Publication: Export Controls of Surveillance Technologies

This report was prepared by the CIHR with the contributions from Ben Wagner and Joanna Bronowicka. The report will feed into the discussion at the Global Conference on Cyberspace in The Hague on April 16-17, 2015.

In recent years, there has been a growing concern about oppressive reminds using surveillance technologies in ways that led to human rights violations. A growing body of evidence shows that oppressive regimes purchase surveillance technologies to monitor and censor citizens online, thereby violating the right to privacy and freedom of expression.

CIHR expert workshop in Berlin showed that governments, public institutions, civil society and majority of private sector actors share a common concern: preventing surveillance technologies from getting into the hands of oppressive governments. The paper recommends four avenues for future international policy initiatives: transparency and impact assessment, smart regulation, the use of EU policy instruments as well as the creation of a global playing field.

You can download the full report here.

CIHR at the GCCS2015: Watch live

The Centre for Internet and Human Rights will be participating in the Global Conference on Cyberspace in The Hague on April 16-17, 2015. The CIHR prepared the background papers for two of the sessions of the Conference. Both of those sessions will be streamed online at the GCCS2015 website.

April 16, 15:00 – 16:15

Ethics of Algorithms: From offensive content to self-driving cars

Background paper can be downloaded here.

Twitter hashtag: #EOA2015

April 17, 2015, 9:15 – 10.45

Updating of export controls of dual use surveillance technologies

Background paper can be downloaded here.

Twitter Hashtag: #EXC2015

Publication: The Ethics of Algorithms: from radical content to self-driving cars

Following a two-day event on the Ethics of Algorithms a report was prepared by the CIHR with contributions from Zeynep Tufekci, Jillian C. York, Ben Wagner and Frederike Kaltheuner. The report will feed into the discussion at the Global Conference on Cyberspace in The Hague on April 16-17, 2015.

Algorithms are increasingly used to make decisions for us, about us, or with us. From areas of life that did not exist more than a decade ago, like online search or social media news areas, to fields where decisions used to be made exclusively via human judgement, such as health care or employment, algorithms are becoming important tools, or even sole decision-makers.

The report argues that three attributes cause algorithms to raise ethical challenges: the fact that many algorithms are complex and opaque, that they operate as gatekeepers and that they are rapidly encroaching into “subjective” decision-making where there is no right or wrong answer.

You can download the full report here.

CIHR Event Inspires Discussions about the Ethics of Algorithms

During a two-day event CIHR brought together leading experts from academia, technology and civil society to discuss the ethical dimensions of algorithms.

The exchanges initiated during the Ethics of Algorithms event in Berlin helped to deepen our understanding of the way algorithms govern our lives now and refine questions for future research. Discussions in Berlin will feed into the discussions at the Global Conference on Cyberspace, which will take place in the Hague on 16 and 17 April 2015.

Several participants shared their summaries and insights from the event. According to Mathias Weber, the author of a blog Beyond Silicon Valley: “It is high time to leave an observing standpoint as a society and take on our responsibility as creators, critics and academics”.

Beatrice Martini adds in her blogpost: “It’s clear that we need a new and multi-disciplinary understanding of how the Internet and the algorithms keeping it in motion work, and what does this mean from a global, intersectional perspective. It’s a matter of human rights, and exercise of power, and it’s crucial for our societies to work eagerly on underlining that freedom of expression, plurality and privacy are fundamental rights we all need to fight for and defend.”

Florian Gilberg writes for (in German): “For businesses or intelligence agencies, the ethical dimension of this automatic decision-making is often not an issue. The debate about the dangers and opportunities of these formulas is still nascent. The Ethics of Algorithm conference this week gave it a strong impetus.”

For more information:

– Input from participants under Twitter hashtag #EOA2015

– Keynote speech by Zeynep Tufekci:

– Interview with Ben Wagner for Deutschland Radio Kultur:

– Youtube video: Zeynep Tufekci about the ethics of algorithms and Keynote of the 2nd Day

– Beyondsiliconvalley “The Ethics of Algorithms: A Human Debate on Machine Code in Berlin” by Matthias Weber

– “The Ethics of Algorithms: notes, emerging questions and resources”

– “Über die ethische Dimension von Algorithmen – Zeynep Tufekci und die Konferenz #EOA2015″ by Florian Gilberg

Event: The Ethics of Algorithms, March 9-10, Berlin

Date: March 9 and 10, 2015
Location: Technical University of Berlin, Hardenbergstr. 16 -18, 10623 Berlin
Chatham House Rule

NOTE: Registration for March 10 is now closed. You can still register for March 9 until midnight on Friday March 6.

Algorithms, or computational systems that make decisions, are rapidly spreading to different areas of society. Algorithms are used to decide who should be hired and flagged as a terrorism suspect; which news gets highlighted and which stories disappear from social media feeds.

As a result, the subjective decisions by institutions and companies who design computer algorithms to process information, may directly interfere with freedom of speech. Ensuring that such algorithms are in line with human rights standards will be a challenge for governments and companies in the coming years.

