Wednesday, November 20, 2019 from 12:00 PM – 1:30 PM
Authoritarian governments have used technology to infringe on fundamental human rights, such as freedom of speech, access to information, and media freedom. China has leveraged artificial intelligence to exert intrusive control over its ethnic Uyghur minority as well as to monitor political opposition among its broader population. By contrast, Taiwan’s government has utilized technological advances to increase civic involvement through the openness and accessibility of information to improve government transparency and accountability. Taiwan’s Digital Minister Audrey Tang has emphasized the importance of government transparency and data and information openness for a stronger democracy. As one of the most digitally connected democracies, Taiwan is a prime example of how technology can transform civic participation and improve democratic governance.
Panelists are Min Hsuan Wu of Doublethink Lab, Louisa Greve of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, Lindsay Gorman of the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), and Matt Bailey of the National Democratic Institute. GTI Research Fellow I-wei Jennifer Chang will moderate the panel. Join GTI on November 20 for a discussion on comparing Taiwan and China’s use of technology to achieve different political objectives. This public seminar is part of the Civil Society and Democracy Series, which is partially funded by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy.
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Min Hsuan Wu, also known as “Ttcat,” is the co-founder and CEO of Doublethink Lab (DTL), a new organization that operates at the intersection of the Internet, public discourse, civil society, and democratic governance, researching modern threats to democracy and devising strategies to counter them. DTL is focused on mapping China’s online information operation mechanisms and facilitating the global CSO network to combat digital authoritarianism. Mr. Wu is an activist and campaigner with a developer background. Since 2004, he has committed to LGBT+, human rights, green politics, opposition to nuclear power, and the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan. Mr. Wu has expertise in networking, creative strategy planning, as well as communication design and organizational managing. He has provided the civic tech community with perspectives from civil society and has focused on open government and digital rights over the past three years.
Louisa Greve serves as the Uyghur Human Rights Project’s Director of Global Advocacy. She is an expert on human rights in China and an experienced non-profit advisor. Her first visit to East Turkestan was in 1988, and she has traveled and worked in China since 1980. She is currently Washington Fellow for CSW, a UK-based advocacy group promoting freedom of religion or belief for all peoples and faiths. Ms. Greve was formerly Vice President for Programs and East Asia Director at the National Endowment for Democracy, with previous experience at Special Olympics International, the Corporation for National and Community Service, and the United Nations Development Program. Ms. Greve has served on the Amnesty International board, the Virginia Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and the International Advisory Committee of the Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China. She is the author of several book chapters on ethnic issues and human rights in China, and has testified before Congress on democracy in Asia. Follow her on Twitter at @LouisaCGreve.
Lindsay Gorman is the Fellow for Emerging Technologies at the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF). Before joining GMF, she ran a technology consulting firm, Politech Advisory, working with start-up companies and venture capital firms in artificial intelligence and FinTech. She was also an adjunct fellow in CSIS’s Technology Policy Program. Lindsay built her policy career in the Office of U.S. Senator Mark Warner, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the National Academy of Sciences. In addition to bipartisan legislation, she crafted policy guidance on cybersecurity and cyber warfare, autonomous vehicles, smart cities, FinTech and financial regulation, artificial intelligence, disease surveillance, advanced manufacturing, and the internet of things. At the National Academy of Sciences, she supported the Committee on International Security and Arms Control in track II nuclear and cyber security dialogues with Chinese and Russian experts. Lindsay’s technical expertise lies in artificial intelligence, statistical machine learning, and quantum materials. She has published a Nature Physics paper on topological insulators and programmed AI systems for a self-driving car in the DARPA Urban Challenge. Lindsay holds an A.B. in physics from Princeton University, where she graduated magna cum laude, and a M.S. in applied physics from Stanford University.
Matt Bailey serves as a senior advisor for democratic innovation and technology at the National Democratic Institute, where he works on a broad array of issues ranging from disinformation and cybersecurity to civic technology and municipal innovation. Prior to joining NDI, Matt was a civil servant in the Office of the United States Chief Information Officer under two presidents. While at the White House, Matt was part of the teams that launched the first-ever U.S. government-wide open source and legislative data initiatives, led its participation in the Open Government Partnership, and led the chief information officer’s policy team. Previously, Matt served the city of Washington, D.C., as its first director of technology innovation, launching initiatives to increase civic engagement, adoption of modern software practices, and human-centered design. He was an early employee at the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where he worked to bridge the agency’s open data and service design strategies. He has also served as a cybersecurity engineer and analyst, a software developer, and was a founder of Code for DC, an affiliate of Code for America. Matt holds a Master of Arts in English Literature from Georgetown University.
I-wei Jennifer Chang is a research fellow at the Global Taiwan Institute. Prior to GTI, Ms. Chang was senior program specialist in the China Program at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), where she examined China’s role in global conflict zones spanning from the Indo-Pacific region to the Middle East and Africa. Ms. Chang joined USIP after working as a researcher at the Embassy of India in Washington, D.C., and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. She also covered Taiwanese politics and society as a reporter for The China Post in Taipei. Ms. Chang has also published widely on Chinese foreign and security policy, Asia-Middle East relations, civil wars, ethnic conflict, and religious freedom. She has written for several publications including Foreign Policy, The Jamestown Foundation’s China Brief, Jadaliyya, Middle East Research and Information Project, ISLAMiCommentary, and the Middle East Institute’s Middle East-Asia Project. Ms. Chang holds two Master’s degrees in International Relations and Journalism from the University of Maryland and a Bachelor’s degree in Asian Studies from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. She is fluent in Mandarin Chinese.
