Legal Issues


19
Jan 14

Part 2: Snowden – Whistleblowing & Its Consequences

Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning

A couple of weeks ago, I posted some thoughts about clemency for Edward Snowden and whether I thought he was a hero.  My main point was that I was grateful to know the information he gave the world, but I felt that fleeing the US was an immoral choice, that whistleblowers who make the decision to “go public” have a responsibility to stand by their decision whatever the consequences.  I said that even if I could understand the choice to run, that that didn’t meet my standard of “hero”.

The post generated a lot of comments, and I’ve been thinking about some of those responses.

First, I have to acknowledge the insensitivity of referring to Chelsea Manning as “he” and by a prior name.  I fully 100% support everyone’s right to define their own identity, and it was thoughtless of me to do otherwise.  I suppose that the name “Bradley Manning” had become somewhat iconic in my own mind and though I was aware of her choice to become known as Chelsea, it was almost as if the whistleblowing icon and the actual person had become separate entities in my brain.

But of course they aren’t separate at all, Chelsea Manning is an actual person, and its exactly these kinds of careless and unthinking errors that expose cisgender privilege and, however unintentionally, perpetuate prejudice and discrimination.  Many thanks to those who pointed this out and I will be more conscious and thoughtful in the future.

Regarding the discussion about whether or not Snowden is a hero, everyone who commented here or on G+ or other places universally disagreed with my position. I have a lot of respect for the people in my network and when my perspective is completely out of step with the majority view, it definitely gives me pause.  Even more so when virtually everyone thinks I’m wrong.  😉

I think it speaks very highly of the folks who read my blog that though they disagreed with me, passionately even, no one was disrespectful or rude, and I appreciate that. For me, blogging is a form of processing, of trying to think through issues and problems, and I’m always ready to acknowledge that I may be wrong.  The whole point of posting publicly is to get feedback and to have good dialogue with people who are also passionate about the issues I care about, and I’m happiest when we’re really digging into an issue but doing it kindly and civilly with each other.  So thanks to everyone for keeping it cool.

I can’t say that I’ve been completely swayed from my position by the arguments everyone made, but it has made me think more about the complexity of Snowden’s particular situation.  My mother and many others asked if I thought Snowden should have paid with his life for his actions, and the answer is no, I don’t think he deserves to die or spend life in prison for trying to expose the wrongdoing of the NSA.  I also agree that both of those scenarios were plausible outcomes if he had chosen to stay instead of leaving the US, and by that logic, then he would be justified in trying to protect himself from that fate.

Despite that, I still feel resistance to the idea that it is a moral choice to blow the whistle and run.

I may be persuaded that Edward Snowden’s, or to some extent, even Chelsea Manning’s, specific circumstances were extraordinary.  That they were not exposing your run-of-the-mill malfeasance or wrong-doing, but rather they were exposing wrongdoing of such a horrific scale and magnitude, and perpetrated not by some low level official or small corporate concern, but by our own government across many branches and departments, and therefore that deserves some leeway.  I think that’s a fair argument and it’s forced me to reconsider my position.

I would still argue, though, that universalizing Snowden’s decision to flee is ultimately NOT the best outcome – for whistleblowers OR for the society a whistleblower is trying to protect.  In the best of worlds, what should happen is that the whistleblower should be safe, should be protected, should be given safe harbor until the disclosures can be digested and the situation investigated.  Edward Snowden shouldn’t have to flee his own country, rather our government and our society should have better measures in place and better systems to protect those who make the brave choice to expose wrongdoing.  We should be demanding better protections for the Mannings and Snowdens (and Swartzs) of the world.

And I guess that’s where it shakes out for me.  If we universalize Snowden’s decision to blow the whistle and flee, and say that’s ok, then we run a two-fold risk:

1) We open the door for anyone claiming whistleblower status to get a pass whether it’s deserved or not.  I maintain that making a public accusation of wrongdoing carries with it a responsibility to stand behind the claim. We all must have the right to face our accusers, and whistleblowers are not and cannot be exempt from that.  Due process matters, it protects us from unfounded accusations and (in an ideal world) acts as a safeguard against vigilante justice, by the state OR other people.

2) We let ourselves off the hook for failing to provide the protections that legitimate whistleblowers deserve.  While I’ll admit that Snowden likely had little rational choice but to leave, don’t we all agree that he shouldn’t have had to?  I think in some way, blessing Snowden’s decision to flee is a form of ignoring our own complicity in a system that we know is terribly unjust.  Instead of arguing about whether or not he was justified in running, we really should be expending that energy on making it so he doesn’t have to – not just for Snowden, but for all the legitimate whistleblowers out there who don’t have international visibility and media scrutiny to protect them.


That’s where my reasoning is at the moment, but I’m sure I’ll keep thinking on this for some time to come.  Thanks again to everyone who commented, and as always, feel free to disagree!  🙂


4
Jan 14

Re: Snowden – Whistleblowing & Its Consequences

Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning

I was very surprised to read the New York Times editorial calling for clemency for Edward Snowden, less so to read Slate’s piece about why he won’t and shouldn’t get clemency, since it is difficult for me to imagine any scenario in which full clemency would be granted by this administration or in this geo-political climate. I expect Snowden to be on the run or in exile likely for the rest of his life.

