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Is the Jury Still Out on Zoom?

The COVID-19 Roundup

Overreliance on platforms like Zoom could result in a further loss of rights for those adversely affected by predictive tech and the digital divide.

The COVID-19 Roundup is a curated list for social sector practitioners and policymakers navigating the complexities of the global pandemic.

01. Zoom Justice, the New Normal?

Three months after the first “shelter in place” order was given in Northern California, quarantine culture continues to change the way Americans work across a range of institutions, including the judicial system. This week, The Markup reported on what is believed to be the nation’s “first wholly online” jury trial. At first glance, changes amount to little more than swearing in jurors over Zoom or being instructed not to Google about the case “in another tab” during the trial. But overreliance on Zoom could result in a further loss of civil liberties for those already adversely affected by predictive technologies and the digital divide.

02. Filming Police Misconduct Safely and Ethically

Human rights organization WITNESS has shared a step-by-step guide for activists and others who encounter violent or discriminatory policing. Videos filmed by protestors and bystanders not only help to expose wrongful actions when they occur, but as official records they can also inspire support from policymakers and the public long after the initial effects of police violence subside. As media activist Palika Makam writes, “Using the camera in your pocket can be a valuable way to ensure the world bears witness to abusive policing and systemic racism, help hold authorities accountable, and advocate for the real safety of our communities.”

03. “Stop Trying to Plug Holes with Apps”

While tech developers large and small race to build a contact tracing app for COVID-19, Ada Lovelace Institute’s Carly Kind says, “We still haven’t seen the evidence to support the fact that apps themselves can be an effective public health intervention around this crisis.” In the latest episode of the Big Tech podcast, Kind presents the risks associated with contact tracing and explains the importance of establishing long-term technical infrastructures designed for a more inclusive civil society.

04. Privacy Advocate Warns Against Contact Tracing App

Early adopter? Think twice before downloading Citizen. The self-described “safety app” recently launched a contact tracing feature that gives details on COVID-19 down to the county level, and alerts users when they come into contact with those who test positive for the virus. Data & Society’s Michele Gilman is skeptical of the app’s privacy policy, which “leaves open the possibility of sharing personal information as necessary ‘to fulfill other citizen app features.’ They must have something in mind, even if it’s to gain a million users for something in the future.” Despite its claim to transparency, the private company seeded by Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund has gone to great lengths to bury its past.

05. Apply to the COVID-19 Litigation Fund Before June 28

The Digital Freedom Fund supports partners in Europe to advance digital rights through strategic litigation. For a limited time, Digital Freedom Fund (DFF) is taking applications in support of cases challenging digital rights violations committed in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. DFF’s Thomas Vink: “Activists and litigators need more resources to take litigation to mitigate the negative consequences of the human rights violations occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic. We set up the COVID-19 Litigation Fund for this purpose.”

06. Why Creating Early Insight Into Crises Is So Important

The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the need for data and the value of informing response strategies with models that increase trust in humanitarian contexts. That’s why the Centre for Humanitarian Data is working with The Rockefeller Foundation to increase the use of predictive analytics to develop new models, provide a peer review process, and close data gaps in anticipation of humanitarian response. As the Centre’s Sarah Telford writes, “There is an opportunity to rethink how we make decisions in the humanitarian sector. But the shift from responding once a crisis has materialized to acting ahead of a possible crisis is a big one, with implications for affected people, governments, and donors alike.”

07. New Data Governance Tool for COVID-19 Projects

The GovLab’s Stefaan G. Verhulst and Andrew Zahuranec see the risk in using any type of data, regardless of motive, especially when serving vulnerable groups. “When designed responsibly, data-driven initiatives could provide the public and their leaders the ability to be more effective in addressing the virus. [But] organizations need to be intentional in how they work throughout the data lifecycle.” To this end, The GovLab’s Decision Provenance Mapping Tool is at the ready for hundreds of data-driven projects launched in recent months to slow the spread of COVID-19. For more on these projects, see the #Data4COVID19 repository, featured in our May 30 roundup.

08. Insights from 30 Years of Defending Human Rights with Tech

In March, APC, an international network of CSOs, called on its members to share insights on the COVID-19 pandemic. Reflecting the community’s collective 30-year experience in human rights and technology, the digital repository explores topics such as the digital divide, social isolation, misinformation, journalist safety, free speech, privacy, and more. Founded in 1990, APC empowers human rights and environmental activists through the strategic use of information and communication technologies (ICTs).

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