On November 20, GTI held a public seminar on the topic of techno-governance in Taiwan versus China. This event was part of the Taiwan’s Global Impact series, which is partially funded by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. GTI Research Fellow Jennifer Chang introduced the topic by providing an overview of the state of democracy in the context of the development of advanced technologies in authoritarian states. New technologies such as artificial intelligence and facial recognition shape governance and Taiwan’s Digital Minister Audrey Tang is introducing open access and digital governance to share Taiwan’s experience with civic technology to help emerging democracies better govern.
Lindsay Gorman at the Alliance for Securing Democracy spoke about how data is now considered a resource similar to natural resources; it is sometimes called “the new oil.” Gorman believes that a form of geopolitical conflict over the control of data will occur in the future. In her presentation, she pointed out several examples of how machine learning has allowed the Chinese government to exert control over its subject population. In Xinjiang, algorithms are used to track actions that are considered “red flags.”
Gorman cited Human Rights Watch’s reverse-engineering of an app used by Chinese officials as one example of tech governance in authoritarian states. China is exporting its model of tech governance into the world as it exports made-in-China surveillance equipment. Another concern is the way in which biases are embodied in AI and machine learning, which raises ethical concerns. In authoritarian states that use advanced technologies to exert control over its people, biases are of no concern whereas in democracies, efforts are made to prevent discrimination.
Louisa Coan Greve at the Uyghur Human Rights Project focused on the situation in Xinjiang and explained how the Chinese government uses both low- and high-tech means to monitor the Uighur population. Facial recognition is advancing and 3D face scanners are already in use. The collection of data in Xinjiang was described as “invasive” by Greve. Beyond the general public, officials too are tracked and monitored on an individual basis based on their accomplishment of tasks.
Greve showed evidence of companies like Dahua and Hikvision providing surveillance equipment for operations in Xinjiang. There appears to be an internal incentive cycle as the Chinese government grants contracts for R&D while expanding surveillance operations.
Min Hsuan Wu at Doublethink Lab (Taiwan) started off by referring to the past struggles the Taiwanese faced during the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) and the Cross-Strait Service and Trade Agreement (CSSTA) during the Sunflower movement, due to the “China factor.” He then described the need after the Sunflower Movement to bring civic technology into Taiwan’s government.
Wu presented five main challenges Taiwan faces to bring tech governance to greater significance. First, political participation is low despite Taiwan’s rich civic political discussions. Though TV news frequently feature political talk shows, most discussions take place on platforms like PTT and Facebook. Second, civic technology is reliant on political will, but experiments are difficult launch given Digital Minister Audrey Tang’s status “without portfolio.” Third, disputes exist over to what extent citizens should participate in policymaking and in which stages. Some believe that participation should be encouraged at the agenda-setting stage, while others think that the agenda should be pre-set before civil society steps in through digital governance tools. Fourth, institutional experiments can create extra burden for civil servants and bureaucrats. And finally, Taiwan’s society is highly polarized and it is difficult to monitor or moderate conversations online.
Matt Bailey at the National Democratic Institute spoke about how the world is stepping towards “surveillance capitalism,” where private firms use data and information in a way that potentially violates individual privacy. Bailey categorized weaponized use of information into three types: disinformation, use of false content to conceive; misinformation, repetition of disinformation by citizens; and mal-information, the use of truthful information for harm.
Bailey pointed out that data will grow exponentially and unpredictably. Facial recognition is already being used to personalize marketing. Personal data are “linked” by various firms, sometimes unbeknownst to consumers. Bailey believes that moving forward, governments should build a regulatory framework to respond to the rise of advanced technologies and data collection and pursue data governance in a responsible manner.
The panel discussion concluded with a Q&A session, which included additional important points.
Greve responded to a question regarding how racial and minority profiling can be addressed by the US and other democracies in light of the situation in Xinjiang. Greve believes that private companies that are violating ethical norms to help set up a surveillance state in China will have a contagious effect. She brings up Hikvision as an example, as the company has also violated US laws to disguise the importing of surveillance equipment. Watchdog groups and consumer groups can help monitor the public-private relations in this case in a democracy.
Responding to a question on how ethical standards can be set up to regulate technology, Gorman stated that there is healthy room for debate on regulations. Gorman believes there should be a clear line defining what the public is “okay” and “not okay” with and a strong regulatory framework would make this possible. Although the current lack of regulation on the use of data in the United States makes it easy to conflate the two and tolerate unethical use of data.
To answer a question from the audience on whether there are any examples of good tech governance, Gorman added that GDPR in Europe is a good example of a governance regulatory framework. From a national security standpoint, it is important to know where data is going and how they are being used. GDPR ensures that data is collected solely for its intended use, instead of being passed around like in the US. There is a difference between private company and government usage of data. The situation in the US is different from China since there are regulations addressing the issue of data transfers between private companies and the government.
This summary was written by GTI Fall Intern 2019, Milo Hsieh.
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