Without knowing all the details of what he leaked, how he leaked them, and the explanations for his actions afterwards that led him to China and then Russia, I can’t in good conscience call for his clemency either. Even if I acknowledge that his leaks have better informed a critically important debate about the surveillance power of the government and the constitutional balance (or lack thereof) of the NSA’s programs, even if his stated motivations as a whistleblower are 100% true, and even if I acknowledge that, like Bradley Manning, there likely were no “legitimate” paths he could take to take to expose the truth to the public, I still can’t go so far as to say that they deserve clemency because I’m not in a position to have enough information to make a good judgement, and my guess is, if you’re reading this blog, neither do you.

My own (very small, insignificant except to those of us who were affected) experience with being a whistleblower was a wholly terrible and unpleasant experience. Exposing misconduct and bringing to light what (some) people in power do not want revealed is a dangerous undertaking, even when the stakes are much less than national security. It is fraught with difficult ethical and moral decisions about how much information and when to disclose and how to proceed, and at least in my experience, I had absolutely no way to fully appreciate all of the unintended consequences of my actions, and how many other (innocent in the scheme of things) people would be hurt by my choices, no matter how well meaning and good my intentions were when I started.

I’m not comparing myself to Snowden or Manning, of course, the situations were completely different and on a completely different scale of importance, but I can only draw from my own experience. I certainly felt that I had an obligation take responsibility for the fall-out, and I guess that is where my own, however insignificant, experience as a whistleblower leads me to feel critical of both Manning and Snowden’s decisions to hide and run from the path they chose.

Yes, it stinks that whistleblowers are often punished for trying to do the right thing, but if you choose to do battle with the powers-that-be, then you have a responsibility to stand up and say, “Yes, I did this, my conscience demanded I take action to right this wrong, and be damned the consequences to myself.” That is what sacrifice is, that is what a “hero” does, and that is not quite what either Manning or Snowden did. Even if their initial motivations were largely for the right reasons, even if there have been many good things to come of their disclosures, they still failed to see it through by trying to hide from or escape from the consequences of their choices.

What makes that a “wrong” is that all the untold number of (innocent in the scheme of things) people who paid a terrible price for their actions had no choice in the matter. The co-worker who gave Snowden a password because of trust or because he thought Snowden’s request was legitimate as a sysadmin who was later fired. The diplomats or soliders or, heck, full on spies whose careers were destroyed or lives were endangered by Manning’s or Snowden’s disclosures. Those people had no choice in the matter. They didn’t have an opportunity to hide or escape from the fall-out of those decisions, so why should Manning or Snowden?

When you set the ball in motion, you have a responsibility to see it through to the end, no matter how bitter that end may be. To do less may be only human, but it doesn’t meet my standard of “hero”.


23
Feb 13

Must Watch – Lessig’s Harvard Law Talk About Aaron’s Law

I found this both moving and inspiring. I’ve come to believe that academics and researchers have a moral imperative to fight closed publishing, and this talk by Lessig only makes me feel that more strongly.


11
Nov 11

Caring for my Grandma, Diagnosis Alzheimer’s

My mom and I have known since probably last summer that my 78 year old grandmother was experiencing difficulties with day-to-day life, and over the course of the last year she began to drop weight at an alarming rate and have more and more trouble with things like using the ATM machine, paying bills, grocery shopping, and just the stuff we all have to do in life.  Her house is about an hour and a half away from us in the town where I was born, and we spent most weekends this spring and summer trying to help her until things reached a point where it was clear weekend visits just weren’t enough or sustainable.  She was forgetting to eat through the week, and it was costing us a fortune in gas driving 3 hours back and forth, nevermind the stress and worry when we weren’t there.

It’s really sad to see someone you love begin that decline, and it was all the more difficult because her forgetfulness and confusion seemed so intermittent.  Some days she seemed perfectly fine, and other days she couldn’t remember how to tie her shoes or use a zipper.   One minute she’s ranting about someone in the family in perfectly normal-for-her fashion, the next she’s lost in the town where she’s lived for 50 years.

To compound matters, she’s been a “collector” (aka a hoarder) for at least all of my lifetime, and her always packed to the rafters house began to slide into an even more disorganized, cluttered, and dangerous mess than usual.  She’s never had furniture or living spaces like most normal people’s houses, but there were at least always clear pathways to the main rooms and around the tv, the kitchen table, etc.  Over time, though, even these areas became cluttered and unnavigable, with cords and wires and boxes and bags and plastic tubs of stuff every which way so that even I could hardly get from room to room without tripping.

And in her confusion and forgetfulness, she began to develop delusions to explain why some thing that she swore she hadn’t moved was suddenly in a new place in her house – someone must be living in her basement and sneaking up to move things.  And the thing she was looking for and couldn’t find – someone must have stolen it.  The delusions became so complex and detailed, and so frightening to her, that she began hiding weapons around her house, and carrying big butcher knives around so that the man living in her basement couldn’t attack her.

It got to a point where it was truly dangerous to leave her alone.  She was so upset over the man in her basement she wouldn’t even leave the house to go get groceries or eat even when we came to help and assured her we’d checked the basement.  She was calling the police every couple of days about the man in the basement and was becoming outraged that they wouldn’t even go down there to look for him after a while.

It was clearly time that something had to be done.  But what?  How do you start that process?

A Confusing Process

It turns out that the answer isn’t very clear, or wasn’t very clear to us anyway.  We spent weeks making phone calls and searching the internets for advice, and we discovered that at least in Indiana, most of the social services and institutions that we assumed would be able to help us couldn’t.  Adult Protective Services cannot intervene until or unless someone files a complaint that an elderly person is being abused, neglected, or exploited.  Obviously we were trying to deal with the situation BEFORE any of those problems came to pass.  The police couldn’t intervene unless someone filed a complaint that she was a danger to herself or others.  And though she was certainly a danger to herself, we didn’t feel like the criminal justice system was the appropriate path to take.

