fight against mass surveillance was the application I submitted to the Chancellor of Justice (the only independent constitutional rights watchdog) in Estonia to check whether mass telecommunications data retention is unconstitutional (as this was introduced resulting from the now invalid data retention directive). After long deliberations, the Chancellor sadly did not think that data retention is necessarily illegal, but nevertheless considered that privacy safeguards need to be strengthened and requested that the Ministry of Justice conduct a comprehensive analysis of the legislation. See her opinion here (in Estonian).

Further reading:

  1. Behind the European Privacy Ruling That’s Confounding Silicon Valley, New York Times, 9 October 2015.
  2. Smith, Brad. The collapse of the US-EU Safe Harbor: Solving the new privacy Rubik’s Cube, Microsoft on the Issues, 20 October 2015.
  3. Apple CEO Tim Cook: ‘Privacy Is A Fundamental Human Right’, Interview on NPR, 1 October 2015.
  4. Facebook Goes On Privacy Offensive in Europe, WSJ, 13 October 2015.
  5. Whetstone, Rachel. Privacy, security, surveillance: getting it right is important, Google Europe blog, 13 February 2015.
  6. President Ilves: we should worry about the “little sister” instead of the “big brother”

The uniqueness of Yogyakarta

Posted: September 18th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: cool, diversity, human rights, thoughts, travel | No Comments »

I have just returned from a brief trip to Yogyakarta, Indonesia (better known as Jogja locally), which was interesting in many ways.

First of all, for governance scholars Jogja is quite unique because the Yogyakarta special administrative region is governed by the Sultan of Yogyakarta who is both the hereditary monarch and an executive governor like other heads of regions. During colonial times, the Dutch agreed to have self-government by the Sultan and at the independence of Indonesia it was agreed that the Sultan could continue on as a regional governor. After controversially not appointed as the governor in 1998, the current Sultan, His Majesty Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X was democratically elected as governor in 1998 and in 2012 the Indonesian parliament passed a law that the Sultan of Yogyakarta would also inherit the position of the governor. One can say that this is not democratic, but if the Sultan continues to have output legitimacy based on superior performance, then why to bother with the instability, hassle and cost of elections and adopt a wider concept of democratic governance? It is a credit to the Indonesian system that such traditional governance system can exist within a democratic, predominantly muslim country.

Secondly, Jogja is the centre of education and Javanese/Buddhist/Hindu culture and history. This means a lot of students which creates a special kind of liberal vibrance and a relaxed peaceful atmosphere unlike some of the bigger cities. It is also diverse city and one of the most liberal Muslim cities as the Muslim faith and tradition is mixed with ancient Javanese traditions and Hindu and Buddhist legacies. The flexibility of Islam in accommodating and facilitating other religions side by side is very visible and real in Indonesia (which is also the world’s largest Muslim country) and other countries in South East Asia, including also Malaysia.

My previous knowledge of the place was only based on the Yogyakarta Principles, which were adopted in the meeting of international human rights experts at Gadjah Mada University and which formed the second part of an exhibit on LGBTI tolerance which we brought to Estonia from Poland (see the online gallery).


Minu nägemus soolise võrdõiguslikkuse ja võrdse kohtlemise voliniku institutsioonist

Posted: July 15th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: diversity, eesti keeles, Estonia, human rights | No Comments »

This post is in Estonian and includes my vision for the development of the Estonian equality body Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner, a position for which I was running for, but in the end was not successful.

Avaldan oma visiooni sellest, milliseks oleksin soovinud kujundada võrdõigusvoliniku institutsiooni juhul kui oleksin osutunud valituks. Ehk leiab tulevane võrdõigusvolinik sellest kasulikke ideid, mida ellu viia.


Minu nägemus soolise võrdõiguslikkuse ja võrdse kohtlemise voliniku institutsioonist minu ametiaja jooksul

Esitan visiooni sellest, milliseks kujundan võrdõigusvoliniku institutsiooni.

Soolise võrdõiguslikkuse ja võrdse kohtlemise volinik on Eesti riigihalduses ebatavaline asutus. Tegemist on Euroopa Liidu õigusest tulenevalt loodud sõltumatu institutsiooniga, mis tekitab pingeid aga ka erilisi võimalusi. Voliniku sõltumatus loob unikaalseid väljakutseid nii töö korraldamisel kui sisuliste küsimuste lahendamisel.

Voliniku institutsioon on olnud algusest peale alarahastatud, mis näitab, et vähe on olnud poliitilist tahet anda eesmärkide saavutamiseks vajalik minimaalne ressurss. See on olnud seotud ka soolise võrdõiguslikkuse ja võrdse kohtlemise teema pealiskaudse omaksvõtuga poliitilise eliidi poolt ning senise vähese prioriteetsusega. Seda arvamust saab muuta tulemusliku töö ja vajalikkuse selgitamisega, aga voliniku eelarvevahendite tagamine vähemalt sellel tasemel nagu see institutsiooni loomisel 2008. aastal Riigikogule esitatud seletuskirjas ette oli nähtud (ca 280 000 eurot aastas), on esmatähtis.

Võrdõigusvolinik on minu nägemuses kõigi inimeste võrdsete inimõiguste tšempion ja “tark mees taskus”, kes aitab riigil ja ühiskonnal võrdõiguslikkuse teemasid avada ja mõtestada ning liikuda võrdõiguslikuma ühiskonna suunas.

Milliseks voliniku institutsiooni kujundan?

Võrdõigusvoliniku eesmärk on saavutada muutus inimeste hoiakutes ja käitumises. Seda saab teha vaid juhul kui ka voliniku institutsioon on ühiskonnas mainekas ja seda nähakse vajalikuna. Ametisse asudes panen paika konkreetse tegevuskava, konsulteerides enne laia ringi inimeste ja organisatsioonidega. Suur osa konkreetsest tegevusest sõltub ka olukorra arengust Eestis, sest volinik peab olema võimeline reageerima võimalustele, mida erinevad sündmused ja arengud pakuvad, et neid oskuslikult võrdõiguslikkuse edendamiseks ära kasutada.

Olen olnud edukas, kui viie aasta pärast saab võrdõigusvoliniku institutsiooni iseloomustada järgnevalt.

1. Voliniku roll ühiskonnas: mitte näpuga vibutav järelevalveametnik vaid igaühe abiline teekonnal võrdõiguslikuma ühiskonna suunas.

Voliniku kuvand on olla pigem soolise võrdõiguslikkuse ja võrdse kohtlemise valdkondade strateegiline eestvedaja kui järelevalveametnik. See tähendab, et volinik peab olema võimeline teemat ‘müüma’ teistele olulistele riigi-, era- ja kolmanda sektori liitlastele, kellega ühiselt tulemusi saavutada. Hea näide on minu juhitud “erinevus rikastab” projektide raames loodud mitmekesisuse kokkulepe, mis ühendab pea 60 ettevõtet ja organisatsiooni, mis on seadnud mitmekesisuse ja kaasatuse esiplaanile.

