government | MIT Center for Civic Media

Government in the context of civic media work is any form of civil authority at any level from local to national and international. It can refer to entities that are elected or appointed. The term also includes the processes involved in government: deliberation, voting, election campaigns, and making policy.

Surveillance in the Telegraph Era

This week in class we discussed how the telegraph started shaping communication after it was invented. My final project is about domestic surveillance, so I thought it would be interesting to look at what type of surveillance got dreamed up when we had just the telegraph.

Nowadays we are subject to PRISM, a surveillance program that allows agencies to query stored communication at various technology companies that match court-approved search terms. Back when we had the telegraph there was a similar program called Project SHAMROCK. The project involved accumulating all telegraphic signals that enter or exit the United States. This data got printed and passed down to law enforcement agencies, who sifted through it all to find evidence. It can be thought of as a physical manifestation of database querying we use nowadays to match search terms, except that comparison breaks down because the SHAMROCK investigators get to see a bunch of other communications in the search for information on an open investigation. By the 60's they did actually have an electronic system for searching for keywords.

Applying Decoding Models to Privacy Issues

How do we find the hegemonic viewpoint surrounding mass surveillance in America? President Obama introduces the issue in a speech: "At the dawn of our Republic, a small, secret surveillance committee borne out of the “The Sons of Liberty” was established in Boston. And the group’s members included Paul Revere." The mentioning of Paul Revere is important. He appeals to legitimacy by immediately framing the issue in a historic context, and associating with it a prominent heroic figure of American history. He continues tacitly justifying the current situation, and takes note of "potential for abuse," but then takes a particularly enlightening turn, relaying that "here is an inevitable bias not only within the intelligence community, but among all of us who are responsible for national security, to collect more information about the world, not less. So in the absence of institutional requirements for regular debate -- and oversight that is public, as well as private or classified -- the danger of government overreach becomes more acute.

We Should Have the Right to Trust Our iPhone Passcodes

Smartphones have become an almost universal tool for the masses, mainly as a simple gateway to the Internet. Though, in recent years these devices have increasingly become personalized and full of even more intimate data. Some would argue that our smartphones are extensions of ourselves because they could function as an "extended mind" and will start becoming a hub for internet connected devices that could leave behind real-time footprints of their users. The design of the devices themselves have shifted to reflect this closer intimacy between users and their devices. New iPhones have fingerprint scanners so that people can't just look over your shoulder while you type your password and iOS has tighter rules on when the iPhone requires a passcode if the fingerprint scanner is enabled.

Civics in an age of mistrust and decentralization

I regularly coordinate a salon over at the New England Complex Systems Institute. For the January salon at NECSI, Ethan and Erhardt led a discussion and workshop on civics in a distributed society. We explored how people with influence/power/money try to create change in the world, how those affected by those changes view and respond to those attempts and changes, and also what we would do as people of influence/power/money.

Many thanks to Ethan and Erhardt for their valuable time and attention as well as images used in this blog entry, and to Erhardt especially for designing such a great workshop, and for suggesting edits to the blog itself. Y’all are pretty great. ❤ - w

Boston Civic Media Conference: Institutions Panel

This is a liveblog account created by Christina Wilson, Becky Michelson, Alex Eby and Jedd Cohen at the Boston Civic Media Metrics & Methods Conference.

(Crossposted to the Engagement Lab blog)

A New Crowd for Old Problems: How You Can Start Impact Investing Locally

Earlier this week I gave a talk at Stanford's Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society, publishers of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, on civic crowdfunding. I was excited to share how my research into crowd-based community finance has evolved, and how Neighborly's launch this summer will make impact investing a local reality for the first time in the US. Here's the talk.

Andrew Keen: The Internet is Not the Answer

Live notes from a lunch talk by Andrew Keen. Notes by Ed Platt and Ali Hashmi.

Ethan introduces Andrew as a former silicon valley entrepreneur, then historian. He’s since focused on understanding the culture of silicon valley.

Andrew set out to write about the history of the Internet. Although the book is called “The Internet is Not the Answer,” he thinks it needs to be the answer. In the book, he concludes that so far the Internet is not the ‘answer’ and that the digital revolution is not doing what it expected it to do. He suggests that “The Internet” can’t be described as a single entity. Rather he sees the beginning of a “Networked Age.” Since at least 1995, it’s been common to hear that “it’s too early” to make conclusions about the Internet. He argues that we can.

A new way to invest in communities

For the past couple of years I've been thinking about how to bring the energy, potential and ambition of donation/reward crowdfunding to community development and civic engagement. I was lucky to be an early employee of Spacehive, one of the first movers in the space, I put together the first study of the field (with the help of Ethan and others at MIT), and I got to watch as the idea of civic crowdfunding caught the attention of the media, researchers, and finally, heads of state. I got to watch some incredible people make change for their neighborhoods and their communities.

Unpacking open data: power, politics and the influence of infrastructures

Liveblog of a #Berkman lunch written with Erhardt Graeff.

Tim Davies (@timdavies) is a social researcher with interests in civic participation and civic technologies. He has spent the last five years focussing on the development of the open government data landscape around the world, from his MSc work at the Oxford Internet Institute on Data and Democracy, the first major study of, through to leading a 12-country study on the Emerging Impacts of Open Data in Developing Countries for the World Wide Web Foundation.

A broad coalition of companies, governments, and other entities have come together to open data. This work is based on the belief that opening data creates myriad benefits to society, for transparency, for economic value, and other benefits.

Does open data reconfigure power relationships in the political space? The past, promise, and reality of open data reminds wide.

Citizens Rising - Liveblog

Live notes from the Citizens Rising event at MIT on Friday, Sept 19, 2014.


Daniel Miller opens. Next, Daniel Wong speaks. He worked as a designer in 2009. Bad news about the economy and the government weighed on him. His sister introduced him to Lessig's work and he got involved with Rootstrikers, attended meetings, led meetings. But then he got a new job, and activism fell by the wayside, until he came across an article on Gilens's work suggesting that the US government operates as an oligarchy. He introduces Martin Gilens.

Martin Gilens

Gilens opens by showing us "the most unsettling line in American politics." He continues to explain that the near-horizontal slope of the line is the significant part. It represents the probability of a policy to be adopted as a function of how popular it is with the American people. The most popular policies are virtually no more likely than the least popular. His results suggest that the views of Americans have very little influence on US policy.