We spoke with her doctor, but he was little help at all and in fact was rather insensitive to the situation and made it much worse – after that visit, my grandmother refused to speak to my mother at all and I was caught in the middle.  Though I’d hesitate to allege outright fraud, when we discovered how often her doctor was seeing her, how many tests had been ordered, how many different medications he’d prescribed, all for a patient who was clearly suffering from some kind of dementia.. you have to wonder how much Medicare $$ he made from her visits and if that had any influence over his decision making process.

It was really pretty scary, knowing that she needed help but unable to figure out how to start the process to help her.  In the end, we discovered that she had to have a psychiatric evaluation and then my mother could apply for emergency temporary guardianship, though even that is complicated by a new law Indiana passed this summer to guard against “granny snatching” since we live in Ohio and she is a resident of Indiana.

All of the legal stuff aside, the emotional stress was another terrible weight.  We had been talking to her all summer trying to convince her to move to Cincinnati closer to us, but she didn’t want to leave her house, her town, her community, her friends.  And who could blame her?  She wanted to be in her own house, with her kitties, where she’d lived for many years.  She was adamant about staying.  But it was obvious that wasn’t an option, so what to do?

Diagnosis: Alzheimer’s

Finally she was admitted to the hospital for another complaint and eventually qualified medical staff diagnosed her with Alzheimer’s, delusions, and dementia and that made it easier for my mother to get guardianship, but once that happened it opened a whole new can of worms.  Which facility in Cincinnati was best?  What level of care?  And how expensive could she afford?  My mother and I toured facilities and asked questions, tried to compare the various options with what we thought would work best for my grandmother, even as my grandmother felt imprisoned and angry that she couldn’t go home, stuck in the hospital and sometimes enjoying the respite from her worries about her cats and the thieves she believed were robbing her and other times upset about being away.

We eventually selected a facility but her transfer from the hospital to the new place was frightening for her, and she’s still having trouble adjusting to the new circumstances even as she seems to enjoy the increased stimulation, company her own age, and the activities they have at the memory care unit.  I think for the most part she doesn’t realize what actually has happened and she often wonders when she will be able to go home, and when she remembers, worries about her cats.  Mostly I’m happy to know she’s somewhere safe even if I worry she’s frightened and worried about being away from home.

Reading about Alzheimer’s is scary too, the disease progression is unpredictable and we have no idea how long it will be before she doesn’t recognize us or doesn’t know where she is, and the late stages.. well.  I guess we’ll just have to take things one day at a time and do the best we can to make sure she has good care.

What I’ve Learned

I’ve learned a few things from this process that I wanted to share while it was on my mind, in case you or a loved one ever has to face these difficult decisions:

  • No matter how young or old you are, you (yes you!) NEED to have a living will and durable medical power of attorney documentation drawn up, signed and witnessed, and filed somewhere easily located (and hopefully shared with your designated caregiver) so that when the time comes that you are unable to care for yourself, someone you know and trust can do this for you.  DO NOT WAIT.  Do not think that you’re not old enough to worry about it.  Everyone should have this, and especially if you have children.  It will make what is already a horrible situation so much easier for your loved ones who need to be able to help care for you.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your friends and colleagues about their experiences with aging parents.  Some of the most helpful advice for both me and my mother has come from our social networks and from friends who have gone through similar experiences.  It really helps to know that others have faced what sometimes feels like having to choose between least worst options for someone you care about.
  • And above all, talk with the people you love and trust about your wishes regarding end of life issues or what you would prefer if you become incapacitated.  While thinking about such things is not particularly pleasant, I feel closer to my mom too, as a result of all of this, and feel that I have a better idea of what she will want when the time comes, and I’ve also talked to her about what I would want if something should happen to me – and that gives me some comfort.

Thanks to my friends and colleagues who’ve sent well wishes as we’ve been going through this stressful process, and thanks to the friends and communities I’ve neglected in recent weeks for their patience.


16
Sep 11

What’s Missing from Governance in Second Life

In the past week or so, two of my favorite thinkers about Second Life have written about governance – Gwyneth Llewelyn’s post Humble Governance is typically lengthy but worth reading, and Prokofy Neva responded on How to Improve Governance in Second Life.

This has long been a topic of interest, I was a polisci undergrad after all, and I’ve been trying my own hand at governance with varying degrees of engagement, success, and failure with the Chilbo Community on the mainland.  In fact, I presented about Chilbo’s model at the Governance in Virtual Worlds conference  back in March 2010, and I’ll never forget the upbraiding I received from a fellow panelist who simply could not believe that governance could exist without constant disagreement and strife, or that any system that didn’t include a parliament or direct democracy could be feasible or representative.  I begged to differ then and now.

Governance in Virtual Worlds 2010: Virtual Self Governance – Fleep Tuque

View more presentations from Fleep Tuque

I’ve never claimed that the Chilbo model of participatory consensus was scalable or feasible for all communities in Second Life – I think our system developed to suit our specific community, our specific geography on mainland rather than private sims, and to suit the personalities of our specific members – but I certainly think it has been a viable model that others might learn from as one example of a long lasting, self-governing community.  We’re coming up on our 5th anniversary, which in Second Life terms is a pretty long time!  But I remain a big believer in the old adage “those who show up make the decisions, those who are willing and actually do the work get to decide how its done” and so long as that is tempered by a fair, open, and transparent input process where those who don’t have the time to show up or do the work get to put their two cents in, we’ve found in Chilbo that it mostly works pretty well.

