Urs Gasser

Professor of Practice

Executive Director, Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society

Biography

Urs Gasser is the Executive Director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and a Professor of Practice at Harvard Law School. He serves as a trustee on the board of the NEXA Center for Internet & Society at the University of Torino and on the board of the Research Center for Information Law at the University of St. Gallen, and is a member of the International Advisory Board of the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society in Berlin. He is a Fellow at the Gruter Institute for Law and Behavioral Research.

Dr. Gasser has written and edited several books, and published over 100 articles in professional journals. He is the co-author of “Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives” (Basic Books, 2008 and 2016, with John Palfrey) that has been translated into 10 languages (including Chinese), and co-author of “Interop: The Promise and Perils of Highly Interconnected Systems” (Basic Books, 2012, with John Palfrey).

Urs Gasser's research and teaching activities focus on information law, policy, and society issues and the changing role of academia in the digitally networked age. Current projects – several involving the Global Network of Internet & Society Centers, which he helped to incubate – focus on the governance of evolving and emerging technologies such as Cloud Computing, the Internet of Things, Augmented Reality, and Artificial Intelligence, with a particular interest in privacy and security issues and the broader implications of these technologies, including questions of agency and autonomy. As a longer term research interest, he studies the patterns of interaction between law and innovation, and innovation with the legal system in the digital age.

Dr. Gasser frequently acts as a commentator on comparative law issues for the US and European media.

Areas of Interest

John G. Palfrey & Urs Gasser, Born Digital: How Children Grow Up in a Digital Age (Basic Books rev. ed. 2016).
Categories:
Technology & Law
Sub-Categories:
Networked Society
,
Information Privacy & Security
Type: Book
Abstract
The first generation of children who were born into and raised in the digital world are coming of age and reshaping the world in their image. Our economy, our politics, our culture, and even the shape of our family life are being transformed. But who are these wired young people? And what is the world they’re creating going to look like? In this revised and updated edition, leading Internet and technology experts John Palfrey and Urs Gasser offer a cutting-edge sociological portrait of these young people, who can seem, even to those merely a generation older, both extraordinarily sophisticated and strangely narrow. Exploring a broad range of issues—privacy concerns, the psychological effects of information overload, and larger ethical issues raised by the fact that young people’s social interactions, friendships, and civic activities are now mediated by digital technologies—Born Digital is essential reading for parents, teachers, and the myriad of confused adults who want to understand the digital present and shape the digital future.
Urs Gasser, Recoding Privacy Law: Reflections on the Future Relationship Among Law, Technology, and Privacy, 130 Harv. L. Rev. F. 61 (2016).
Categories:
Technology & Law
Sub-Categories:
Information Privacy & Security
Type: Article
John G. Palfrey & Urs Gasser, Interop: The Promise and Perils of Highly Interconnected Systems (Basic Books 2012).
Categories:
Technology & Law
Sub-Categories:
Networked Society
Type: Book
Abstract
In Interop, technology experts John Palfrey and Urs Gasser explore the immense importance of interoperability—the standardization and integration of technology—and show how this simple principle will hold the key to our success in the coming decades and beyond. The practice of standardization has been facilitating innovation and economic growth for centuries. The standardization of the railroad gauge revolutionized the flow of commodities, the standardization of money revolutionized debt markets and simplified trade, and the standardization of credit networks has allowed for the purchase of goods using money deposited in a bank half a world away. These advancements did not eradicate the different systems they affected; instead, each system has been transformed so that it can interoperate with systems all over the world, while still preserving local diversity. As Palfrey and Gasser show, interoperability is a critical aspect of any successful system—and now it is more important than ever. Today we are confronted with challenges that affect us on a global scale: the financial crisis, the quest for sustainable energy, and the need to reform health care systems and improve global disaster response systems. The successful flow of information across systems is crucial if we are to solve these problems, but we must also learn to manage the vast degree of interconnection inherent in each system involved. Interoperability offers a number of solutions to these global challenges, but Palfrey and Gasser also consider its potential negative effects, especially with respect to privacy, security, and co-dependence of states; indeed, interoperability has already sparked debates about document data formats, digital music, and how to create successful yet safe cloud computing. Interop demonstrates that, in order to get the most out of interoperability while minimizing its risks, we will need to fundamentally revisit our understanding of how it works, and how it can allow for improvements in each of its constituent parts. In Interop, Palfrey and Gasser argue that there needs to be a nuanced, stable theory of interoperability—one that still generates efficiencies, but which also ensures a sustainable mode of interconnection. Pointing the way forward for the new information economy, Interop provides valuable insights into how technological integration and innovation can flourish in the twenty-first century.
