April 25, 2014

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Congressman Issa’s “Internet Law Freeze”: Appealing but Impractical

This week, Congressman Darrell Issa released a draft bill that would prevent Congress and administrative agencies from creating any new internet-related laws, rules, or regulations. The Internet American Moratorium Act (IAMA) is a rhetorical stake in the ground for the notion that the government should “keep its hands off the internet.” In the wake of successful blockage of SOPA/PIPA legislation–which would have interfered with basic internet functionality in the name of combating content piracy–there is renewed energy in DC to stop ill-advised internet-related laws and rules. Issa has been quoted as saying that the government needs a, “cooling-off period to figure out a better way to create policy that impacts Internet users.” The relevant portion of the bill reads:

It is resolved in the House of Representatives and Senate that they shall not pass any new legislation for a period of 2 years from the date of enactment of this Act that would require individuals or corporations engaged in activities on the Internet to meet additional requirements or activities. After 90 days of passage of this Act no Department or Agency of the United States shall publish new rules or regulations, or finalize or otherwise enforce or give lawful effect to draft rules or regulations affecting the Internet until a period of at least 2 years from the enactment of this legislation has elapsed.

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Voting machine lawsuit, oral arguments, venue change

For those who were considering attending the oral arguments December 4th of the appeal of the Gusciora lawsuit about New Jersey’s voting machines–which I encourage you to do–the location has been changed from Jersey City to Trenton.

Location: 8th Floor, N. Wing, Hughes Justice Complex, Trenton, NJ.

Date/time: December 4th, 2012, 10:00 a.m.

Postponed until a date yet to be determined [note added 11/29/12].

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Facebook Copyright Statement: Not Entirely Silly

There’s a meme going around on Facebook, saying that you should post a certain legal incantation on your Facebook wall, to reclaim certain rights that Facebook would otherwise be taking from you. There’s an interesting counter-meme in the press now, saying that all of this is pointless and of course you can’t change your rights just by posting a statement on a website. Both memes have something to teach us about perceptions of rights and responsibilities online.
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CITP Call for Fellows, Postdocs, and Visiting Professors for Fall 2013

The Center for Information Technology Policy (citp.princeton.edu) is an interdisciplinary research center at Princeton that sits at the crossroads of engineering, the social sciences, law, and policy.

CITP seeks Fellowship and Postdoc applicants for the 2012-2013 school year from academia, industry, government, and civil society. These are one year appointments — usually from July 1st to June 30th. Applicants may be appointed as a Visiting Fellow, Visiting Researcher, or Postdoctoral Research Associate.

CITP also seeks candidates for a new Visiting Professor position starting in Fall 2013. Applicants must be currently appointed faculty members at an academic institution. Individuals may apply for a one or two year appointment, based on their individual circumstances and availability.

Our application process is open from November 12 through January 1st.

For details on the Fellowship and Postdoc applications:
https://citp.princeton.edu/about/join/fellowship-application/

For details on the Visiting Professor application:
https://citp.princeton.edu/about/join/visiting-professor-application/

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Smart Campaigns, Meet Smart Voters

Zeynep pointed to her New York Times op-ed, “Beware the Smart Campaign,” about political campaigns collecting and exploiting detailed information about individual voters. Given the emerging conventional wisdom that the Obama campaign’s technological superiority played an important role in the President’s re-election, we should expect more aggressive attempts to micro-target voters by both parties in future election cycles. Let’s talk about how voters might respond.
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My NYT Op-Ed: “Beware the Smart Campaign”

I just published a new opinion piece in the New York Times, entitled “Beware the Smart Campaign”. I react to the Obama campaign’s successful use of highly quantitative voter targeting that is inspired by “big data” commercial marketing techniques and implemented through state-of-the-art social science knowledge and randomized field experiments.  In the op-ed, I wonder whether the “persuasion score” strategy championed by Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager, is on balance good for democracy in the long run.