Volinik peab tingimata jätkama kaebuste osas ekspertarvamuste andmist, proovides samas leida võimalusi arvamuse andmise menetlemise kiirendamiseks, tehes koostööd valdkonnast huvitatud advokaatide ja juristidega. Juba antud arvamuste põhjal saab voliniku institutsioon välja töötada lihtsad juhendmaterjalid erinevatele sihtrühmadele erinevates olukordades tegutsemiseks (näiteks tööandjatele juhis kuidas vältida diskrimineerimist värbamisel).

Strateegiliste kaasuste osas ei tohi volinik võtta liiga suuri riske, vaid hagelema ainult neid kaasusi, mida on võimalik võita ja mille kaudu ka ühiskonnale teemat paremini avada. Arvan, et volinik võiks hageleda kahe-kolme hoolikalt valitud strateegilise kaasusega aastas. Inimõiguste keskuses oleme teinud advokaatidega väga tihedat koostööd strateegilistes kaasustes, mis puudutavad varjupaigataotlejaid ja tean, et varasemat on ka voliniku bürool mitme advokaadibürooga hea koostöö. Vaid töövaidluskomisjonides saadud vastustest ei piisa, vaid tuleb edukalt hageleda kõigis kohtuastmetes.

Loon voliniku institutsiooni juurde nõuandva koja, kuhu palun erinevate ühiskonnagruppide esindajaid, et saavutada parem ülevaade rohujuure tasandil toimuvast ning tagada tegevuse laiapõhjalisus. Nõukoja liikmed seostavad kogukonda ja voliniku institutsiooni, aga saavad täita ka voliniku tegevust toetavad kõneisiku rolli.

2. Voliniku institutsioon: jätkusuutlik, ettevõtlik ja uuendusmeelne.

Voliniku tegevuseks ei ole seni eraldatud piisavat ressurssi, sest ühiskonnal ja riigil on olnud raske aru saada selle vajalikkusest. Investeeringut voliniku institutsiooni tuleb vaadata seemnerahana, mille abil tõmmata muutuse läbiviimisse kaasa teisi ja mille abil volinik saab osaleda ja mõjutada muude ressursside kasutamist. Seega peab volinik ka adekvaatse rahastuse korral leidma võimalusi väheste vahenditega suurt mõju saavutada. Seda on võimalik teha sünergiat leides teiste nii avaliku kui erasektori organisatsioonidega, sealhulgas ka sotsiaalsete ettevõtetega.

Tehnoloogia on üks valdkond, millele voliniku tegevuses suurt tähelepanu kavatsen pöörata. Volinikuna pööran tähelepanu info- ja kommunikatsioonitehnoloogiatele, et neid senisest enam võrdõiguslikkuse edendamiseks saaks kasutada. Sealhulgas otsin võimalusi koostööks Eesti IKT sektoriga, et töötada välja lahendusi senisest tõhusamaks diskrimineerimise vastu võitlemiseks ja mitmekesisuse edendamiseks. Hea näide on minu ideest alguse saanud Garage48 Enable hackathon, mis keskendus puuetega inimestega koos ligipääsetavust võimaldavate tarkvaralahenduste loomisele.

Erinevus rikastab kampaania käigus oleme välja töötanud mitmeid uuenduslikke kampaaniaid ja lahendusi, millest saadud kogemused toon ka võrdõigusvoliniku töösse (nt Berlin-Yogyakarta virtuaalnäitus (vt www.erinevusrikastab.ee/berlin-yogyakarta, diskrimineerimiskompass www.erinevusrikastab.ee/kompass). Inimõiguste keskuses lõime auhinnatud Pagulase teekonna www.pagulane.ee. Voliniku kohalolek ja tegevus sotsiaalmeedias ja internetis laiemalt suureneb minu ametiajal märkimisväärselt, rohkem tuleb kasutada audio-visuaalset kommunikatsiooni, näiteks videokokkuvõtteid muidu keerulistest õigusalastest tekstidest.

3. Volinik teeb tihedat ja tulemuslikku koostööd.

Voliniku amet tuleb oluliselt enam sisuliselt ja formaalselt sotsiaalministeeriumist lahti siduda, jätkates samal ajal sellega tihedat koostööd. Kõige rohkem arengupotentsiaali näen koostöös haridus- ja teadusministeeriumi ja kultuuriministeeriumiga, vastavalt hariduse ja lõimumise valdkondades. Senisest suuremat tähelepanu tuleks pöörata ka kohalikele omavalitsustele, kus pilootprojektina erinevaid algatusi läbi viia ja kellega koostöös üle Eesti nõustamist pakkuda.

Voliniku strateegilisteks partneriteks on minu arvates: õiguskantsler (kellega saab tegevust koordineerida ning strateegiliselt tegutseda); sotsiaalministeerium ja kultuuriministeerium (kuna tegelevad võrdse kohtlemise ja soolise võrdõiguslikke valdkonnas õigusloomega); rahandusministeerium (kuna tegeleb riigiametnike koolituse ja riigieelarvega koostamisega); justiitsministeerium (kuna tegeleb inimõiguste üldise järelvalvega); haridus- ja teadusministeerium (kuna tegeleb haridusvaldkonnaga); inimõiguste kaitse, vähemuste ja naiste esindusorganisatsioonid (sh võrdse kohtlemise võrgustik); tööandjate ja töövõtjate esindajad (nii tööalase diskrimineerimise kui ka mitmekesisuse edendamise mõttes).

Olen ise juuraharidusega ja tihedalt seotud Eesti juristkonnaga läbi oma liikmelisuse Eesti Juristide Liidu volikogus ja Euroopa õiguse ühenduse assotsiatsiooni FIDE Eesti juhatuses ning viimased kuus aastat õigusteadlaste päevade korralduskomisjonis, mistõttu suudan teemat senisest enam ka juristkonna jaoks relevantseks teha, et aidata ja motiveerida advokaate ja juriste võimalikke diskrimineerimiskaasusi ka ise rohkem kohtutesse viima ja neis küsimustes sõna võtma.

Suur võimalus on teha rohkem koostööd erialaorganisatsioonidega ja sotsiaalpartneritega, et motiveerida ja aidata neil oma valdkonnas tõstatuvate võrdõiguslikkuse küsimustega tegeleda. Volinik peab korraldama ka regulaarsemalt kohtumisi laiema avalikkusega ning suurendama oma nähtavust ja kättesaadavust erinevates Eesti piirkondades.

Teen ettepaneku kokku kutsuda ministeeriumidevaheline regulaarne töörühm võrdõiguslikkuse edendamiseks, et paremini tegevust koordineerida, teadmisi jagada ja ühiseid lahendusi otsida. Eraldi oluline teemavaldkond on EL struktuurifondide rakendamise nõustamine, mille osas volinik on heaks partneriks rakendusasutustele.

4. Mitte ainult soovolinik.

Eelkõige peab volinik omama terviklikku ja süsteemset nägemust võrdse kohtlemise ning mitmekesisuse ja kaasatuse teemadest. Sageli võib juhtuda, et erinevad alused kattuvad või toimub diskrimineerimine mitme aluse koosmõjul. Minu enda lähenemine on vaadata iga inimest kui indiviidi koos võimalike takistustega, mis tema konkreetsest tunnustest võivad tekkida.

