Posts Tagged ‘ rights ’

The Roommate Agreement

As well as being one of the most entertaining and popular sitcoms on television, Big Bang Theory also offers an amusing insight about records management in the form of Sheldon and Leonard’s “Roommate Agreement”.  The Roommate Agreement is alluded to frequently over the course of the series, typically when Leonard does something that Sheldon feels infringes on his rights as a roommate (e.g. priority couch seating, overnight visitors, scheduled bathroom use, etc.)  Not only is it entertaining to witness Sheldon’s neurotic behavior in action, but the roommate agreement provides a clever solution for anyone who has ever found him/herself sharing an apartment.

I’m sure everyone who has ever had a roommate can testify that, at times, the sharing of your living space can often be irritating, and sometimes lead to unpleasant confrontation.  We all have personal preferences and expectations when it comes to the domestic sphere, and when those preferences and expectations clash, conflict naturally ensues.  The idea of a roommate agreement—in theory—is genius, really, since such a document establishes the parties’ expectations from the outset.  In practice, at least as seen in Big Bang Theory, such a record only emphasizes the tension and breeds more conflict, usually to hilarious effect (probably not as funny for Leonard as it is for the casual observer).

In a recent episode entitled “The Boyfriend Complexity”, the issue of the roommate agreement comes up yet again.  Under the impression that Leonard and Penny are once again a couple, Sheldon presents proposed changes to the agreement for Leonard to sign.  The changes are written to address Penny’s “annoying personal habits” (of which Sheldon has naturally compiled a lengthy list—I’m assuming it is attached to the agreement as an appendix).  Sheldon makes it clear that Penny has no say in the agreement or the discussion of her personal habits, since Leonard is the signatory and thus “bears responsibility for all [her] infractions and must pay all fines”.  Leonard, upon inquiring about the fines, is told that if Penny is to resume spending nights in the apartment he’ll have to set up an escrow account (apparently the possibility that Penny might correct her annoying personal habits is not a thought that occurs to Sheldon).  Leonard signs, even though he and Penny aren’t actually back together.  Sometimes the path of least resistance is the best approach in a compromise.

The agreement essentially reduces the roommate experience to the level of transactions.  This is quite literally apparent in the example above—Penny annoys Sheldon, Leonard must pay a fine.  No doubt Sheldon has dollar amounts associated with each infraction as it appears in the appended list of “annoying personal habits”, in direct relation to the degree that Sheldon finds them annoying.  It seems ridiculous when you hear it, but I can personally think of a few situations in my experience when the existence of such an agreement would have made my life a lot easier; I can certainly recall occasions when I’d wished I could collect fines for the irritating habits of a roommate.  And while it might still seem absurd, consider this: isn’t it just another example of the sort of contracts we enter into every day with our landlords, insurance providers, health providers, phone and internet service providers, utility companies, employers, employees and unions, educational institutions, and governments?

The Flipside of Information-Control on the Web

Today I read the following article:

On the evening of 25 November, Facebook.com disabled “We Are All Khaled Said” page which got more than 300,000 followers. The page was created after the 28-year-old Egyptian man named Khaled Said was beaten to death in Alexandria by two police officers who wanted to search him under the emergency law, according to El Nadim Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, local rights group.

The page administrator utilized the page to post updates on the flow of the case before the court and relevant information related to the incident that happened on the 6th of June 2010, as well as mobilizing people to join peaceful assemblies that took place against torture in Egypt and supporting victims of violence. …

http://advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org/2010/11/25/egypt-facebook-disables-popular-anti-torture-page/

This story came to me via Twitter, in a retweet that read “Reminder: making Facebook your publishing platform gives Facebook the right to delete what you say” (DanGillmor, RT by cascio). This reminder reemphasizes the point I keep coming back to about web records: you don’t control your information once it’s on the web.  I’ve spent a lot of time underlining how once someone publishes information on the web it might as well be there forever, particularly in my paper about ECCA and in previous journal entries about Twitter and blogging.  But maybe that’s not entirely accurate, or at least it only illustrates half of the point.

The flipside of the issue of information-control on the web is that whoever owns the rights to the server controls the information, and thus the disposition of the record—the “heaven” of perpetuity and the “hell” of the shredder, as we’ve learned in class (though, when it comes to the web, I suspect in many cases—at least retrospectively—the descriptors “heaven” and “hell” are reversed).  The case of “We Are All Khaled Said” aptly demonstrates how the server owner controls the disposition of information, even when one administrator and 300,000 users lay some intellectual claim to it.  The information can just as easily be destroyed when the author would wish it saved, as saved when he/she would wish it destroyed.

The real point about web records is that whenever you publish information using a third-party, such as Twitter, or WordPress, or Facebook, or MySpace, etc, etc, you’re compromising certain intellectual property rights.  Obviously, as a user you can access your web space through these services and add, edit, and delete your information however you like.  But the service provider, the server owner, the third-party reserves the right to either freeze, save or delete any or all of the content you publish.  Typically, this ceding of your intellectual property is written plainly (though often obliquely) in the end-user agreement or statement of terms, the same place you’ll find statements that free the third-party from any liability as well as privacy statements.  Here’s an example from the Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities:

 

Sharing Your Content and Information

 

You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings. In addition:

 

1. For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (“IP content”), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (“IP License”). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

2. When you delete IP content, it is deleted in a manner similar to emptying the recycle bin on a computer. However, you understand that removed content may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time (but will not be available to others).

http://www.facebook.com/?ref=logo#!/terms.php

While the statement claims that you “own” and “control” all of the information on your Facebook page, a careful reading makes it quite evident that it is Facebook that actually controls both the license and the final disposition of all your published content.