David O’Brien, Ryan Budish, Robert Faris, Urs Gasser & Tiffany Lin, Privacy and Cybersecurity Research Briefing (Berkman Klein Ctr. Research Publ'n No. 2016-17, Sept. 26, 2016).
Categories:
Technology & Law
Sub-Categories:
Cyberlaw
,
Information Privacy & Security
Type: Other
Abstract
Cybersecurity has evolved into a pressing issue that sits at the top of government policy and board room agendas as the prevalence and severity of incidents continue to increase. As we search for solutions, public and private sector actors must balance the numerous tensions inherent in securing products and services, keeping users safe, and maintaining a vibrant and innovative ecosystem that supports the continued development of new products. This research briefing aims to translate findings from ongoing Berkman Klein Center privacy and cybersecurity research and activities into practical considerations and takeaways for key stakeholders and decision-makers. It offers a snapshot of the cybersecurity ecosystem and the forces shaping it, a map of high-level overview of several current approaches aimed at addressing cybersecurity challenges, and identifies opportunities for collaborative approaches that will help prepare decision-makers to address the next generation of pressing cybersecurity issues.
Urs Gasser & Sandra Cortesi, Children’s Rights and Digital Technologies: Introduction to the Discourse and Some Meta-Observations, in Handbook of Children’s Rights: Global and Multidisciplinary Perspectives (M. Ruck, M. Peterson-Badali & M. Freeman eds., 2016).
Categories:
Family Law
,
Technology & Law
Sub-Categories:
Children's Law & Welfare
,
Networked Society
,
Information Privacy & Security
Type: Book
Abstract
This volume constitutes a comprehensive treatment of critical perspectives concerning children s rights in their various forms.
Effy Vayena & Urs Gasser, Between Openness and Privacy in Genomics, 13 PLoS Med. e1001937 (2016).
Categories:
Health Care
,
Technology & Law
Sub-Categories:
Health Law & Policy
,
Bioethics
,
Information Privacy & Security
Type: Article
Abstract
Advancing genomic research depends on the accessing and sharing of genomic data. However, the increasing need for sharing escalates the tension between genomic privacy and openness. Promoting openness while protecting privacy is a challenge that cannot be overcome only with technical solutions such as encryption and differential privacy. Although such solutions are crucial, we still need to confront some fundamental normative tensions that are intensified in the era of genomics and big data. Here are at least three: The right to genomic privacy is not an absolute right. If privacy is understood as control over information or data, privacy is not about maximal levels of control, but rather about reasonable measures of control. Although individual control is necessary, it is not a sufficient safeguard of privacy. Individuals’ willingness to be open about their data does not obviate responsibility for reducing privacy risks on the part of the data users. Data governance models, such as data cooperatives, that enable meaningful and continuous roles of the individuals whose data are at stake hold promise for reconciling privacy and openness.
Effy Vayena, Urs Gasser, Alexandra Wood, David R. O’Brien & Micah Altman, Elements of a New Ethical Framework for Big Data Research, 72 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. Online 420 (2016).
Categories:
Technology & Law
Sub-Categories:
Networked Society
,
Digital Property
,
Information Privacy & Security
Type: Article
Abstract
Emerging large-scale data sources hold tremendous potential for new scientific research into human biology, behaviors, and relationships. At the same time, big data research presents privacy and ethical challenges that the current regulatory framework is ill-suited to address. In light of the immense value of large-scale research data, the central question moving forward is not whether such data should be made available for research, but rather how the benefits can be captured in a way that respects fundamental principles of ethics and privacy. In response, this Essay outlines elements of a new ethical framework for big data research. It argues that oversight should aim to provide universal coverage of human subjects research, regardless of funding source, across all stages of the information lifecycle. New definitions and standards should be developed based on a modern understanding of privacy science and the expectations of research subjects. In addition, researchers and review boards should be encouraged to incorporate systematic risk-benefit assessments and new procedural and technological solutions from the wide range of interventions that are available. Finally, oversight mechanisms and the safeguards implemented should be tailored to the intended uses, benefits, threats, harms, and vulnerabilities associated with a specific research activity. Development of a new ethical framework with these elements should be the product of a dynamic multistakeholder process that is designed to capture the latest scientific understanding of privacy, analytical methods, available safeguards, community and social norms, and best practices for research ethics as they evolve over time. Such a framework would support big data utilization and help harness the value of big data in a sustainable and trust-building manner.