And even though in the past year or so I’ve been much less active myself, and some of the more administratively heavy processes we had in place have been eliminated or downsized to accommodate people’s changing schedules and time availability, the fact that we continue to iterate, flex, and experiment without carving immutable laws into virtual stone is one of the very reasons I think Chilbo has lasted as long as it has.  From my perspective, the biggest issue with our “real life” political institutions right now is their inability to cope with the rapid pace of change in today’s crazily quickly changing world.  Being flexible and nimble is crucial to ensuring that governance is responsive to actual reality and actual problems rather than continuing to run on auto-pilot addressing problems from previous decades or, at this point, a previous century.  I have come to hate the buzzword “agile” because it’s so overused in the IT industry, but governments need to have the capacity for agility when necessary and neither the real world nor most Second Life government systems I’ve seen in practice have demonstrated that capacity.

In any case, there were several points in Prokofy’s post that absolutely resonated with my experience as a Second Life Resident and community organizer.  My favorite quote was the following:

Governance in SL will do better when it’s a verb, not a noun.

I couldn’t agree more!  Further, Prokofy goes on to say:

What is needed isn’t a parliament, a resident body that the Lindens fete somehow, or self-appointed busy-bodies who want to run *your* land. What’s needed is functionality — the ability to minimize grief in groups and get better traction on mainland complaints revolving around neighbours’ and Governor Linden land.

This is something I’ve been saying for years.  Back in August 2008, I wrote an open letter to Jack Linden when they first proposed changes to the Mainland to deal with litter, griefer objects, ad farms, and the all-too-common abandoned first land plots.  In that letter, I wrote:

Linden Lab has for years claimed that they eventually wanted to put more governance in the hands of residents since they do not have the staff or the time to resolve all disputes. So do it. Where organized communities exist, empower long-term residents with established records of good payment, good stewardship, and good relations to manage the sims instead of Linden Lab. Enforce our community-generated standards or allow us to enforce them. Whether through appointment or elections or petitions or through some other means, give community managers the ability to remove offensive ads, griefer objects, and banlines. Put your money where your mouth has been for the last 5 years.

I absolutely agree with Prokofy that the biggest issue is the need for group and land management tools to better allow us to govern our OWN communities.  I don’t need that argumentative fellow from the Confederation of Democratic Simulators to come and inject his contentious brand of politics into our easy going consensus-based community, what we’ve long needed in Chilbo is better mechanisms to enforce our own community standards – better data, better management tools, better and more flexible group permissions and management – those are the things that would genuinely help our community.

Having said that, I’m not sure I agree with Prokofy that there’s no need for larger governance structures.  While I very much like the concept that participation should be tied to some kind of stake in the grid – if not direct land ownership, then some kind of representation on behalf of those who rent or play on group owned land or systems like Chilbo’s – the fact that we are all at the mercy of a privately held company and have done little to effectively organize ourselves in ways that can leverage our power as customers of Linden Lab has been to our detriment.  As Gwyn rightly pointed out, the forums become a cacophany and the JIRA was never intended to be a voting mechanism, and so we’ve been left to individually or in small groups try to fight for the changes we hope to see with the platform, the interface, or the policies that Linden Lab adopts.

Gwyn wrote:

I think that there was always a need for mechanisms to represent residents’ opinions in a systematic and inclusive way, and that the “fear of corruption and drama” has been just a convenient excuse to avoid a democratic forum. The consequence of this way of thinking is that it’s far easier to blame the Lindens for making the wrong decisions instead of organising a grid-wide method of aiding their decision process.

I think that’s pretty spot-on.  And applicable to more than just Linden Lab and Second Life, in fact, since increasingly more and more of our interactions and civic life is conducted online in virtual spaces that are owned by, “governed” by, and controlled by third party private or publicly owned corporations who are not accountable in a democratic sense to their constituents, er customers, er.. whatever label you call us.  For another example, see the Nymwars with Google.

This is a 21st century problem that we must solve, and it will require 21st century solutions and institutions to do it.  Many of us have long said that Second Life is merely a precursor of the things to come, that in many ways it portends the future of our physical world and other online spaces, and I find myself agreeing with Gwyn that it is time we tackle these issues and stop passing the buck.  If we can find workable solutions for dealing with governance in Second Life, perhaps we’ll find structures and systems that will be useful in dealing with other service providers who forget who they’re serving, too.

So.. where do we start?


27
Mar 10

Governance in Virtual Worlds

On Friday, March 26th, I participated in the Governance in Virtual Worlds 2010 conference sponsored by the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and World2Worlds.  The conference description:

Virtual worlds and online games are used by millions of people around the world for recreation, corporate and academic conferencing, formal education, research, training and charitable work. These worlds have given rise to public-policy issues, both ancient and cutting edge. Governance in Virtual Worlds will provide an exploration of these issues by professors, journalists, corporate managers and community activists. Learn what it means to be an active citizen, a creative producer, and a savvy customer, and meet the people shaping policy for the worlds of the future.