Mr. Messina is understandably proud of his team, which included an unprecedented number of data analysts and social scientists. As a social scientist and a former computer programmer, I enjoy the recognition my kind are getting. But I am nervous about what these powerful tools may mean for the health of our democracy, especially since we know so little about it all.

For all the bragging on the winning side — and an explicit coveting of these methods on the losing side — there are many unanswered questions. What data, exactly, do campaigns have on voters? How exactly do they use it? What rights, if any, do voters have over this data, which may detail their online browsing habits, consumer purchases and social media footprints?

You can read the full article here.

The argument in an op-ed is necessarily concise and leaves out much of the nuance but I think this is an important question facing democracies.  The key to my argument is that big data analytics + better social science isn’t just the same old, same old but poses novel threats to healthy public discourse.  I welcome feedback and comments as we are just starting to grapple with these new developments!

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The Silver Effect: What We Can Learn from Poll Aggregators

For those who now think Nate Silver is god, here’s a question: Can Nate Silver make a prediction so accurate that Nate Silver himself doesn’t believe it?

Yes, he can–and he did. Silver famously predicted the results of Election 2012 correctly in every state. Yet while his per-state predictions added up to the 332 electoral votes that Obama won, Silver himself predicted that Obama’s expected electoral vote total was only 313. Why? Because Silver predicted that Silver would get some states wrong. Unpacking this (pseudo-)paradox can help us understand what we can and can’t learn from the performance of poll aggregators like Nate Silver and Princeton’s Sam Wang in this election.
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Voting technology issues in Virginia on election day

I spent Election Day in one of the command centers for the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline. The command center was accepting calls from New Jersey, Maryland, DC, and Virginia, but 95% of the technology issues were from Virginia. I was the designated “technology guy”, so pretty much everything that came through that center came to me. This gave me a pretty good perspective on the scope of issues. (I don’t know about the non-technology issues, although I heard discussions of issues like demanding more ID than is required, voter intimidation, etc.)

Following is a summary of what I saw. What’s most interesting is that if you divide things into “easy to solve” and “hard to solve”, the “easy to solve” ones are all in places using optical scan, and the “hard to solve” are all in places using DREs (colloquially known as “touch screens”, although not all of them are).
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Joisy on my mind

Like everyone interested in the mechanics of elections, I’ve been fascinated by the New Jersey efforts to allow voters to request and submit ballots via email. In this posting, I’d like to address four brief points that I don’t think have received much attention – the first two policy, and the last two technical.

First, the New Jersey directives have been inconsistent in how they’ve treated the requirement for returning paper copies of ballots submitted by email. For good reasons, New Jersey law requires that hardcopies be submitted to the local elections office, to be postmarked not later than election day. But some of the releases from the Lieutenant Governor’s office have mentioned this requirement, and others have been silent. In particular, the final release, put out mid-afternoon on Election Day, says nothing about the topic, when it extended the deadline for returning the email copy to the end of Friday. I expect that the majority of email ballots will not have corresponding hardcopies returned, which should (if the law is followed) result in the email copies being discarded.
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Tim Lee Reporting on NJ Email-Assisted Voting

Earlier this week, Professor Andrew Appel posted that “NJ Lt. Governor invites voters to submit invalid ballots“. Andrew has been offering updates at the bottom of his post since then. Professor Ed Felten also summarized the state of “New Jersey Voting in the Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy,” concluding that, “I would strongly oppose any long-term move toward online voting, but I can see the point of allowing limited email+hardcopy voting for displaced voters under these very unusual circumstances.”

This morning, Tim Lee (an alumnus of of CITP) wrote on Ars Technica that:

…anecdotal evidence is starting to trickle in that the system isn’t working as well as organizers had hoped. One address used to request ballots was not even accepting e-mail late Tuesday morning. And in another county, an election official responded to problems with the county e-mail system by inviting voters to send ballot requests to his personal Hotmail address.

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