Lex Gill, Dennis Redeker & Urs Gasser, Towards Digital Constitutionalism? Mapping Attempts to Craft an Internet Bill of Rights (Berkman Ctr. Research Publ'n No. 2015-15, Nov. 9, 2015).
Categories:
Technology & Law
Sub-Categories:
Networked Society
,
Cyberlaw
,
Communications Law
Type: Other
Abstract
The idea of an “Internet Bill of Rights” is by no means a new one: in fact, serious efforts to draft such a document can be traced at least as far back as the mid-1990s. Though the form, function and scope of such initiatives has evolved, the concept has had remarkable staying power, and now — two full decades later — principles which were once radically aspirational have begun to crystallize into law. In this paper, we propose a unified term to describe these efforts using the umbrella of “digital constitutionalism” and conduct an analysis of thirty initiatives spanning from 1999 to 2015. These initiatives have great differences, and range from advocacy statements to official positions of intergovernmental organizations to proposed legislation. However, in their own way, they are each engaged in the same conversation, seeking to advance a relatively comprehensive set of rights, principles, and governance norms for the Internet, and are usefully understood as part of a broader proto-constitutional discourse. While this paper does not attempt to capture every facet of this complex political behavior, we hope to offer a preliminary map of the landscape, provide a comparative examination of these diverse efforts toward digital constitutionalism, and — most importantly — provoke new questions for further research and study. The paper proceeds in four parts, beginning with a preliminary definition for the concept of digital constitutionalism and a summary of our research methodology. Second, we present our core observations related to the full range of substantive rights, principles and themes proposed by these initiatives. Third, we build on that analysis to explore their perceived targets, the key actors and deliberative processes which have informed their character, and the changes in their substantive content over time. Finally, we look forward, identifying future directions for research in this rapidly changing policy arena and for the broader Internet governance community.
Ryan Budish, Sarah Myers West & Urs Gasser, Designing Successful Governance Groups: Lessons for Leaders from Real-World Examples (Berkman Ctr. Research Publ'n No. 2015-11, Aug. 2015).
Categories:
Technology & Law
Sub-Categories:
Networked Society
,
Cyberlaw
,
Communications Law
Type: Other
Abstract
In January 2015, the Global Network of Internet & Society Research Centers (NoC) published the results of a globally coordinated, independent academic research project exploring multistakeholder governance models. Facilitated by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, the work evaluated a wide range of governance groups with the goal of contributing meaningfully to the current debate around the future of the Internet governance ecosystem. The report, entitled Multistakeholder as Governance Groups: Observations From Case Studies, included twelve case studies of real-world governance structures from around the world and from both inside and outside the sphere of Internet governance. The report also included a synthesis paper, which drew from the case studies lessons that challenged conventional thinking with respect to the formation, operation, and critical success factors of governance groups. Through its work, the Network of Centers hopes to demonstrate new strategies and approaches for academia regarding its roles in research, facilitation and convening, and education in and communication about the Internet age. This ambition includes creating outputs that are useful, actionable, and timely for policymakers and stakeholders. In that spirit, this document is intended to help translate our original report into a form useful for those creating, convening, or leading governance groups. It is our goal that this document can provide an operational starting place for those who wish to learn more about some of the components critical to the success of a governance group. The original report goes into far greater depth on both the details of the case studies and the lessons learned from them, whereas this document highlights only a few of the points most relevant for operationalizing the findings of the full report. The full report is available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=2549270.
Urs Gasser, Interoperability in the Digital Ecosystem (Berkman Ctr. Research Publ'n No. 2015-13, July 6, 2015).