Now, I’ve attended a LOT of conferences, conversations, symposia, discussions, and other such things revolving around virtual worlds, but I must commend John Carter McKnight, Adjunct Professor of Law at  Arizona State University for putting together a truly excellent group of panels.  (And I’m not just saying that because I was on two of them!)   Though the conference was plagued with technical issues at the beginning, which happens sometimes, the panels sparked good conversations (and sometimes heated debate)  and it was the first time in a while I heard some new ideas that made me stop in my tracks and think, “Oh, yeah.  Why aren’t we talking about that?”

John Lester (formerly Pathfinder Linden) Gives Keynote Opening Address

For long time SL peeps, one of the highlights of the conference was John Lester‘s keynote opening address.  Formerly known as Pathfinder Linden, who did much to promote the education and health care communities in world, John appeared as his original avatar from the SL beta (the first one!) days, Count Zeeman.  John’s keynote was unfortunately one of the ones marred by the technical challenges, but he talked about the biological responses that humans have to our virtual experiences.  He gave an example of a teacher who brings her students in world and right off the bat has them jump off a mountain.  The students feel fear, vertigo, and all these physical reactions, they don’t know if they’re (their avatar) is going to die, they don’t know what to expect.  The physical reactions we experience in virtual spaces are due to our brains having evolved to think in, navigate in, and respond to 3D data, we have entirely natural responses to 3D cues, it activates our lymbic system just as if we were standing on a physical mountain.  Ok maybe to a lesser degree, still.  🙂

Of course, we’re missing key components of physicality in virtual worlds, particularly the non-verbal cues of body language, posture, etc.  John reminded us Snow Crash fans that in Stephenson’s novel, the thing that made the metaverse take off was when it incorporated the natural body language of those who were jacked in, so we’re not yet at a point where I yawn in real life and my avatar yawns as well, but that’s where we’re headed.

I’m not sure if this was just my take or John’s, but there was some conversation that augmented reality is likely to top into the mainstream before virtual worlds, since handheld devices are already ubiquitous and the super-smart-phone genre like Droids and iPhones are becoming more commonplace and affordable.  John mentioned the augmented reality windshield GM prototyped that I tweeted about the other day (woe the day our windshields get hacked!) and we talked about a future where our HUDs were not just on the screen but in our contact lenses.  Good stuff!

In terms of governance of virtual spaces, the issue is that our current system of laws and courts are processes that move so exquisitely slowly, and yet the pace of technological change is accelerating at an ever faster pace.  How are we to govern spaces that our current systems are not even remotely equipped to understand, let alone arbitrate?  And that, of course, was the key question of the conference.  It was great to see John and despite the audio glitches, it was great to see him in world again.

Keynote Panel:  The Politics of Virtual Engagement

Next up was the keynote panel, which also had a rocky start on the technical end (again, not the fault of the conference organizers!) and I didn’t get to show my slides so I’ll embed them here:

I’d hoped to talk about how we can look at the small scale governance issues already cropping up at the institutional level, like in higher education, and then extrapolate how those issues will affect the larger ecosystem of institutions participating in virtual world spaces, but the tech issues got our timing and things off to a rocky start, so I’m not sure how much came through.   In any case, the “Politics of Virtual Engagement” at my university are just one example of many, but I think there are lessons to be learned.  For example, virtual world evangelists and people like me trying to introduce the concept of virtual worlds to academia have to have a deep knowledge of our institutional culture.  The needs of our student population are different than the needs of faculty, which are again different from the needs of administrators and staff.   The trick is trying to weave those needs together into virtual spaces and experiences that tap into what can only be done in virtual worlds or that virtual worlds do better than other platforms. People have to see how this technology meets their needs before it can scale up.  This is as much true for every other domain – business, non-profits, online communities – as it is for higher education.

And the questions and issues raised by the students, faculty, and staff at the University of Cincinnati are likely to be echoed across the spectrum of institutions who move into virtual worlds.    This technology forces us to renegotiate long standing and entrenched boundaries that DO exist in the physical world, but are highly permeable in the virtual world.   What can we learn from early adopters who are already negotiating these shifting boundaries to make it easier for the early majority?

I also think virtual worlds expose the limits of our creativity and imagination in ways that are.. somehow less obvious in the physical world.  Give a teacher the freedom to work in any kind of learning environment they can imagine rather than a traditional classroom, and you’re bound to get some blank stares.   And who can blame them!  They aren’t accustomed to having that kind of freedom and flexibility, and conceptualizing the actual SPACE in which learning takes place is not in their knowledge domain because in the physical world, someone else designs the classrooms.  And it isn’t just teachers, students, staff – it’s also me!  The plasticity of virtual worlds gives us tremendous freedom to create settings and experiences that can’t be replicated in the real world, but our imaginations are not yet caught up to the possibilities this technology makes possible.

I feel that way even after participating in virtual environments for over 15 years at this point.  Every day something new shakes my world and hints at possibilities I hadn’t even considered.  It’s fascinating stuff.   And I think in the long term, all the other issues – who owns your data, privacy issues, conflicts over copyright and IP – these issues don’t have simple black and white answers, the inter-relationships forming between individuals and individuals, and individuals with institutions, and institutions with institutions, and scaling all the way up to encompass the global digital community and ecosystem, these things are so complex, and emerging and evolving so quickly, I just can’t imagine that our existing institutions will survive in anything resembling their current forms.   I guess we’ll see!