Sooline võrdõiguslikkus saab minu ametiaja jooksul jätkuvalt suure tähelepanu osaliseks. Selleks, et teemat senisest tulemuslikumalt edendada, näen statistiliste andmete kõrval olulisena juhtumianalüüside ja kvalitatiivsete uuringute abil selgitada ühiskonnale neid väljakutseid, mida naised täna Eestis kogevad ning kuidas sooline ebavõrdsus mõjutab negatiivselt kogu ühiskonna toimimist. Samuti pean oluliseks meeste konstruktiivset kaasamist sooteemade aruteludesse, et välistada asjatut vastandumist ja liikuda edasi. Volinik ei peaks tingimata sooteemadel võtma kõneisiku rolli, aga ta saab leida ja koordineerida sõnumeid ja olla eestvedaja konkreetsetele algatustele.

Samas on oluline, et voliniku institutsioon aitaks võidelda diskrimineerimise vastu võrdselt kõikidel alustel. Suurt potentsiaali näen rahvuspõhise diskrimineerimise vastu võitlemise osas. Seni pöörduvad voliniku poole selles küsimuses vaid vähesed. Voliniku võimekust ja pädevust nii venekeelse vähemuse kui uusimmigrantide ja Romade teemadega tegelemiseks tuleb oluliselt tõsta. Võrdõigusvolinik kui tõhus diskrimineerimisalaste vaidluste lahendamise ja teadlikkuse tõstmise vahend aitaks objektiivselt uurida nii rahvuspõhise diskrimineerimise olukorda kui pakkuda tõhusat mehhanismi võimalike tekkivate või olemasolevate pingete lahendamiseks. Eesti on mitmerahvuseline riik ja võrdõigusvolinik saab teha ka omalt poolt rohkem, et kõik Eesti elanikud siin ennast võrdselt kodus tunnevad.

Puuetega inimeste olukorraga tegelemine saab olema üks olulisemaid väljakutseid. Puuetega inimeste õiguste kaitse konventsiooni rakendamise järelevalvesse tuleb kaasata eelkõige puuetega inimesi endid ning neid võimestada oma õiguste kaitsel. Volinik saab omalt poolt ka kaasa aidata edukale töövõimereformi rakendamisele pakkudes tööandjatele teadmisi ja tööriistu puuetega inimeste edukaks rakendamiseks. Samuti on oluline töö puuetega inimeste seas nende õigustest, et ära hoida puuetega inimestest töötajate võimalik diskrimineerimine nii värbamise, edutamise kui töötasu osas.

Lisaks tegeleb volinik muidugi ka kõikide teiste alustega, otsides sobivaid liitlasi ja moodustades või osaledes erinevates koalitsioonides. Üha enam on päevakorras lesbide, geide, biseksuaalsete, trans- ja intersooliste inimeste õiguste küsimused, mille osas volinik saab mängida olulist stereotüüpide ümberlükkaja ja võrdsete inimõiguste eest võitlemise toetaja rolli. Vanuse- ja usupõhine diskrimineerimine on fenomenid, millele Eesti seni pole piisavat tähelepanu pöörata, aga mida volinik samuti ignoreerida ei tohi. Tihe diskussioon Eestis tegutsevate usuorganisatsioonidega on vajalik, et koos probleeme lahendada, respekteerides nende autonoomiat usuasjades.

5. Volinik ja meedia: head partnerid

Meedial on võrdõiguslikkuse valdkonnas äärmiselt oluline roll. Ühest küljest on ühiskondliku muutuse läbiviimiseks vajalik professionaalne, järjepidev ja objektiivne meediatöö, mille abil teemat ühiskonnale teavitada. Teisest küljest on üha olulisem meediat aidata, et suurendada vähemuste ja naiste kogemuste kajastatust ja nähtavust igapäevameedias ning vähendada meediakajastusi, mis vastutustundetult mängivad rassismi, anti-semitismi, anti-mustlasuse, kseno-, homo- või transfoobia õhutamisega. Voliniku roll on siin aidata ajakirjanikel oma töö kvaliteeti tõsta, astudes nendega konstruktiivsesse dialoogi ja pakkudes välja alternatiive.

Voliniku töö meediasuhtlusel peab olema senisest proaktiivsem ja inimlähedasem. Volinik peab olema võimeline kommunikeerima mitte niiväga diskrimineerimisega seotud halbu uudiseid vaid eelkõige järjepidevalt selgitama mitmekesisuse ja kaasatuse sotsiaalset ja majanduslikku kasu ühiskonnale, kaasates sellesse liitlasi, nagu poliitikud, ametnikud, arvamusliidrid, ettevõtjad ja erialaprofessionaalid. Volinik peab meedia jaoks olema hea ja kättesaadav kõneisik, kes oskab võrdõiguslikkusega seonduvaid teemasid kommenteerida inimlähedaselt ja kes on valmis ühiskondlikes aruteludes kaasa lööma.

Voliniku institutsioon peab olema oluliselt professionaalsem oma meediatöös ning otsesuhtluses Eesti elanikega. Volinik peab identifitseerima strateegilised muutjad (arvamusliidrid, poliitikud, ajakirjanikud, vabakonna liidrid jt), kellega koos või läbi kelle eesmärke saavutada. Tuleb vältida kuvandit, et volinik on üksi, vaid alati tegutseb kellegagi koos ja omab laia ühiskondlikku tuge oma tegevusele.

Olen viis aastat aktiivselt inimõiguste ja võrdse kohtlemise eest seisnud ning motiveerinud selles teisigi. Leian, et olen valmis väljakutseks, et viia võrdõigusvoliniku institutsioon uuele tasandile.

Tallinn, 30. aprill 2015

Kari Käsper


Estonian democracy in 2015: reflections on parliamentary elections

Posted: June 24th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: elections, Estonia, governance, human rights, politics, thoughts | No Comments »

Estonia has progressed remarkably since 1991 in introducing democratic changes and adopting international standards. In recent years, however, progress has been slow and there is growing danger of erosion of democratic practices. This is worrying, especially in times of economic uncertainty and growing international tensions.

The basis of any representative liberal democracy are free and fair elections. The latest parliamentary elections took place on 1 March 2015 and on 29 May the OSCE/ODIHR election monitoring mission issued their final report. The report received no media coverage and raised no discussions in Estonia, although the conclusions paint a not so positive picture of representative democracy in Estonia. The missionwas limited only to three areas: internet voting, campaign finance and participation of national minorities.

Internet voting

Estonia has built an international reputation for its Internet voting system, which amounted to about 30% of the votes cast. However, a detailed examination by OSCE/ODIHR experts shows a lack of transparency, formalisation of procedures and other significant problems that continue to be ignored by Estonia when it comes to Internet voting. Surely, Internet voting system, if used, should be better regulated and more secure than regular elections, not vice versa.

One of the problem is the lack of transparency of the work of the newly created electronic voting committee, to which there are no formal qualification criteria of membership. In essence, an aspiring dictator could influence the appointments made there and there are very little ways how to ensure that the EVC is independent and balanced.

There is also very little formalisation of the organisation of Internet voting: there are no deadlines or formal procedures related to software development, testing and updates. Shockingly, there is also no backup plans in case a catastrophic event occurs at the server location, which could disrupt voting and cause a significant loss of votes (basically the votes given after the daily backup to a CD; there is no mirroring to another location for example).