Categories:
Technology & Law
Sub-Categories:
Networked Society
Type: Other
Abstract
At its most fundamental level in the context of the digital ecosystem, interoperability (or “interop”) is the ability to transfer and render useful data and other information across systems, applications, or components. As a concept interop is central, and yet often invisible, to many parts of a highly interconnected modern society. The fact that someone can make a seamless international telephone call without thinking about things like “signaling standards” or transoceanic cables is a tribute to interop. So is the fact that someone can send and receive the same e-mail on a phone or in a browser, regardless of device manufacturer or ISP. And the development of the Internet of Things relies on interop. For that reason it is critical to develop a shared understanding how interop functions, the potential costs and benefits of increased levels of interop, and the variety of approaches for encouraging interop. This paper begins by offering a framework for understanding interop as a concept. An overview diagram of the benefits, potential risks and approaches to interop includes four quadrants: What? (technological, data, human, and institutional); Benefits (innovation, competition, autonomy, flexibility, and choice, and access, diversity, and openness); Potential Risks (increased security and privacy risks, increased homogeneity, decreased reliability, accountability and accessibility, and threats to business models); and Approaches (non-regulatory and regulatory). In theoretical terms, interoperability functions across four broad layers of complex systems: technological, data, human, institutional. For many people, it is the exchange of data through technological means that comes to mind when they think about interop. But it turns out that the human and institutional aspects of interoperability are often just as – and sometimes even more – important than the technological aspects. This paper next offers examples of some of the many benefits and drawbacks of higher levels of interop. On the benefits side this includes: innovation, competition, choice and access. While, the potential drawbacks include: security and privacy risks, an increase in homogeneity, a decrease in reliability, accountability, accessibility, and a threat to certain existing business models. The paper then offers a taxonomy for considering the various approaches that exist within the toolbox for managing and optimizing the level of interop. These approaches can either be deployed in a more unilateral fashion or they can be deployed in more collaborative ways. Moreover, there are approaches that can be deployed by the private sector and those that are utilized by regulators and other state actors. The paper also considers in more depth the unique role that governments and regulators can play in shaping the interop landscape. Finally, the paper concludes by identifying some of the biggest questions and challenges that confront future interoperable technologies.
Urs Gasser & Jens Drolshammer, The Brave New World of (Swiss) Law: Contours of a Framework and Call for a Strategy to Shape Law’s Digital Revolution (Berkman Ctr. Research Publ'n No. 2015-8, May 5, 2015).
Categories:
Government & Politics
,
International, Foreign & Comparative Law
,
Technology & Law
Sub-Categories:
Foreign Law
,
Networked Society
,
Communications Law
Type: Other
Abstract
The emergence of computer networks in tandem with digitization — the rise of digital communication — has had a fundamental impact on the world we live in. Over the past few years, we have witnessed how digital communication has shaped how we communicate with each other, build and maintain friendships, work together, and engage in our communities and society. But digital technology not only affects our lives as individuals; it also has system level impact. The deep transformations in the economic system — consider the tectonic shifts in the entertainment or publishing industries, and more recently the advent of the so-called industrial Internet — are well-documented and demonstrate the disruptive potential of digital communication. However, many other systems are also deeply affected by digital technology: whether culture and arts, health care, transportation, or energy, virtually all sectors of society are currently undergoing changes fueled by digital communication. In some areas, the impact and the implications of digital communication are well studied and understood; in other systems, the effects have only become visible more recently and the transformation processes are still unfolding. In this essay, we look at one such system where the impact of digital communication — despite a long research history dating back to the 1950s — is still unfolding and is perhaps underestimated, particularly among policy- and decision-makers: the impact of digital communication on the legal system as an information processing system. We argue that a growing body of evidence suggests that law is profoundly affected by the digital revolution, at various levels and with manifold implications not only for the legal profession, but society at large. Given these deep transformation processes, we call for a pro-active, systematic, and strategic approach when dealing with these transformation processes in order to address associated challenges and manage risks, but perhaps most importantly, also to make use of the tremendous opportunities digital communication offers for the law and, more broadly, social justice. This essay is divided into three parts. In the first part, based on general patterns of change in the information ecosystem, we identify four areas with examples of structural transformations enabled by digital communication: the creation of law, the dissemination of law, access to law, and the use of law. For each category, we highlight recent manifestations and developments—mostly (but not exclusive) from the US — with the goal of illustrating the types of shifts we anticipate. In the second part of the essay, we argue that there is a need to map and evaluate the different moving elements identified in the first part more systematically. Towards this end, we develop an analytical framework on which the various moving elements discussed in the first section of the essay can be mapped, analyzed, and evaluated. Such a framework is an intermediate step when working towards a strategy dealing with the law’s digital revolution. Consequently, the third part builds upon this analytical framework and sketches the contours of a strategy for Swiss Law, which consists of a methodological and a substantive component. Methodologically, we call for a new strategic literacy enabling the analysis and management of the relationship between law, digital communication, and society in the digital age. The second component — again in form of a sketch — identifies a series of opportunities and possible next steps in the Swiss context.
David R. O’Brien, Jonathan Ullman, Micah Altman, Urs Gasser, Michael Bar-Sinai, Kobbi Nissim, Salil Vadhan, Michael John Wojcik & Alexandra Wood, Integrating Approaches to Privacy Across the Research Lifecycle: When Is Information Purely Public? (Berkman Ctr. Research Publ'n No. 2015-7, Mar. 29, 2015).
