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:

Publication: The rule of law on the Internet

CIHR Fellow Douwe Korff has just published an Issue Paper with the Council of Europe on The rule of law on the Internet and in the wider digital world.

The issue paper addresses a pressing question: how can we ensure that the rule of law is established and maintained on the Internet and in the wider digital world? Section 1 describes the range of online activities and the threats to this environment; section 2 discusses the emerging “Internet governance” principles, and notes the special control exercised over the digital world by the USA (and the UK, in respect of Europe), which could lead to fragmentation of the Internet in response.
Section 3 sketches the international standards of the rule of law, and some problems in the application of law in this new environment. Section 4 looks in some more detail at the main issues emerging from the earlier sections – freedom of expression, privatised law enforcement, data protection, cybercrime and national security – and discusses the delicate balances that need to be struck.

You can download the issue paper here.

Event: Equality – the new frontier of Internet privacy rights

Since the revelations of Edward Snowden, civil society has struggled to articulate a clear, united and international response. The typical approach taken has been to re-iterate the 13 Principles (“Necessary and Proportionate”) developed before Snowden’s revelations and call for an end to mass-surveillance.

Curiously there has still been scant focus on explicit discrimination strictly according to nationality in some nations’ laws. Unlike the faux-threat of “Balkanisation” (meaning localisation of data – the only effective defense against foreign spying on Cloud computing), discrimination of rights by nationality would *really* break the Internet. As a result we’ve decided to organise this event:

Equality: the new frontier of Internet privacy rights
Caspar Bowden & Ben Wagner

8 November 2014 – 10:00 to 18:00 – BarCamp
Posteo Lab, Methfesselstr. 38, 10965 Berlin
All welcome – please RSVP here – PDF Invite

If you want to hear more, please come to Posteo Lab in the Methfesselstr. 38, 10965 Berlin on 8 November 2014. We will be disorganising a BarCamp from 10:00 to 18:00 and hope to develop these ideas further. Everyone is welcome, but as space is limited please RSVP by 5 November 2014. Further details about the event and the full invitation can be found here.

Event: Security and Human Rights after Snowden

Together with the Helmholtz Research School on Security Technologies, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Center for Technology and Society (CTS) at the Technical University of Berlin we are organising a one-day seminar on Security and Human Rights after Snowden.

The seminar will be held on 7 November 2014 from 09:00 to 17:00 at the Auditorium on the 20th floor of the Technische Universität Berlin & Telekom Innovation Laboratories at Ernst-Reuter-Platz 7 in Berlin. We look forward to welcoming the following speakers:

  • 09:10 – Aufarbeitung von Snowden (Michael Bartsch, Deutsche Telekom AG)
  • 10:10 – Technische Nachbearbeitung nach Snowden (Dr. Sandro Gaycken, FU Berlin)
  • 11:30 – Data exchange & information sharing: how are profiles built and what are their consequences? (Francesca Bosco, Tech and Law Centre & United Nations UNICRI Institute)
  • 13:30 – International law and the NSA (Caspar Bowden, Independent privacy advocate)
  • 14:30 – What can human beings and companies do to resist surveillance and get back their rights? (Dr. Gemma Galdon Clavell, University of Barcelona & Eticas Research & Consulting)
  • 16:00 – From Campaigns to proposals: Reactions from the Global South after Snowden and the way forward (Renata Avila Pinto, Web We Want & Centre for Internet & Human Rights)

You can download the full program here.