There is no end-to-end certification of the system by an independent body, the full audit reports that cover only parts of the system are not made public.  There is still also no end-to-end verifiability of the vote without losing the secrecy of the vote, which means that there is no way to check whether the votes were allocated to the candidate that the person intended to vote for.

The problems with Internet voting are such that still, Estonia remains the only country to use it in an election where the stakes are so high (i.e. main parliamentary elections). Even in a more developed democracy, such system would be problematic on a technical level as the risks are too high, but it seems ill-advised to use it in the form it is today in a country which has only a short record of democracy. Perhaps the reason why Estonia has been able to get away with this, is not because Estonia is so advanced technologically, but because it is not so advanced in terms of democratic practices and respect for the right to vote.

Political party and campaign finance

In terms of party and campaign finances, some progress has been made. However, the report has some good recommendations in it:

  • the limitation of how much can a single person donate in a year,
  • better regulation of how and when public funds during the campaign period,
  • reporting requirements by third parties (applicable for example to anti-gay lobby groups which promoted specific candidates),
  • allow the national election committee, rather than police, to judge on what constitutes outdoor political advertising.

Significantly, the report maintains that the ban on outdoor advertising is not working and thus restricts freedom of expression. The report observes that the justification of the ban by the Supreme Court did not hold up:

In practice, the ruling has not reduced campaign expenditures, as parties displayed posters before the official election period and shifted expenses to other forms of advertising, primarily television.

The report also included some comments regarding the Political Party Finance Supervision Committee (disclosure: I am an alternate member of the Committee appointed by the Chancellor of Justice). The Committee could be influenced as the members do not have tenure and none of the members work full time there. The Committee is also hobbled by lack of resources and investigative powers.

Participation by national minorities

The political participation by the large ethnic Russian minority (ca 25% of the population) continues to be a great challenge for Estonia. The election observers noted that, except for two parties, less than 10% of the candidates were from a minority background. They also expressed concern that election-related official information was only available in the Estonian language, and not in Russian or English. This was also true of the electronic voting interface, which could account for the low level of Internet votes in the predominantly Russian-speaking areas.

The ca 85 000 stateless people living in Estonia continue to lack basic political rights, such as the freedom of association, because they are not allowed to belong to a political party (although they could donate money to them). The OSCE/ODIHR team recommends to step up efforts of naturalisation of stateless people in order to give them basic suffrage rights. However, Estonia’s citizenship policies are among the most restrictive in Europe, and there seems to be no political will to change this, so this issue will stay for a long time.

Conclusion

The state of Estonian elections, based on the three themes that were covered by the OSCE/ODIHR report leaves a lot of room for improvements. It should be noted that the report did not cover other topics, such as the restriction of the right to vote for prisoners and other ongoing issues. In some areas, such as party finance and certain aspects of Internet voting, gradual improvements are possible, if there is willingness on the side of the Estonian authorities to consider these. However, in the area of national minorities and also major aspects of Internet voting, there are larger things in play. In terms of national minorities only a fundamental rethink of the citizenship policies would eliminate the issues and enhance the political participation of minorities. In the area of Internet voting, which is more of a PR project of the Estonian state, a mindset change in the attitudes towards technology and constructive criticism of e-Stonia needs to take place.

The right to vote is a basic and fundamental human right. One can question whether the continued limitation of suffrage to exclude a part of the Russian minority population from political participation and usage of a somewhat flawed and risky Internet voting system primarily for international image-building purposes is compatible with the preservation and strengthening of that human right.

Read:

Final Report of the OSCE/ODIHR Election Expert Team on Parliamentary Elections in Estonia on 1 March 2015


Thoughts on the Delfi vs Estonia case

Posted: June 16th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: human rights, law, privacy | No Comments »

Today, the Grand Chamber judgment of the ECtHR case Delfi vs Estonia was delivered. The case has an important impact in the balancing of mainly two human rights: freedom of expression and the right to private and family life (to a lesser extent also freedom from discrimination, which is not so well protected under ECtHR). It found that Estonia had not infringed Article 10 (freedom of expression) when it fined Delfi for allowing the publication of user-generated comments, which incited hatred against an individual businessman.

The court makes an important distinction that the liability for user-generated content does not apply to:

“fora on the Internet where third-party comments can be disseminated, for example an Internet discussion forum or a bulletin board where users can freely set out their ideas on any topics without the discussion being channelled by any input from the forum’s manager; or a social media platform where the platform provider does not offer any content and where the content provider may be a private person running the website or a blog as a hobby” (para. 116)

It only applies for large commercially run portals which creates its own content and asks people to comment on it. This seems to be a way to distinguish between a news portal and social media platforms like YouTube, Twitter or Facebook, although that is not entirely clear.

On other points as well, the Grand Chamber followed the previous decision, but perhaps gave a bit more context and reasoning. On anonymity the Court basically said that it is important, but not all-important because of the reach and speed of information dissemination on the Internet. It referred to the CJEU Google Spain case as an example of the renewed importance of privacy in the digital age. The Grand Chamber seems to have struck somewhat of a balance: if you are a large corporation that earns money on infringement of privacy of individuals (like Google or Delfi), then you cannot use freedom of expression to excuse your intrusions and have to set up sufficient safeguards against it.

In a way there is a larger point to be made: we need rule of law and courts to protect us also from the impact technology to human rights. The ECtHR in its decision is trying to rebalance the right to privacy against freedom of expression in a new context, but surely we are still very much in the beginning of the road.

Read:

Delfi vs Estonia Grand Chamber judgment

My 2013 analysis of the Delfi vs Estonia ECHR judgment 


Online freedom and offline borders

Posted: May 9th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Estonia, european union, human rights, migration, refugees, thoughts | No Comments »

The role of Facebook, twitter and social networking applications in the so-called “Arab Spring” and other forms of resistance to authoritarian regimes has been much lauded in the West. The spread of social media seems to also have a role in the ongoing migration disaster at Europe’s borders, but also probably requires a fundamental rethink to the physical boundaries between countries.

Restrictive migration policies are already morally problematic, especially when talking about refugees. Seyla Benhabib wrote that:

Migrations pit two moral and legal principles, foundational to the modern state system, against each other. On one hand, the human right of individuals to move across borders whether for economic, personal or professional reasons or to seek asylum and refuge is guaranteed by Articles 13 and 14 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On the other hand, Article 21 of the declaration recognizes a basic right to self-government, stipulating that “the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.”  /…/

The international system straddles these dual principles but it has not been able to reconcile them. The irony of global developments is that while state sovereignty in economic, military, and technological domains is eroded and national borders have become more porous, they are still policed to keep out aliens and intruders.  The migrant’s body has become the symbolic site upon which such contradictions are enacted.

/…/

If conditions in a person’s native country so endanger his life and well-being and he becomes willing to risk illegality in order to survive, his right to survival, from a moral point of view, carries as much weight as does the new country’s claim to control borders against migrants.  Immanuel Kant, therefore, called the moral claim to seek refuge or respite in the lands of another, a “universal right of hospitality,” provided that the intentions of the foreigner upon arriving on foreign lands were peaceful.  Such a right, he argued, belonged to each human being placed on this planet who had to share the earth with others.