Categories:
Technology & Law
Sub-Categories:
Information Privacy & Security
Type: Other
Abstract
On September 24-25, 2013, the Privacy Tools for Sharing Research Data project at Harvard University held a workshop titled "Integrating Approaches to Privacy across the Research Data Lifecycle." Over forty leading experts in computer science, statistics, law, policy, and social science research convened to discuss the state of the art in data privacy research. The resulting conversations centered on the emerging tools and approaches from the participants’ various disciplines and how they should be integrated in the context of real-world use cases that involve the management of confidential research data. Researchers are increasingly obtaining data from social networking websites, publicly-placed sensors, government records and other public sources. Much of this information appears public, at least to first impressions, and it is capable of being used in research for a wide variety of purposes with seemingly minimal legal restrictions. The insights about human behaviors we may gain from research that uses this data are promising. However, members of the research community are questioning the ethics of these practices, and at the heart of the matter are some difficult questions about the boundaries between public and private information. This workshop report, the second in a series, identifies selected questions and explores issues around the meaning of “public” in the context of using data about individuals for research purposes.
Digitally Connected: Global Perspectives on Youth and Digital Media (Sandra Cortesi & Urs Gasser eds., Berkman Ctr. Research Publ'n No. 2015-6, Mar. 26, 2015).
Categories:
Technology & Law
,
Family Law
Sub-Categories:
Children's Law & Welfare
,
Communications Law
,
Networked Society
,
Information Privacy & Security
Type: Other
Abstract
Reflecting on the 25th anniversaries of the invention of the World Wide Web by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and the adoption of the Convention on Rights of the Child by the US General Assembly, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and UNICEF co-hosted in April 2014 — in collaboration with PEW Internet, EU Kids Online, the Internet Society (ISOC), Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), and YouthPolicy.org — a first of its kind international symposium on children, youth, and digital media to map and explore the global state of relevant research and practice, share and discuss insights and ideas from the developing and industrialized world, and encourage collaboration between participants across regions and continents. With a particular focus on voices and issues from the Global South, the symposium addressed topics such as inequitable access, risks to safety and privacy, skills and digital literacy, and spaces for participation, and civic engagement and innovation. The event also marked the launch of Digitally Connected — an initiative that brings together academics, practitioners, young people, activists, philanthropists, government officials, and representatives of technology companies from around the world who, together, are addressing the challenges and opportunities children and youth encounter in the digital environment. More information about the network (as well as the launch symposium) is available. This book is one contribution by this growing, global network of collaborators and consists of two parts. The first part brings together a series of reflection pieces in form of short essays written by friends and colleagues who attended the Digitally Connected symposium at Harvard University. The second part consists of a collection of stories, art, and digital media by youth about their experiences online. These creative pieces were submitted through an open call, which consisted of 10 prompts youth could reflect upon. The contributions in this book reflect the diversity of ideas and perspectives that form the core and spirit of Digitally Connected. Some of the reflection pieces are closely connected to issues discussed at the symposium, others reflect more generally on personal observations and/or opinions, or highlight and discuss insights and learnings from specific studies or concrete projects. By making these reflection pieces and the youth work available to the expanding Digitally Connected network as well as the public at large, we hope to continue and further stimulate the global conversation about both the challenges and opportunities children and youth encounter in the digital environment.
Sandra Cortesi, Urs Gasser, Sarah Genner, Erhardt Graeff, Paulina Haduong, Reynol Junco, Luis Felipe R. Murillo, Dalia Othman, Geanned Perlman Rosenberg, Emily Robinson, Mayte Schomburg, Brittany Seymour, Hasit Shah & Sara M. Watson, Youth and Online News: Reflections and Perspectives (Berkman Ctr. Research Publ'n No. 2015-3, Feb. 17, 2015).
Categories:
Family Law
,
Technology & Law
Sub-Categories:
Children's Law & Welfare
,
Communications Law
,
Networked Society
Type: Other
Abstract
This publication includes a series of short essays that offer interesting, alternative, exciting, sobering, unusual, out-of-the box perspectives, observations, or reflections at the intersection of news, digital media, and youth - broadly defined. The contributions in this publication reflect the diversity of ideas and perspectives that form the core and spirit of the Berkman community. Some of the essays are closely connected to specific research and publications conducted by the Youth and Media team (www.youthandmedia.org) at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, others reflect more generally on personal observations and/or opinions, or highlight and discuss insights and learnings from other studies or concrete projects.