Real Laws in Virtual Space

There were two speakers in the next panel who made a lasting impression on my overwhelmed brain.  Joshua Fairfield, Associate Prof of Law at Washington and Lee School of Law, and Gregory Lastowka, Professor at Rutgers School of Law.   This post is already getting long, so I’ll sum up quickly.  Joshua’s main point was that we are spending an awful lot of brain cycles worrying about how RL law is going to impact virtual worlds, and not enough time thinking about how the rules of virtual worlds would be horrific if implemented in RL. Good point!  From my quickly jotted notes as he was speaking:

Imagine IP licenses embedded in our toaster, our clothing, our cars, as we do have constraints on our use of virtual property. What then?   On privacy, we all know from the Bragg case sued Linden Lab, LL has ALL communications from people in world, all IMs, they were able to pull up IMs from years before.. All of those convos can be sometimes must be made available without a search warrant, no probably cause required. The essential irony – we go to escape and are under constant surveillance. Cell phoen tracks you through GPS whereever you go.  So the question is, are we losing our personhood?  Personhood, once property and privacy are in trouble, personhood will follow. We are a social network in our selves, the social networks we use are coming to OWN that tangle of connections that we are. We will hand over our personhood when all aspects of our behavior, posessions, creations, and communications are owned by .. someone else.

Gregory Lastowska’s talk was also good, again my raw notes:

Virtual Worlds as a separate jurisdiction.. virtual law as separate rules of physical jurisdiction. Play spaces are governed by a separate set of rules, we can look at different human societies, say the rules pertaining to education, religion, or family, they are sort of “special spheres” of human interaction, so there may be some precedent for game worlds, but that isn’t the trend we’re seeing, the courts are treating them just like web sites, so not seen as separate sites of jurisdiction which may not always be the right way. David Post, Jefferson’s Moose, hypothesize different laws for cyberspace. If we were to look at the internet and copyright law, we never would have developed our copyright law as we did because much of it doesn’t WORK as applied to the internet, the net is constant copying, every microsecond there are violations, and when it comes to financial importance, lawsuits, Napster etc. you see the general trend is to limit the growth of the technology in order to serve the copyright law, and that seems ,.. not good.

SO – if this were a separate space, what kind of law would we have?

Second the point on augmented reality, separate from VW issues? We will see some issues from VW will also be issues with augmented reality, primarily the difference between the customer/client and the owner/server operators, as we move towards cloud computing, balance between tech and law, Lessig’s Code..

Got interrupted, work phone call.  Then a meeting and I missed some of the next panels.  Bummer.  🙁

Virtual Self Governance

The last panel was about how communities existing in virtual worlds govern themselves, and I was really excited to talk about my own virtual community, Chilbo, in this setting.   Here are my slides from that presentation:


Now strangely, it seemed that one of the other panelists was upset that I had slides, that I talked specifically about how the Chilbo Community formed and was governed, and especially that my last slide invited people to visit and explore our town.  Frankly, I thought that’s what everyone on the panel was going to do, per the instructions I received from the conference organizers, so I’m not sure exactly where the miscommunication occurred.   If I wasn’t supposed to talk specifically about Chilbo, then I’m not sure what the point of the panel was!  Further, the other panelist also seemed to disbelieve my statements about our experience.  I didn’t expect any of the content I presented to be .. inflammatory or controversial, rather I thought the point of the discussion was to talk about some of the specifics of how different in world communities form, govern themselves, and use the tools and platforms to self-organize.

Perhaps I misread the tone of the other panelist, but I felt distinctly defensive after a bit.  As hard as it may be to believe, yes, we do actually mostly govern by consensus and no, acrimony, arguments, and strife are not very common – in fact, it’s quite rare.  That isn’t to say there are never any disagreements, just that differences of opinion or conflicting interests seem to be resolved with little fanfare and few fireworks.  I confess, I know very little about the inner-workings of CDS.  I’ve very pointedly made an effort to let the structure and processes of governing Chilbo evolve out of our specific culture, community, and needs, rather than trying to emulate or model it after something else – because in some sense, though human communities are obviously not new, the thing that IS new is the who’s, why’s, and how’s of how we have all come to be together in this particular virtual world, in this particular region, at this particular time.   Though as Rose Springvale said, we don’t want to reinvent the wheel (a good point!), I think we also have to give ourselves the freedom to imagine new ways of self-governing to break out of systems of governance that were developed in a pre-digital age.

In any case, I’m not suggesting that the Chilbo model is perfect for everyone and maybe wouldn’t work for any community but our own, and it isn’t even as if I understand exactly how or why it seems to be as successful as it is at constraining the discord that often appears in online communities, but for whatever reason, it seems to be working for us on a lot of levels, and so my goal was to share about our experience.  That really shouldn’t have offended anyone’s sensibilities, I don’t think.

Overall, I felt it was a great conference and I was sorry to have missed a couple of the panels, but I hope everyone else enjoyed it as much as I did and many thanks to all the folks who organized, attended, and participated.


8
Nov 09

Educause 09, Copyright/IP in Virtual Worlds, Dusan’s War

This week seemed impossibly full of interesting, with not enough time to process.  Wait, who am I kidding, I never feel there’s enough time to process, but this week more so than usual.  So a quick roundup to remind myself to keep thinking about these things:

EDUCAUSE 2009

I made a vow last year to reduce my conference travel.  It seemed prudent to cut back on expenses in this tough budget climate, but more than that, all the conferences began to run together in my mind, all the sessions sounding the same, the airports and hotel rooms one big blur.  From time to time I’ve felt sad to miss seeing good netfriends, at SLCC09 especially, but it also felt good to take a step back and not be so darned harried.  Until this past week, when so many people I admire gathered at EDUCAUSE 2009, and for the first time I felt a tinge of real regret.  Because it sounds like maybe this year’s EDUCAUSE breathed a bit of fresh air into the room.