Even though morally the right to hospitality is an individual right, the socioeconomic and cultural causes of migrations are for the most part collective.  Migrations occur because of economic, environmental, cultural and historical “push” and “pull” factors. “We are here,” say migrants, “because in effect you were there.”  “We did not cross the border; the border crossed us.”

European countries, especially my own coutry Estonia, seem still to be much in favour of moving to very secure physical borders while at the same time promoting extreme freedom online. People around the world at the same time are more and more living a blended online and offline life, both modes complementing and impacting the other, sometimes indistinguishably so. The 1,3 million strong Estonia is a particular example of this clash: it is the most conservative EU country in terms of migration and citizenship, and at the same time it promotes “e-residency”, a project to attract foreigners to use its e-services.

The assumption seems to be that we can separate offline and online lives from each other. But that is not possible. People who migrate or intend/have to do so (a few of whom have to resort to dangerous and inhumane journeys across the Mediterranean or other external borders) also live partly online. They see the self-curated life stories of their Facebook friends and instagram contacts in Europe, which acts as a further motivation to try to take on the trip to  escape persecution or seek a better life. They use social media to organise transport and contact smugglers, in absence of secure and safe legal pathways (but of course, are not really “lured in” by them as reported by many in the media). One of the translators to Estonia’s troops in Afghanistan was able to create an unprecedented discussion in Estonian media about getting refuge, because he was able to use social media to contact journalists and others in Estonia.

This conundrum is not solvable by creating barriers to the online side. The ridiculous proposal to close the social media pages of smugglers, which was among the initial lackluster EU plans to address the issue, would be practically impossible to implement (as most of the EU’s initial plans). What can be done is to rethink asylum and migration policies so that it takes into account the fact that we live in borderless online world in a way that softens, not hardens, borders offline, a part of which is dealing with poverty and inequality. This might eventually lead to a world without borders both offline and online.


Estonia’s refugee debate

Posted: May 1st, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Estonia, european union, human rights, migration, refugees, thoughts | 1 Comment »

In Estonia, the European migrant/refugee crisis has resonated particularly strongly. This is somewhat surprising at the first glance, but actually quite expected, because it calls upon issues that are extremely important, but with which Estonia at the same time struggles.

  1. The acceptance of liberal democratic (or Western) values of tolerance. Historically, European liberal social values have been accepted by the Estonian political elite only superficially. Human rights and tolerance in particular have not become entrenched due to the lack of will by the political powers to deal with the topic (partly due to their own world view). Perhaps it is true that Estonia also was admitted to the EU too soon, and only because it promised to do certain things and legislated others, but has no real intention to take European values seriously. The refugee issue forces us to overtly choose between universal moral and legal values prescribed by international human rights and nativism/nationalism.
  2. The large Russian minority in Estonia. The usual counter argument from the conservative politicians (and many others) is that there already are 30% of non-Estonians living in Estonia and we should not increase that percentage. This is offensive to the Estonian Russians basically stating that they are second class and that it would be better for them to leave. It also tells us that the integration policies so far have been a failure, since the poisonous discourse of Estonian Russians as not being a part of “us Estonians” still hangs on. The decision to accept migrants would help to deconstruct this damaging discourse.
  3. Facing up against racism and islamophobia. I included racism and islamophobia here, because there seems to be much more willingness to accept Ukrainian refugees than Arab or African ones, which in my opinion is not only related to the geographic and relative proximity of Ukraine, but also to the skin color and religion of the different refugees. There is a strong undercurrent of racism and islamophobia in Estonia, which is fuelled by lack of direct contact with people from muslim background or people with a black skin colour combined with negative media portrayals and stereotypes. The debate makes it easier to fight these negative stereotypes, especially thanks to Estonian journalists who have sought out refugees who have come to Europe both in Italy, Greece and Sweden and who help telling their very human stories.
  4. The sovereignty and borders issue. Refugees and other migrants symbolise the impossibility of having closed borders in today’s globalised, interdependent world. Borders have become and should be porous, says Seyla Benhabib, and I agree. Fortress Europe is an endeavour that was doomed from the start. Keeping people from moving from one country to another is not morally or ethically compatible with how we live our lives today and the refugee crisis forces us to recognise this. It also means that sovereignty must be and is gradually transformed from a national one to cosmopolitan one, if we want to preserve and grow peace and prosperity. In Estonia, the strong rhetoric of keeping our borders secure and the criminalisation of irregular border crossings are completely wrong things to say or do.
  5. The raison d’etre of Estonian statehood. Partly because of neoliberal thinking, we have created in Estonia a state with the wrong values. In Estonia even more so than in other Western countries, the state must be foremost a well-oiled machine that efficiently delivers services (and protects us from Russian invasion). Although the Estonian Constitution prescribes a strong liberal Western state, the actual state that we have is more of a value-neutral, almost nihilistic one (except the nationalist streak which only seems to be strong in the national defence and interior realms). Overall the Estonian political elite have not taken moral stands on value issues, delegating authority and responsibility for these values to Europe. Now, with the refugee crisis, the Estonian government is faced with a moral decision (much like with the civil partnership law last year), in which it has to clearly make a choice. It forces our pragmatic party politicians to make a moral leadership decision.

So, the European refugee crisis is also at the same time an Estonian identity crisis. The voluntary acceptance of a number of refugees by resettlement from refugee camps outside of Europe and participation in the burden sharing for asylum seekers (although I do not think it is helpful or humane to characterise asylum seekers as a ‘burden’) will contribute to the slow untangling of all of those issues and hopefully make Estonia a better society for all of us. In 2018 Estonia will take on the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU (and also celebrate 100 years of the Estonian state), which means that we will be center stage in Europe and the world, and we have to be able to deal with and lead on all kinds of issues, but migration is surely going to be one of them. It will be an important test of whether we are mature enough to lead on these moral issues.


The danger posed by the far right in the Estonian Parliament

Posted: March 7th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: elections, Estonia, human rights, politics, things that suck | No Comments »

Last Sunday’s parliamentary elections resulted in a far right party Eesti Konservatiivne Rahvaerakond (EKRE) winning 7 seats in the 101 member Estonian parliament. Soon after the win, several scandals have rocked the party, as their record and previous statements are being analysed by the media, bringing out extreme views ranging from questioning the numbers of Jews killed in the Holocaust to discussions about positive sides of German Nazi politics. It appears that at least one of their campaign promises is mirrors one from that era. Aro Velmet has analysed why the media, analysts and other parties did not want to know or care about this before.

It would be easy to explain the success of EKRE as a counter-reaction to entrenched liberal democractic values or opposition of the same-sex partnership law by a vocal, frustrated minority that has failed to keep up with the times and adopt European values, but that does not tell the whole story (or explain why there are so many relatively successful young people involved). I use Cas Mudde’s framework to show that EKRE is much more mainstream (and thus dangerous) than the simplistic explanations show.

