At the Foundations of Information Justice <ul><li>Matt Butcher </li></ul><ul><li>Philosophy, Loyola University Chicago </li></ul>
The Main Point Control over information is distributed unjustly. As information and computing technology (ICT) grows increasingly important, attention ought to be given to the foundational role ICT plays in an information economy. We ought to ask whether the current state of the information economy conduces to justice. I argue that if we focus on the foundational role of ICT in the nascent information economies of impoverished regions, we can reduce (if not eliminate) some of the injustices found there.
About the Presentation The presentation will be in two parts: <ul><li>The Problem: Controlling Information </li></ul><ul><li>A Foundation for a Solution: Free and Open Source Software </li></ul>
Part I: The Problem <ul><li>HGS Patenting Aids-resistent Gene </li></ul><ul><li>Monsanto's Seeds </li></ul><ul><li>Microsoft vs. Indonesia </li></ul><ul><li>PDVSA vs. INTESA (SAIC) </li></ul>Some Examples of Information Justice Issues
IPR in a Nutshell Information can be, and is, treated as property. There are two main forms of intellectual property rights that we are concerned with: 1. Copyright: Owning Expressions. 2. Patent: Owning Implementations. The original goal was to balance the rights of the creator with the rights of the user.
HGS and Monsanto <ul><li>HGS claims to own the patent on an AIDS resistent gene. What effect will claims like this have? </li></ul><ul><li>Monsanato owns patents on RR seeds as well as other GM seeds -- and they agressively enforce their IP. </li></ul>
Microsoft vs. Indonesia <ul><li>Microsoft claimed Indonesia owed them license fees for software on 50,000 computers. </li></ul><ul><li>$524USD/computer: 47.73% per capita GDP of Indonesia. </li></ul><ul><li>Of 176 surveyed countries, in 47 the cost of a Windows license was greater than the per capita GDP (See Rishab Ghosh) . </li></ul>
PDVSA vs. INTESA Venezuala outsourced PDVSA's operations to INTESA. When PDVSA announced a plan to phase out INTESA's role, INTESA shut down operations and refused to grant PDVSA access to their own data, citing intellectual property rights.
Information Wealth Owning Information Intellectual Property Rights law has increasingly favored the owner over the user. Information Wealth Out of such a system, a division has formed between those who have such rights over information and those who do not. Those who have rights over a wealth of information are the information wealthy. Those who have control over little or no information are information poor.
Information Oligarchy An oligarchy is an unbalanced form of government in which the wealthy rule over the general populace, and they see their role as essentially the pursuit of their own interests. (see Aristotle's Politics III.8 For Aristotle, the imbalance is not the result of the form of government, but from the mis-application of the "equals to equals" definition of justice. In an information oligarchy , the small group of people who control the information determine the conditions under which information is exchanged and used.
Misconceiving the Divide The "Digital Divide" is not the right conceptual framework. <ul><li>Scope Is Too Narrow: Just focuses on digital computers. </li></ul><ul><li>Information Poverty Is Broader Category: deals with all forms of information, as well as other access restrictions (linguistic and educational, for example). </li></ul><ul><li>The Biggest Problem Escapes: There is no room for Intellectual Property Rights in the Digital Divide discussions. </li></ul>
The Digital Divide <ul><li>Scope Is Too Narrow: Just focuses on digital computers. </li></ul><ul><li>Information Poverty Is Broader Category: deals with all forms of information, as well as other access restrictions (linguistic and educational, for example). </li></ul><ul><li>The Biggest Problem Escapes: There is no room for Intellectual Property Rights in the Digital Divide discussions. </li></ul>The "Digital Divide" is not the right conceptual framework.
The Question How can we reduce information poverty in regions where there is a noticeable absence of access to information resources, a noticeable absence of information wealth, and where such absences negatively effect human wellbeing?
Part II: A Solution <ul><li>Foundations of a Solution </li></ul><ul><li>The problem is to big to solve in one step. Can we isolate a starting point? A problem perhaps more foundational than others? </li></ul><ul><li>The New Information Model </li></ul><ul><li>Network + Personal Computer = Primary Information Source. </li></ul>
A Foundational Approach The two lowest tiers – those closest to the user – are the ones in which we are interest.
Where Is the Poor's Poverty? At each layer of the netork information model I presented, the information poor have no ownership. They do not even own the information rights to their own computer OS and software. Considered at a regional level, the problem goes like this: to get rights to use other people's information, the local economy sends money to foreign regions. How can an information impoverished region improve itself under such circumstances?
Correlary Problems <ul><li>Information is Expensive </li></ul><ul><li>IPR Law + Contracts + Code = Predatory Enviroment </li></ul><ul><li>Local Needs and Foreign Whims </li></ul><ul><li>There is no clear way to improve information wealth </li></ul>
Potential Solution #1 Vanquish Intellectual Property Rights The Idea: Get rid of the notion of IPR, and give up on legislating it. The Reason It Won't Work: "Intellectual property law is clearly a good. No modern society can flourish unless it accords at least some protection to creative work." (Lessig, Free Culture).
Potential Solution #2 Policy! The Idea: Work toward establishing international policies that promote information justice. The (Main) Reason It Won't Work : The very people responsible for creating such a policy are those in the information oligarchy. This solution requires a sea change as the first step. We might also consider generally whether policy ought to be the first choice for solving this problem.
A Free Market Solution "A system aspiring to social justice aspires to liberty, and a system of free markets seems to promise liberty, because it allows people to trade goods and services as they wish." (Sunstein, Free Markets and Social Justice. There is already a solution shown viable in the free market: Free and Open Source Software.
How Software Works <ul><li>To understand the proposed solution, we need a little background knowledge. </li></ul><ul><li>The Binary: The chunk of data that can be run by the computer. </li></ul><ul><li>Source Code: The human-readible instructions that can be used to generate a binary. </li></ul><ul><li>Proprietary software (like Microsoft Windows) is distributed only as a binary, and the license says you can't modify that binary in any way. </li></ul>
Free and Open Source Software A piece of FOSS code must grant the following four freedoms: 1. The freedom to run the program, for any purpose. 2. The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs. 3. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor. 4. The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits.
In Practice <ul><li>Makes free what needs to be free, but allows for economic development </li></ul><ul><li>Provides a wealth of "working knowledge" about how to develop new software. Re-opens the venerable tradition of learning by imitation. </li></ul><ul><li>Frees one group from the outside interests of others. Countries and cultural groups can tailor the software to reflect their standards, goals, and values. </li></ul><ul><li>Through these, it can enable such regions to move out of information poverty, and become productive contributors (in an economically feasible way). </li></ul>What FOSS does in practice is grant liberties to the user. How does it promote justice?
Conclusion and Discussion I began with a sketch of the dangers of an information oligarchy, particularly as it pertains to ICT, which I see as a foundational layer of the information economy. I argued that an information oligarchy left unchecked leads to widespread injustice and inequality. But the negative effects can be stymied without radical changes to the economic or policy landscape. I propose that this be done by introducing Free and Open Source Software in foundational positions, making it available to those who might otherwise find themselves forced into a caste of information-poor .
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