Fortunately, I was able to follow at least some of what was happening through the ever fascinating tweets of EDUCAUSE attendees, and the conference organizers (bless them) streamed many sessions on the web, so those of us who couldn’t attend don’t get too terribly left behind.  I haven’t watched all the sessions, but two in particular that I want to keep thinking about:

Point/Counterpoint:  Disrespectful and Time-Wasting, or Engaged and Transformative
The Mile High Twitter Debate (Gardner Campbell and Bruce Maas)

I first met Gardner Campbell (@gardnercambell) through an NMC Summer Conference several years ago (another conference I was sad to miss this year) and I’ve been a faithful reader of his blog Gardner Writes ever since.  His passion for teaching, and for exploring the use of technology in teaching in meaningful ways, has been illuminating.  He’s the kind of faculty member I want to learn from and collaborate with, and he’s always been unbelievably approachable for such a rock star.  😉   So when I heard he was taking the pro-Twitter position in a Point/Counterpoint session, it seemed like a must-see and I wasn’t disappointed.

From now on, when administrators and faculty ask me what the point of Twitter is, I’m not even going to discuss it, I’ll just send them a link to this video.  If they aren’t convinced after that, there’s no hope.

Thanks to Gardner and Bruce Mass for a great debate and a terrific resource we can share with others.

It’s About Time:  Getting Our Values Around Copyright Right
(Lawrence Lessig)

The other “must-watch” video from the conference is really a must-watch for more than just educators.  Netizens everywhere need to be thinking about this issue, especially in light of the ACTA treaty negotiations that were leaked this week (see the Electronic Freedom Foundation’s take, ReadWriteWeb, Wired, and more – universal sentiment is “BAD – VERY BAD”).  I’m beyond outraged about ACTA and hope to make a separate post on that topic soon.

In any case, Lessig delivered a powerful talk about copyright that I hope you’ll take the time to review.  You won’t be sorry you did.

On Copyright, Intellectual Property Rights, & the Rule of Law in Virtual Worlds

These issues, of copyright and intellectual property, are not abstract for many Second Life users.  Indeed, I often imagine that these Second Life content creators (the ones who make the virtual clothes, hair, buildings, cars, etc. that you can buy in Second Life or on the web) are likely some of the very people who downloaded pirated music, software, or movies without a second thought in earlier times, but now the tables are turned after experiencing what it is like to create something from your own imagination, market it, sell it, and have it stolen out from under them.  (Reminder to self, experience is truly the best teacher. )

I refer to the great angst and gnashing of teeth over content theft in virtual worlds.  Linden Lab responded to the lawsuit filed by SexGen bed maker this week, a group of content creators staged a 48 hour period of creating nothing to protest content theft, Ben Duranske urged everyone to register their copyright with the US government, and the very controversial Emerald Viewer team filed a DMCA notice to Google about the much vilified Neilife viewer.

Oh, and by the way, Michael Risch at the West Virginia University College of Law makes a compelling case that the rule of law has been an abysmal failure in virtual worlds.  From the abstract:

The article finds – unsurprisingly – that virtual worlds now lack many of the elements of the rule of law. Which aspects fail is more surprising, however. Provider agreements and computer software, the sources of regulation that are most often criticized as “anti-user,” provide the best theoretical hope for achieving the rule of law, even if they currently fail in practice. On the contrary, widely proposed “reforms,” such as community norms, self-regulation, and importation of real-world law face both theoretical and practical barriers to implementation of the rule of law in virtual worlds.

What are we to make of all this copyright/IP mess?  I dunno.  I don’t have any easy answers either.

But I have long argued that one of the greatest benefits of being involved in virtual worlds like Second Life is that you get to see some of the great issues of our time being played out in another context, a different context than the “real world” – a smaller context – and that this gives us a new perspective with which to view what’s happening in the “real world”.   It’s so difficult for me to articulate this thought, I wish I could do a better job of it, but it’s the primary reason I feel like educators – no – academics and intellectuals of all stripes – should be involved in what’s happening in virtual worlds.  This copyright issue is just one of many examples, it’s fascinating to see how it plays out in the context of a conversation at EDUCAUSE versus the context and conversations of Second Life.

On one hand, we hear Lessig imploring educators and edtech IT folks to find ways to honor the rights of content creators in ways that do not turn our kids into terrorists.  He says, and I agree, that the creativity unleashed by mashups in the digital age cannot be stopped.  We hear Lessig warning us that by forcing people to live a a life outside the law, we undermine the very rule of law that democracy requires.  He urges us to help find a third way, a middle road between copyright extremists on both ends of the spectrum.

In another context, in the microcosm of virtual worlds and Second Life, we hear that the rule of law has yet to even emerge, all while we watch from the sidelines as real life courts are asked to adjudicate a potentially precedent-setting case about virtual content theft.   We hear some virtual world content creators arguing they must have the right to back up their work, to port their work, the products and artifacts of their creativity, into whatever medium they desire, whatever grid they happen to be on.   Other content creators are arguing that so long as the tools to make this backup/portability possible can also be used to steal THEIR content and creativity, these tools should NOT be available.  Even though they already are.  And, I think they are here to stay, no matter how much Linden Lab tries to enforce some kind of 3rd party registration for viewers.

Much to think about.  And I wonder,  what would the content creators who staged the 48 hour “create nothing” protest say to Lessig’s point?