The ideological underpinnings of EKRE are fairly standard far right stuff: a mixture of nativism, authoritarianism and populism. Nativism plays an important role for EKRE, their leaders have emphasised time and again that they believe that people who belong to one ethnic group should live in their own land with their nation and not somewhere else. Nativism is a rather mainstream way of thinking in Estonia because of historical traumas, and many parties exploit it in one way or the other (but not as forcefully as EKRE). Authoritarinism is present in their election manifesto in which they strive to fight with “anti-state activities” and populism is embodied in their anti-establishment rhetoric, arguing that the “homogenuous will of the people” should override “undemocratic” institutional constraints or constitutional protections for minorities (most clearly evidenced by the demand to hold a referendum on same-sex partnership regulation). Each of these ideologies hold wide support in Estonia, which means that ideologically EKRE lands on a fertile ground and has considerable potential to grow.

In terms of nativist attitudes of the public, it is not a secret that tolerance towards people with a migrant background is low in Estonia. Even though Estonia gets the least number of asylum applicants in the EU (ca 100), public opinion surveys show that people perceive immigration as a threat to the Estonian nation. Strict citizenship and naturalisation policies have resulted in low integration rates for the ethnic Russians that make up ca 25% of the population. Fuelling ethnic based antagonism is still the main modus operandi of all parties to win votes at elections, depriving people of real free choices. Taking account of all the above, it is clear that nativist attitudes are present in Estonian mainstream.

Authoritarian attitudes are also present, people prefer a strong ruler and would like to regulate the behaviour of others even if it does not concern them. For example, the ban on drinking alcohol in public was quickly reinstated after protests in the media. Also there is wide support for harsh punishments for criminals.

Anti-establishment attitudes are also gaining ground, both because of fatigue with the long-term rule of the Reform party, the disconnect between successful elites and less successful masses. There are low levels of trust of the parliament and government. EKRE probably would have recieved more votes, if the anti-establishment centre-right Free Party had not also taken a lot of the protest vote.

Thus it would be wrong to claim that EKRE represents ideology or attitudes that are shared only by a minority. They gain support by presenting the same basic ideology that is espoused by mainstream parties, but in a purer, more ideological form. They exploit the same basic attitudes, but in more extreme ways.

The scary conclusion is that EKRE still has vast potential in terms of ideology and attitudes; what is holding them back is their lack of professionalism in messaging and internal organisation. Now that they receive funding from the state, they can work on these organisational matters. It is a stark warning for all centrist and mainstream parties that in order to defend liberal democracy, they have to let go of the previous antagonisms and be much more engaged with the public and willing to clearly articulate more value-based messages on issues that are not usually considered important by them.

The mainstream parties should not allow the far right to monopolise divisive issues, because this is what makes them thrive. EKRE was the only party that took up the civil partnership law and made opposition to it into their issue. Not having any other party to challenge them on this issue was the reason they were able to gain support quickly.


Kant and Facebook

Posted: January 28th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: governance, human rights, law, politics, privacy, schoolwork, technology, thoughts | No Comments »

This essay was originally written as a final assignment for the State and Governance class I took this Fall.

This essay aims to consider the concept of the autonomous individual and its role in the political philosophy of Immanuel Kant. This applicability of the concept to a world that is changing due to social media is then analysed in parallel with other pressures. Finally, possibilities to uphold individual autonomy in this new context are explored briefly.

Kant’s autonomous individual

Kant believed strongly in the rationality and morality of an individual. In order to be moral one needs to be able to make choices, which is where individual autonomy comes in. If an individual makes a moral choice, only then she can be praised for it (Berlin 1971). Berlin puts it:

“If I choose to do what I do, not because I am free to choose between them, but because I am conditioned to do so, by whatever it may be – by education, by my passions, by the behaviour of my body, by the pressure upon me of my society, by any kind of force, whether the external forces of nature or the forces of nurture or education or, as I say, my own emotions – if I am in fact conditioned, if I am simply an object in nature like stones and animals, who cannot help acting as they do, so that some men are generous because they cannot help being generous and others are mean because they cannot help being mean, how then can praise and blame be rationally used?” (Berlin 1971)

This central tenet of Kant’s political philosophy distinguishes human beings from other animals and objects. Kant believed that human beings as autonomous individuals are able to tell right from wrong, if the time comes for such a decision. The autonomous individual is, in turn, an important cornerstone for Kant’s political philosophy.

This autonomy is not mere right to make choice and decisions, but it is the possibility to make choices without influence of others, without social conditioning. It places value in the individual uniqueness of each person and her dignity. In this way human beings can make moral judgments that are also rational. This also means that human beings are capable of self-government and is the basis behind the formation of constitutions and democratic constitutional republics.

Autonomy and freedom are not the same. Autonomy is a state in which a person can be in whereas freedom can refer to specific actions: it can even mean a choice to reduce one’s personal freedom (Feinberg 1982):

“Where manipulative techniques are used to open a person’s options with his voluntary consent, there is an enlargement of freedom and no violation of autonomy; hence, this is the least troublesome category. A harder case is that in which a person consents to behavior control which closes some options irrevocably for the sake of a good he has come to value more than his freedom. Respect for autonomy requires noninterference with such choices provided they are genuinely voluntary and fully informed. On the other hand, manipulation of a person without his consent in order to close his options restricts freedom and violates autonomy too. This third category is the most obviously impermissible kind of case. The most troublesome and controversial kind of case, in contrast, is that in which a person is manipulated without his consent for the benign purpose of enlarging his future freedom of choice, but even here, the doctrine of personal sovereignty requires that a person’s moral right to govern himself within his sovereign domain be given precedence even over his future defacto freedom.” (Feinberg 1982).

The loss of autonomy has a much more profound impact on an individual than the (temporary) loss of freedom. In the Kantian sense, individual autonomy is an ideal state.

Kant’s political philosophy is the basis of liberal democracy and the current organisation of the world into states as political entities. We live in a Kantian world, with the concept of the Rechtstaat, a constitutional state which is constrained by human rights and the underlying principles of which stem from the moral values and consent of its citizens.

Focusing on the individual, Kant believed in a republican political order and not in direct democracy. He stated: “… that of democracy is, properly speaking, necessarily a despotism, because it establishes an executive power in which “all” decide for or even against one who does not agree; that is, “all,” who are not quite all, decide, and this is a contradiction of the general will with itself and with freedom” (Kant 1795). Thus Kant sided with the individual always, and not with the will of the majority, which he saw as despotism. This is an important distinction that highlights how important Kant considered individual human beings and their autonomy.

Indeed, individual autonomy is a necessary building block from which the Rechtstaat can be built. Autonomous individuals who have an innate understanding of morality choose to associate themselves with others in a political entity in which they agree to be bound by a constitution that reflects those basic moral values. In this state that is based on the principle of Rechtstaat, those individuals retain autonomy and are protected against misuse of power. Other states, which are constructed in the same way, are co-existing peacefully with each other in a global setting.

The Kantian concept of individual autonomy is very much present in John Stuart Mill’s philosphophy, in which he claims it to be “one of the elements of well-being” (Mill 1859). This has been further advanced by Rawls, who considers individual consent essential for his theory of justice (Christman 2014).