This is why at the beginning of March, the CIHR will bring together leading experts from academia, technology and civil society to discuss the ethical dimensions of algorithms. The event will be hosted by the Technical University of Berlin.

The event is organised with the support of supported by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs as part of a wider policy effort to promote human rights online. Discussions in Berlin will feed into the discussions at the Global Conference on Cyberspace, which will take place in the Hague on 16 and 17 April 2015. More information about GCCS2015 here.

March 9

On the first day, we will discuss algorithms in the context of social media, terrorism and freedom of expression. Extremists of all kinds are increasingly using social media to recruit and raise funds. January’s attacks in Paris, have spurred a widespread debate over how to identify terrorists and prevent radicalization on social networks But what are the possible effects on freedom of expression?

Confirmed speakers:

  • Richard Allan, Facebook
  • Ahmed Ghappour, UC Hastings, College of the Law
  • Jillian York, Electronic Frontier Foundation
  • Frank LaRue, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression (2008-14)
  • Mohamad Najem Social Media Exchange (SMEX)
  • Kate Coyer, Central European University
  • Emily Goldberg Knox, UC Hastings

Agenda available here.

March 10

On March 10, we will grapple with the power and role of algorithms in society. What ethical challenges do we face now and in the future?  Should governments regulate algorithms? Should algorithms be transparent or a black box? How will algorithms change the social sciences? And what are the ethical dilemmas of designing self-driving cars?

Confirmed speakers:

  • Zeynep Tufekci, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
  • Robindra Prabhu, Norwegian Board of Technology
  • Fieke Jansen, Tactical Tech
  • Renata Avila,  World Wide Web Foundation
  • Leon Hempel Technical University of Berlin
  • Kave Salamatian, Université de Savoie
  • Frank Pasquale, University of Maryland.

Agenda available here.

Chatham House Rule
This event is held under the Chatham House Rule. Participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.


Registration for March 10 is now closed. You can still register for March 9 event until midnight Friday, March 6. In order to register, please email your full name to office[at]

Panel Discussion: Export controls of surveillance technology – state of play and the way forward

Experts from civil society, industry, governments and EU institutions met in Berlin on Thursday, February 5, 2015 to discuss policies on export controls of surveillance technologies. The event was organised by Centre for Internet and Human Rights (CIHR) with the support from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Participants agreed that a balanced approach that takes into account human rights concerns should be developed in the coming years.

There has been a growing body of evidence that repressive regimes purchased surveillance technologies to monitor and censor citizens online. In response to this evidence, the European Union and its member states have increased their efforts to restrict exports of such technologies to countries where they can be used to harm human rights.

Leading human rights organisations from the global Coalition Against Unlawful! Surveillance Exports (CAUSE) reminded that products developed by companies based in the EU have been used by repressive regimes to conduct surveillance. Edin Omanovic from Privacy International cited evidence that such technologies led to grave human rights violations in countries such as Bahrain, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Libya and Syria.

There is a growing consensus among the EU and its member states can lead the effort to use export control measures as a way to better protect human rights in third countries. Reinherd Schelle from the European Commission encouraged all civil society and industry representatives to participate in the ongoing review of the European policies in this area. “We want the EU standard to be of highest ethical value”, he stated on Thursday.

Experts also agreed that in order to protect human rights effectively, new regulations have to be based on reliable data about impact of specific technologies. “It is not enough to confine ourselves to political talk, we need to bring technical expertise into this discussion”, said Karen Costa-Zahn from the Germany Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy. A group of EU experts will take technical, economical and human rights perspective into account.

Participants also agreed that the EU should adopt a balanced approach, which does not harm research and development done by European companies. Magnus Nordeus from DIGTIALEUROPE stressed that for export controls to be efficient, they need to be well-assessed and harmonised across member states. “The EU should be a role model in this field” – Nordeus concluded.

For additional information on the subject, consult the following publications:

Publication: Towards Multilateral Standards for Surveillance Reform

Transatlantic surveillance standards need to be reformed to comply with human rights, argue researchers in a paper published by Oxford Internet Institute. The authors include Mathias Vermeulen, researcher at the CIHR and the European University Institute, Ian Brown from Oxford University, Ben Hayes from Statewatch, Mort Halperin, formerly with US National Security Council, and Ben Scott, former advisor to Hillary Clinton.

Edward Snowden’s revelations about the mass surveillance capabilities of the United States’ National Security Agency and its partners have created a unique opportunity to work towards the adoption of multilateral human rights-compliant standards for government surveillance conducted against nationals of other countries.

This paper attempts to map a path toward new international standards for foreign intelligence collection, in order to achieve increased transparency, control and oversight of national surveillance practices. We provide a basic comparison of the legal frameworks governing foreign surveillance law in the US and selected EU Member States, and set out the applicable international human rights law and major reform initiatives in as far as they relate to foreign surveillance and its oversight.

We attempt to identify key issues relevant to all signals intelligence reform efforts and to provide an analytical framework to guide the development of new standards and realistic options for reform.

You can download the study here.