I’ve run out of time to finish this post, and didn’t even get to the other big stories of the week.  I’ll add some links to remind myself, because they all play into this conversation even if I can’t synthesize it all at the moment:

Linden Lab offers standalone “behind the firewall” servers at $50k a year price – are they crazy?

Dusan talks about the Lab being at war with itself, and humanity at war with ourselves, and with technology – what?  I want to respond to this, I want to argue some of us ARE stopping to think about it – obsessively thinking about it even –  but it’s just all happening so damned fast (see this post, I can’t even get a few hours to properly synthesize):

But there’s a Masonic feeling to the whole thing: we’re not just individual actors contributing to the common good, we’re individual actors contributing to the evolution of digital spaces that have no governing body, and we’re hoping that in so doing our collective contributions will lead to a common good, without always stopping to have much of a conversation about it, although we start to get worried if it happens all over again: if Google actually turns out to BE the next Microsoft, although it’s typically only the big, easy-to-spot targets that we worry about – the rest of it is too granular, too innocuous, the metadata is invisible to us, it’s all held in those windowless rooms.

Healthcare reform passes the House after bitter partisan vote – will it actually improve anything?  Is this REALLY what democracy has come to in the digital age?  Am I the only one disgusted with the sausage making mess?

A fellow from the team writing recommendations for the National Education Technology Plan comes to Second Life for feedback – did he get anything useful from the process?  I greatly appreciated the effort of the ISTE organizers and all the speakers, and that he made the effort to reach out to cutting edge educators, but I found the process chaotic, frustrating, and unsure what the take-away was.

I’ll have to stop here.  Too much to process this week.


22
Jul 08

SL Events: BlogHer, ISTE, & Virtual Policy 2008

So many things happening right now, I haven’t had time to even blog about them all! Two events happening today and one archived event below.. hope to see you in-world!

ISTE Speaker Series Event
Tuesday, July 22, 2008 – 6PM SLT/9PM EST

ISTE Auditorium

ISTE Speaker Series Event: Metanomics: bridging the virtual worlds of business and K-20 education
Location: ISTE’s new four-sim auditorium: http://slurl.com/secondlife/ISTE%20Island%203/17/237/25

Robert Bloomfield (SL: Beyers Sellers) is the host of Metanomics, a weekly broadcast (Mondays at Noon SLT/PDT) focusing on current trends and developments impacting vitrual worlds. Their archived events listing powerfully illustrates the depth and breadth of their weekly productions. ISTE is proud to be partnering with Metanomics to bring our audiences together in the hopes of facilitating dialogue, networking, information sharing, and join innovation in Second Life. Beyers will be joined by our very own Chris Collins (SL: Fleep Tuque, a correspondent for Metanomics) in a lively, open discussion surrounding the question, “How can Metanomics, and the Metanomics archives, inform K-20 educators, librarians and instructional technologists who would like to use information about business and policy in virtual worlds?” This will be a voice presentation, please be sure you have a working voice setup prior to the event!

Virtual Policy 2008: A conference on innovation and governance in virtual worlds
London, England – July 22 & 23, 2008

Virtual Policy 2008 in Second Life

SL Location – Serious Games Institute hosting on SGI Nexus island: http://slurl.com/secondlife/SGI%20Nexus/91/100/24
Schedule: click here

Virtual Policy 08 is set to be a land mark event focusing on global virtual worlds sited in a European legal and regulatory context. The key policy themes for this year’s event are:

• Intellectual property rights
• Financial transaction
• Child online & education
• Governance frameworks & Innovation

The event is targeted at industry representatives, legal scholars, policy makers and regulators from around Europe and the rest of the world and is a unique opportunity to interact directly with key stakeholders.

Virtual Policy is organised by the Virtual Policy Network (tVPN: www.virtualpolicy.net ) in conjunction with The Department of Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform with New York Law School providing program support.

BlogHer 2008

BlogHer08 - Education & Training in Virtual Worlds Panel

This past Saturday, I participated in a BlogHer panel in world. The conference took place in San Francisco and in Second Life and our panel covered Second Life as an Educational & Training tool. Scan the liveblog notes for the highlights on the panel.

Zemanta Pixie

30
Jun 08

5 Minute University

Thanks to Harold Jarche for the link.


20
May 08

Favorite Quote of the Day: Water Buckets

Though I don’t agree with everything on the site, I came across this quote on Salon and it just fits:

Some days it feels like I’m watching a house on fire. And one idiot wants to put it out with a machine gun. The other one wants to use grenades. And I’m standing there with a bucket of water and they look at me like I’m crazy.

This was posted in the context of a series of quotes about the insanity of the “War on Drugs” in the US, but it applies to any number of current issues. I’m reminded of it again after watching some post-election coverage following the Kentucky and Oregon primaries with some talking heads on MSNBC discussing the electoral math, the pledged and super delegate counts, and the big question about whether or not Michigan and Florida’s delegates will count and by which proportion for which candidate, and which proportion of pledges versus super delegates.

By the time the segment was over, I understood less than I did when I started watching, and I was left wondering if this was any way to pick a leader in a time when the world seems like an awfully complex and worrisome place, and at a time when I know in my bones that we’re facing global challenges beyond anything we’ve ever faced before.

At this point, I’m not sure if the Democratic party is holding water buckets or grenades, but it sure seems to me like Barack Obama is leading the bucket brigade. I hope this contest between the Democratic candidates is over soon so we can get on with the business of putting out the fires.