Web 2.0

We live in a ICT-centric techno-economic paradigm (Perez 2009). The most powerful technology in this era is the World Wide Web that is changing our society and our behaviour. The Internet was initially text-based and mostly one-way communication in which information was made available on various websites for individual users. Although Web 2.0 is a buzzword that is difficult to define, it is commonly used to denote innovations in websites, including the use of new technologies such as AJAX, social components such as user profiles, friend links and like buttons, user-generated content in different formats (text, video, photos) that also invite comments and ratings (Cormode and Krishnamurthy 2008). The social aspects of Web 2.0 include:

  • users as entities in the website system, with individualised profiles that includes information about the user that may be added by the user or other users;
  • formation of connections between those users, either individual connections between “friends” or membership of common groups or subscription to information shared by other users (“following”);
  • the possibility to add text, photo, video or other content to the site and to content published by other users, with some control of privacy and sharing
  • other social features including public APIs that allow third party content to bed fed to other sites or embedded in the site in question, as well as real-time chat features. (Cormode and Krishnamurthy 2008).

The social and “sharing” features have enjoyed considerable success, with social media sites among the most popular on the web. At the time of writing of this paper, there were 1,35 billion daily Facebook users and 323 million daily users of twitter (out of a total of ca 3 billion internet users).  In the United States in January 2014, 74% of all internet users used social networking site of some kind whereas 89% of users aged 18-29 do.

The implications of Web 2.0 and its impact on the protection of privacy has divided experts. According to a recent report by Pew Research Center, experts remain divided over whether there will or will not be a global widely accepted privacy infrastructure in 2025 (Pew Research Center 2014). Those who were more sceptical believed that only a few can protect themselves against “dataveillance”, global agreements are difficult to reach and Internet of Things will make the situation a lot worse. Those who were more optimistic believed that there will be a more tiered approach to privacy and consumers will have new tools to self-manage privacy settings, that there will be a backlash against invasion of privacy. However, experts agreed that revealing personal information to the state and corporations is the new default and that people will adjust their norms to it.

Web 2.0 also has additional implications for democracy in addition to privacy issues, it is questioned whether the existing democratic systems are suitable for the constantly networked young people (Loader et al 2014). Loader reprints Russell Brand’s defence of non-voting:

“I’m not voting out of apathy, I’m not voting out of absolute indifference, and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery, deceit of the political class that has been going on for generations and which has reached fever pitch where we have a disenfranchised, disillusioned, despondent underclass that are not being represented by that political system so voting for it is tacit complicity with that system. And that is not something I’m offering up.” (Loader et al 2014)

 Younger generations might consider representative democracy archaic and “uncool” and thus will be even more disillusioned and uninterested in the existing systems. Although efforts are being made to make voting cool for the connected generation (by introducing e-voting for example), this can have unintended consequences on the overall functioning of the democratic governance system and infringe on the basic safeguards that guarantee against fraud and abuse.

Autonomy and social media

Social media also changes our individual selves, because a person continues to have a singular identity that is the same in both online and offline world (Ess 2015). This means that what happens in social media has changes offline lives as well. In this context, Ess considers that in Western countries there is a shift away from the rational, individual and autonomous individual towards emotive and relational individual that increasingly defines herself through relationships she has with others. This is supported by the changing attitudes towards privacy and (intellectual) property that are no longer exclusive and individual, mainly due to the virtual abundance offered by the internet (Kostakis and Drechsler 2013). At the same time, in Eastern countries there is a shift from relational to a more individual emphasis, which means a kind of convergence in the middle.

The key factor in autonomy is individual privacy. The right to privacy became relevant with the advent of the first mass communication technologies, i.e. photographs in a newspaper (Warren and Brandeis 1890). As a consequence of abuses by totalitarian regimes that took advantage of technologies that allowed for infringement of privacy, a strong framework of laws has been in place that guarantees individual privacy, especially in Europe. In the current era right to privacy is seen by some as unimportant, but it would be more correct to note that the understanding and usage of the right to privacy has transformed. Research has shown a phenomenon that could be described as “partial publicity” or “public privacy” which essential means that privacy has become multilayered and that there are several shades of gray between total publicity and total individual privacy (Ess 2015). A new form of subactivism has been identified occurring in the social media space that “is not about political power in the strict sense, but about personal empowerment seen as the power of the subject to be the person that they want to be in accordance with his or her reflexively chosen moral and political standards.“ (Bakardijeva 2009).

As a consequence of the developments of social media, especially in the sense of loss/transformation of privacy, the Western understanding of self is moving away from individual sense of selfhood (that is essential for an autonomous and rational individual) towards a more relational sense of selfhood (Ess 2015).

The other impact that social media has, is the changes in communication. The (national) public sphere is weakened due to the fragmentation enabled by the web, which is dominated by commercial interests. There is a fragmented public sphere in which people are in their own social bubbles in which they engage in computer-mediated communication using non-neutral algorithms programmed to maximise profit or potentially used for something more sinister.

It is well known that Facebook and other social media sites exploit privacy for commercial gain. The business model relies on individuals using social media and reveal more to others, i.e. “if you are not paying for it, you are the product”.

Jürgen Habermas has stated in an interview with FT:

“The internet generates a centrifugal force, …[i]t releases an ­anarchic wave of highly fragmented circuits of communication that ­infrequently overlap. Of course, the spontaneous and egalitarian nature of unlimited communication can have subversive effects under authoritarian regimes. But the web itself does not produce any public spheres. Its structure is not suited to focusing the attention of a dispersed public of citizens who form opinions simultaneously on the same topics and contributions which have been scrutinised and filtered by experts.”

Seyla Benhabib also sees profound changes in the democratic models induced by new forms of media:

 “The emergence of new media technologies, and new centres of information is leading to everyone doing their “own thing,” so to speak. It’s as if people are going around with bubble wrap around their brains. And inside the bubble wrap is the informational world that they themselves have generated. When we first articulated this model about the interaction of the strong and weak public spheres in the late 1980s and 1990s, many of us were thinking of transformations in Eastern Europe, the emergence of civil society movements, strong women’s movements, ecology and youth movements in the West, and so the model was one of a decentred, weak public sphere of anonymous conversations and networks that would then have some impact on the decisional public sphere. Now, we need to reconsider this model in the light of the complete proliferation of the electronic media and public spheres – the rise of FaceBook; YouTube; community and citizen journalism, etc…”

Thus in an abundance of information and communication options, people are for the first time able to choose for themselves also which spheres to belong to and which to form. Communication no longer knows state and community boundaries, people are no longer bound by their associations in a spatial ways. Also, the former borders of specific ingroups and outgroups are becoming fuzzy and individual identities are becoming blurred as well, which adds to the pressure of relational rather than individual selves, because the latter are not so easy to define any more.

One could imagine a not so distant future in which Facebook and/or its descendants have become even more persuasive than today. Already today, Facebook has shown that it is willing to ethically questionable and possibly illegal social experiments that change the mood of its users. It also already manipulates voting patterns by pushing people to vote by creating peer pressure to go to polls. Thus it is not difficult to imagine that at some point in the not so distant future Facebook could manipulate and nudge users to vote for a particular candidate or political party. For example, it could manipulate its feed algorithms to show more news stories that could make people vote progressive or conservative. As the algorithms are secret, it is not possible to know whether this is already not done.