Publication: Multistakeholder Governance and Nodal Authority: Understanding IXPs

As part of an independent academic research project facilitated by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, this study by Ben Wagner (CIHR) and Patricia Mindus (Uppsala University) looks at Multistakeholder Governance and Nodal Authority – Understanding Internet Exchange Points 

Abstract: This case study considers Internet exchange points (IXPs) as an example of governance processes in action. Internet exchange points are the points of connection between different Internet networks, which enable different networks to exchange traffic at a shared facility without cost to either party through a process known as “peering”. Three different IXP governance models representing large and influential IXPs are compared: the DE-CIX in Frankfurt, CAIX in Cairo, and KIXP in Nairobi. DE-CIX, the largest IXP in the world, is a subsidiary of the German Internet trade association eco, and is thus “owned” by the Internet industry in Germany. Though well functioning, this has meant that key stakeholder groups such as civil society, and the academic and technical communities are excluded from participating in discussions over policy decisions. In contrast, the Cairo Internet Exchange Point (CAIX) is run by a public authority, the Egyptian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. Though it is governed by a broad set of stakeholders including private sector, government, and civil society representatives, its decision-making processes are somewhat opaque. Lastly, KIXP was founded by a Kenyan network engineer and is governed by a local trade association. While set up with multistakeholder coordination under the leadership of the private sector, its day- to-day operations and governance fall under private sector control. By tracing out the plurality of models used for IXP governance and comparing the processes of developing peering relationships, this case provides unique lessons for the governance process, particularly surrounding trade-offs between inclusiveness and effectiveness.

You can download the study here.

The joint publication on ‘multistakeholder’ governance models is available here.

Event: Doing Development Differently – OPENing up Cooperation

From the circumpolar high arctic to the African savannah digital technologies and networks affect all areas of human interaction. They are not just physical or economic drivers but change social interaction and basic societal structures. Key components of this changing (global) society are increasing opportunities for open innovation and knowledge-sharing.

#DoDevDif looks at the need to re-think international development taking into account these rapidly evolving scenarios. The continually expanding tool-kit of open resources for development actions employing ICT4D, open data and collaborative citizen-driven initiatives are moving faster than the policies to implement them.

The notion of #DoDevDif aims to promote transparency, empower citizens and fight corruption by applying and linking the use of open data and open technologies.

The work of Canadian and German organisations and grantees in these areas such as the IDRC-funded SIRCA program, the Humanitarian Open Street Maps Team (HOT), or the Open Institute’s open governance initiatives illustrates both the potentials and urgencies of taking a decidedly open approach.

All welcome – Please RSVP here and bring an official ID for registration:

Afternoon Session
13.00 – 18.00
Through a Bar-Camp and World-Café format we invite all participants to have an open, interactive exchange. Please bring your ideas and questions to the table, share your experiences and connect with others in the field!

Evening Session
18.30 – 20.30

The evening session features a discussion with international guests including
Arul Chib (Singapore Internet Research Center –
Alejandra Perez Nunez (FOSS artist / advocate, Chile –
Anne Muigai (Open Institute, Kenya/Canada –

Q&A Movie Screening “Made in Africa”
20.30 – 21.30
#DoDevDif will wrap up with a special screening of Made in Africa by Geraldine de Bastion and René von der Waar. The film is a documentary about innovation and technological revolution, breaking clichés and telling a new story of African success and independence.

Doing Development Differently is an event by r0g_agency for open culture and critical transformation gGmbH, Digital Unite e.V., the Centre for Internet & Human Rights at European University Viadrina (CIHR) as part of a wider Workshop Series on Digital Alternatives and Social Innovation. For this Workshop we will be hosted by and collaborating with the Embassy of Canada to Germany in Berlin and supported by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.

Event: ISIS vs. The Arab Spring – From Social Media Utopia to Dystopia

Together with the Stiftung Neue Verantwortung we’re organising an event on Friday as part of our series on Digital Development. The event will still take place on 12 December, but the title has now changed to:

ISIS vs. The Arab Spring – Freom Social Media Utopia to Dystopia

Time 11am -1pm, (followed by lunch, optional)

Location: Stiftung Neue Verantwortung, Berliner Freiheit 2,  10785 Berlin

The Arab Spring unleashed western governments’ enthusiasm regarding the power of the Internet for political mobilization and campaigning. The role of Social Media in giving a voice to repressed activists was widely celebrated and promoted. Today, ISIS is headlining as the social media savvy terrorist group recruiting young people from across the world to fight for their cause via Social Media. The same power of social media is now causing very different reactions amongst governments, many calling for censorship to help combat ISIS media outreach.
The event will explore different uses of social media for mobilization in different contexts as well as government responses. In doing so it will take a global perspective and attempt to understand how and why governments seem so schizophrenic in their responses. The discussion is supposed to help us figure out take-away lessons for the development of a better Internet policy.

- Ben Wagner, Director Centre of Internet & Human Rights (CIHR) European University Viadrina
– Jillian York, Director for International Freedom of Expression, EFF & CIHR Fellow
– Kavé Salamatian, Professor of Computer Science at Savoie University & CIHR Fellow

Geraldine de Bastion | Fellow stiftung neue verantwortung

Please register via this link: