February 28, 2017

Archives for January 2013

Oral arguments in NJ voting-machines lawsuit appeal

The appellate hearing (oral argument) of the New Jersey voting-machines lawsuit (Gusciora v. Christie) has been rescheduled to March 5, 2013 in Trenton, NJ.

To learn what this is all about, and why you should attend, click here.

To recheck the location, time of day, and date of the hearing before you go down to Trenton, check this very post for updates.

Note new time!

Time:  10:00 a.m. 11:30 a.m., March 5, 2013  (but arrive significantly earlier, because it takes some time to get through security).

Place:  8th Floor, N. Wing, Hughes Justice Complex, Trenton, NJ.   Specifically,  Part E: Judges Messano, Ostrer and Lihotz.

Transportation:  If anyone from the Princeton area is interested in carpooling, send me mail.

Are genomes "anonymous data"?

Recently researchers showed that an unknown person’s genome (i.e., the genetic information stored in their DNA) can often be linked to their identity. The researchers used the genome plus some publicly available information to link this information. Just as interesting as the result itself is the way that people talked about it. As an example, here’s the opening paragraph of Gina Kolata’s New York Times story:

The genetic data posted online seemed perfectly anonymous — strings of billions of DNA letters from more than 1,000 people. But all it took was some clever sleuthing on the Web for a genetics researcher to identify five people he randomly selected from the study group. Not only that, he found their entire families, even though the relatives had no part in the study — identifying nearly 50 people.

Why would a genome “seem[] perfectly anonymous”? The genome is almost certainly unique to one person. So at the very least, the genome is a pseudonym. But of course the genome is also correlated with all sorts of physical characteristics of the person that are visible. And police use DNA evidence (parts of a genome) to identify people all the time. That’s hardly anonymous.
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Personal Democracy Robots?

A few weeks ago I wrote a post for Slate arguing that it is time to consider developing—and maybe even using—democracy robots on Twitter.  Preprogrammed messages released on a strategic schedule could have an impact on public opinion in sensitive moments for an authoritarian regime.  The EFF’s eloquent Jillian York retorted “let’s not”.

In short, I argued that the other side is using social media armies and bots in their campaigns to manipulate the opinion of their publics, diasporas overseas, and even international opinion.  Since authoritarian governments are investing in such technologies, D-bots could be an important part of a systematic response from the democracies that want to promote democracy.

Most of these crafty bots generate inane commentary and try to sell stuff, but some are given political tasks. For example, pro-Chinese bots have clogged Twitter conversations about the conflict in Tibet. In Mexico’s recent presidential election, the political parties played with campaign bots on Twitter. And even an aspiring parliamentarian in Britain turned to bots to appear popular on social media during his campaign. Furthermore, the Chinese, Iranian, Russian, and Venezuelan governments employ their own social media experts and pay small amounts of money to large numbers of people (“50 cent armies”) to generate pro-government messages, if inefficiently.

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