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STS Forum Notes
2 min read

STS Forum Notes

Attended in the UT STS forum on Surveillance this morning.   I came in a few minutes before the program started and they had a group of actors wandering around snapping photos and making some general point of harassing attendees to trade “anonymity dollars” for masks that would protect the audience from being surveilled.


I fell for it, hook, line, and sinker.  I initially declined the thumbprint scan at the front door to get some dollars, but gave in when the guy basically said, “Oh, come on, be a good sport. This is part of the forum.”  Inside, I tried to prevent one guy from filming me and even said “I would rather leave than have you continue filming me”, but he did not relent and clearly I gave him the reaction he was hoping for so he kept coming back to me.  I’m a sucker and I’m sure they will get a big laugh out of it when they review the footage.

They screened a short film Surveillance and You, produced by 3 STS graduate students that was quite good for providing a remedial level of awareness.  It should be mandatory viewing for avg. joe citizen who may be a little unsure about how much data is being collected about him.

Dr. Philip Doty. associate professor at UT School of Information, talks about the myth of perfect information – provides a reality check on the level of information and ability to mine data and cautions against policy decisions that revolve around the assumption that information is mine-able.

The breakout session w/ Dan Updegrove ‚Äì Special Assistant (former Vice President), Office of Vice President for Information Technology, Information Technology Services (UT Austin), was probably the most interesting part of the forum — it really didn’t focus on surveillance, but addressed a smattering of issues from the IT world at the university in a focused Q&A format.  He talked about and answered well lots of questions about RIAA, Privacy, and Secure transactions as they apply to university.  He told the story, a little bitterly and w/ a bit of gloating over the end result, of Christopher Phillips, the student who broke the UT computer system to glean SS numbers of applicants.

“Google is a fantastic search engine.  GMail is a valuable and useful email system  Google and GMail together is pathological.”

Generational and geographic differences was a recurring topic.  GenNext is very used to technology invading private lives and bubbling them up to the public sphere.  The US is hyperfocused on technology and individualism and private spheres (as opposed to focused on community building, sharing, and social justice).

Feedback-wise, I would say that focusing on audience questions was a fantastic way to structure the day.  Hearing each panelist give a presentation for a very limited amount of time helped frame their particular perspectives.  All presenters answered questions confidently and with an appropriate level of depth.   Audience questions were hit or miss, but were all handled well.

It was a little hard to piece together all the various threads into a usable takeaway, unfortunately.   The forum was great to raise the general level of paranoia, but did not follow through with obvious, immediately workable solutions.  What small thing can I do today? (note: I did not sit through the optional lecture on buckling down your personal computer, however the solutions I feel we are missing are more societal and political in nature)

Conversation drifted away from surveillance often and became a more general discussion of technology intersecting with civil liberties.   Narrowing the overall scope may be useful.