 

This is no different than the deletion of user comments by moderators on news sites or message boards.  And that’s why this issue lies in an expanding frontier of grey area: most people would agree that the owner of the website has the right to control what information is published there.  But who owns the social network?

A Matter of Security

The big story over the weekend was about John Tyner, a software engineer who refused the TSA body scan and pat-down at the San Diego airport, and was subsequently removed from the airport and fined $10,000 for being uncooperative.  What makes this a big story is the fact that Tyner recorded the entire incident on his cell phone and then posted it on YouTube; he also wrote a full account on a blog using the moniker “johnnyedge”[1].  The video and blog have gone viral in the 48 hours since the incident took place, the YouTube video receiving over 200,000 hits.

There is quite a lot going on in this story that is worth examining.  First off, the relatively new practice of using the backscatter x-ray scanners and the TSA’s policy to administer a full pat-down to any passengers that opt-out of the scan have been under fire since they were first introduced.  Several stories have surfaced in the last year regarding the new technology, though none quite so markedly as Tyner’s.  One of the concerns raised was whether or not the body scan images were saved and stored [2]; the TSA confirmed that this was not the case in August, although it continues to be an issue raised in the argument against the body scans.  The issue does raise the question of precisely what does happen with the images?  How do the scanners work?  Is there no memory that stores images, even in the short term?  What if the scan does reveal someone in possession of something nefarious?  Doesn’t the scan represent evidence?  Surely there must be some system in place to preserve the image when this happens—if not, it does not seem particularly effective.  And if yes, the question is whether or not such a system violates the human rights of passengers.

I bet the TSA is rather unhappy right now, given the rising tidal wave of public discontent it is now facing.  I’ve written a lot about web content as records in this journal, so I won’t over-emphasize it now, but clearly the video/audio record Tyner preserved and uploaded to the Internet will impact the TSA’s operations—the extra time and labour spent dealing with uncooperative passengers, of navigating the negative press, and of correcting its policies and procedures will directly translate into dollar amounts.  As one article on Gizmodo suggests, there is a lot of money for manufacturers and lobbyists in the implementation and use of the new body scanners [3]; there’s a lot of money at stake if their adoption is stymied by bad press and public outrage.  And why?  Because one person recorded this activity and made the record public.

A movement in the US has grown around the rejection of the body scan technology and the TSA’s policies.  The website “I Made the TSA Feel my Resistance” has gone up, and is calling for “National Opt-Out Day” on November 24—the busiest day of the year for air travel.  It encourages passengers to refuse the body scan when they go through security. [4]

While I’ve always been sympathetic with the challenging (let’s face it—impossible) task of providing airport security, I think Tyner’s use of records and the web are useful in one very important way.  It forces us to ask: In what way does the body scan technology protect passengers?

____________________________________

[1] The original blog post and videos are available here: http://johnnyedge.blogspot.com/2010/11/these-events-took-place-roughly-between.html

An article by the Associated Press about the story’s popularity can be viewed here: http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_16617995?nclick_check=1

As well as a blog post on the CNN Newsroom website by one of the network’s correspondents can be viewed here: http://newsroom.blogs.cnn.com/2010/11/15/dont-touch-my-junk/?iref=allsearch

[2] The issue of whether the images are stored or not was first raised last January, as represented in this article on CNN.com: http://articles.cnn.com/2010-01-11/travel/body.scanners_1_body-scanners-privacy-protections-machines?_s=PM:TRAVEL

The TSA refuted these claims at the time on their blog: http://blog.tsa.gov/2010/01/advance-imaging-technology-storing.html

The issue again made headlines in August with the following article on cnet: http://news.cnet.com/8301-31921_3-20012583-281.html

Which the TSA again refuted: http://blog.tsa.gov/2010/08/tsa-response-to-feds-admit-storing.html

[3] Loftus, J.  (2010, November 14).  TSA Full-Body Scanners: Protecting Passengers or Padding Pockets?  Gizmodo. Retrieved on November 15, 2010 from http://gizmodo.com/5689759/tsa-full+body-scanners-protecting-passengers-or-padding-pockets

This article also effectively summarizes the current controversy surrounding Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT).

[4] http://www.imadethetsafeelmyresistance.com/

Why Jason Hates Cory Doctorow

Here’s an amusing (mostly accurate) article by an old message board acquaintance of mine, about why Cory Doctorow is a “fucking dick”.  Not that I’m endorsing his point of view– I don’t mind Cory Doctorow, and I happen to think geek chic is cool (does that make me one of the festering unreal people?)– but his description of the Bono issue is, all in all, pretty fair.

Also enjoyed the depiction of Doctorow as a poor man’s Neal Stephenson.

http://www.wetasphalt.com/?q=content/why-i-hate-cory-doctorow

Welcome to 2010, people!