Currently Facebook already allows paid political advertising. In Estonia, where outdoor political advertising has been banned to improve the quality of democratic debate, an extremely poor decision upheld by an even worse judgment by the Estonian Supreme Court, it is allowed to have banner ads that direct you to the e-voting site where you can vote for your candidate. As social media advertising techniques surely improve, it will be easier than ever to nudge you to vote in the “right” direction, by analysing the commercially available data. You can then be targeted with tailored messages.

The autonomous individual is not only in danger during elections, but social media has also helped to create the conditions to impact the state in other ways.

As social media offers technological tools for bringing together large groups, potentially the whole population, there has been renewed interest towards direct democracy and deliberative democracy. Direct democracy was considered to be despotism by Kant and there is no reason to believe that widespread use of direct democracy would not result in worsening of the status and conditions of minorities. Even when Facebook itself has tried to emply direct democracy methods, it has had to face failure.

Mediacratisation has also been heightened by social media, in which it is much easier to induce moral panics that can be used to force changes in policies or even impact legislative processes. In November 2014, Estonian Minister of Finance resigned due to a arguably Russophobic comment he made on Facebook when commenting there. Even if one agrees that such comment was unacceptable (and I personally do), it shows that politicians are facing new pressures from social media sources, which can organise quickly for or against a specific cause. This could lead to a world of emotional voting which was depicted in the sci-fi TV series “Black Mirror” episode “The Waldo Moment”.

Possibilities for “Facebook Kantianism”

For a Kantian autonomous individual to survive there are several ways to preserve it and keep Facebook too. This requires to regulate Facebook on a global scale, which is difficult, but nevertheless achievable.

If one considers Kantianism as the perseverance of the autonomous individual in a social media setting, then interesting possibilities arise. It partly depends on whether one considers Facebook as a neutral and mechanical platform that simply replicates online the processes that happen offline. However, it seems that Facebook goes far beyond that. The algorithms that define what gets shown to whom are programmed by human beings and even if they try to stay neutral, it is rather impossible to do.

It could be that the solution is the regulation of Facebook according to an understanding of hybrid self (Ess 2015), which means that Kantian autonomy is consciously and deliberately preserved for those purposes which require moral judgment and which have wider political consequences, whereas in other relationships a more relational side prevails. There needs to be some way of delineating these aspects and also regulation that prevents any infringements of the independent side. This means certainly more regulation of Facebook and the likes and an enforceable ban on those activities that intrude on autonomy. Regulation of Facebook is, however, somewhat difficult as it already wields enormous political influence.

Another option would be a move towards cosmopolitan federalism, which would expand the Kantian concept of autonomy beyond the borders of the state. This is supported by the fact that democracy is undergoing a transformation also due to the decoupling of state and citizenship. Nation state is losing its monopoly to trans- and supranational, but also local levels of governance, leading to a growing ideas of globalised governance.

This does not necessarily mean the end of a nation state. Benhabib writes:

“This sketchy vision of cosmopolitan federalism is not based upon a hostility toward the nation-state; quite to the contrary. Only within a framework of sub- and transnational modes of cooperation, representation, and collaboration is it possible to protect the fundamental values of liberal and republican liberty, that is of private and public autonomy.”  (Benhabib 2005).

The fate of the autonomous individual is uncertain. However, if enlightenment values such as human rights, equality and democracy, upon which Western societies have so far prospered and which have managed to maintain a relative level of peace and non-violence in the world, were to be upheld more attention should be diverted towards the impact of social media on the concept. It might be necessary to create global regulation that would ensure that technology does not end up controlling human beings, but human beings continue to have autonomy in the dynamically changing world. There are no reasons why the principles of the Enlightenment could not be equally applied social networking sites. If done properly, this could bring about unprecedented levels of growth, peace and stability, because it is an opportunity to apply those principles not within Rawlsian self-contained nation states, but globally, to all those that are connected.

Tallinn, 6 January 2015

 

References

Bakardjieva, M. 2009. Subactivism: Lifeworld and politics in the age of the internet. The Information Society 25:91–104.

Benhabib, S. 2005. Borders, Boundaries, and Citizenship. PS: Political Science and Politics 38.4: 673-677.

Berlin, I. 1971. The Assault on the French Enlightenment. Kant and Individual Autonomy. John Danz Lectures, University of Washington, 22, 24 and 25 February 1971. Unpublished, available at: http://berlin.wolf.ox.ac.uk/lists/nachlass/assault2.pdf

Christman, J. 2014. Autonomy in Moral and Political Philosophy. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

Cormode, G., & Krishnamurthy, B. 2008. Key differences between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. First Monday, 13(6).

Ess, C. 2015. The Onlife Manifesto: Philosophical Backgrounds, Media Usages, and the Futures of Democracy and Equality. in: The Onlife Manifesto Being Human in a Hyperconnected Era (ed. L. Floridi). Springer

Feinberg, Joel. 1982. Autonomy, Sovereignty, and Privacy: Moral Ideals in the Constitution. Notre Dame L. Rev. 58: 445.

Loader, B., A. Vromen and M. A. Xenos. 2014. The networked young citizen: social media, political participation and civic engagement. Information, Communication & Society, 17:2, 143-150.

Kant, I. 1795. Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch

Kostakis, V. and W. Drechsler. 2013. “Commons-based peer production and artistic expression: Two cases from Greece. New Media & Society

Mill, J. S. 1859. On Individuality, as one of the elements of well-being. On Liberty.

Perez, C. 2009. Technological revolutions and techno-economic paradigms. Working Papers in Technology Governance and Economic Dynamics no. 20

Pew Research Center. 2014. The Future of Privacy. Available at http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/12/18/future-of-privacy/

Warren, S. D. and L. D. Brandeis. 1890. The Right to Privacy. Harvard Law Review, Vol. 4, No. 5 (Dec. 15, 1890), pp. 193-220


Holding on to our values

Posted: January 9th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: cool, governance, human rights, law, politics, thoughts | No Comments »

Terror aims to divide and isolate us. As Hannah Arendt wrote, this is true for the rule of terror in totalitarian regimes, but it is also the aim of fundamentalist extremists today whatever their ideology. They aim to disrupt our lives and frighten us to force us to change our values, beliefs and behaviour. In this fear we already lost our way for a while as evidenced by torture and extrajudicial detention in secret prisons, mass surveillance of everything and everyone, etc.

Instincts and emotions tells us to give in to fear, to blame an entire religion or group of people, to make compromises that should not be made etc.

As rational and moral human beings interested in organising our lives so that we can live peacefully together, we should not give in to those raw emotions and instincts. Instead, we must be even better at adhering to our values of democracy, freedom, pluralism, equality and tolerance.

Human beings are currently living together in an increasingly interdependent and interconnected world, having empathy with other individuals, and their human dignity, because of rational and moral choices people have made, because of the constitutional states and international legal system that we have built up. We are all not born equal, we have decided to organize our lives so as to treat everyone equally, because it is good for us all.

This means that we currently live in the most peaceful, least violent times for the human species. Statistically speaking, in terms of reduction of violence in the world we live in an utopian paradise that could not have been dreamed of even 100 years ago. So lets not let anyone change this and strive to be even better at achieving those values.