Urs Gasser, Ryan Budish & Sarah Myers West, Multistakeholder as Governance Groups: Observations from Case Studies (Berkman Ctr. Research Publ'n No. 2015-1, Jan. 14, 2015).
Categories:
Technology & Law
Sub-Categories:
Networked Society
,
Cyberlaw
,
Communications Law
Type: Other
Abstract
This paper synthesizes a set of twelve case studies of real-world governance structures. Together with the underlying case studies, it is the result of a globally coordinated, independent academic research pilot project by the Global Network of Interdisciplinary Internet & Society Research Centers (NoC). Facilitated by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, this study examines existing multistakeholder governance groups with the goal of informing the evolution of — and current debate around — the future evolution of the Internet governance ecosystem in light of the NETmundial Principles and Roadmap, discussions at the Internet Governance Forum, and the NETmundial Initiative, as well as other forums, panels, and committees. Internet governance is an increasingly complex concept that operates at multiple levels and in different dimensions, making it necessary to have a better understanding of both how multistakeholder governance groups operate and how they best achieve their goals. With this need in mind, at a point where the future of Internet governance is being re-envisioned, this project aims to deepen our understanding of the formation, operation, and critical success factors of governance groups (and even challenge conventional thinking) by studying a geographically diverse set of local, national, and international governance models, components, and mechanisms from within and outside of the sphere of Internet governance, with a focus on lessons learned. The research effort is grounded in a diversity of global perspectives and collaborative research techniques. Adhering to objective and independent academic standards, it aspires to be useful, actionable, and timely for policymakers and stakeholders. More broadly, the Network of Centers seeks to contribute to a more generalized vision and longer-term strategy for academia regarding its roles in research, facilitation and convening, and education in and communication about the Internet age.
Sandra Cortesi & Urs Gasser, Youth Online and News: A Phenomenological View on Diversity, 9 Int’l J. Comm. 1932 (2015).
Categories:
Technology & Law
Sub-Categories:
Communications Law
,
Networked Society
Type: Article
Urs Gasser & Wolfgang Schulz, Governance of Online Intermediaries: Observations From a Series of National Case Studies, 18 Korea U. L. Rev. 79 (2015).
Categories:
Technology & Law
,
International, Foreign & Comparative Law
Sub-Categories:
Comparative Law
,
Communications Law
,
Cyberlaw
Type: Article
Abstract
Online intermediaries in various forms – including search engines, social media, or app platforms – play a constitutive role in today’s digital environment. They have become a new type of powerful institution in the 21st century that shape the public networked sphere, and are subject to intense and often controversial policy debates. This paper focuses on one particular force shaping the emergence and future evolution of online intermediaries: the rapidly changing landscape of intermediary governance at the intersection of law, technology, norms, and markets. Building upon eight in-depth case studies and use cases, respectively, this paper seeks to distill key observations and provide a high-level analysis of some of the structural elements that characterize varying governance regimes, with a focus on intermediary liability regimes and their evolution. Analyzing online intermediary governance issues from multiple perspectives, and in the context of different cultures and regulatory frameworks, immediately creates basic problems of semantic interoperability. Lacking a universally agreed-upon definition, the synthesis paper and its’ underlying case studies are based on a broad and phenomenon-oriented notion of online intermediaries, as further described below. In methodological terms, the observations shared in the synthesis paper offer a selective reading and interpretation by the authors of the broader take-ways of a diverse set of case studies examining online intermediary governance frameworks and issues in Brazil, the European Union, India, South Korea, the United States, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam. These case studies, in turn, have emerged in the context of an international research pilot by the Global Network of Internet & Society Research Centers (NoC), through a process of in-person consultations and remote collaborations among the researchers, and are based on a set of broader questions regarding the role of online intermediaries in the digital age.
Urs Gasser, Perspectives on the Future of Digital Privacy, Zeitschrift für Schweizerisches Recht (ZSR) II 337 (2015).
Categories:
Technology & Law
Sub-Categories:
Information Privacy & Security
,
Networked Society
Type: Article
Sandra Cortesi & Urs Gasser, Public Service Media | Youth Online and News: A Phenomenological View, 9 Int’l J. Comm. 1425 (2015).
Categories:
Technology & Law
,
Family Law
Sub-Categories:
Children's Law & Welfare
,
Communications Law
,
Networked Society
Type: Article
Abstract
As the amount of information consumed daily by young Internet users increases, researchers and policymakers have begun challenging conventional understandings of diversity exposure. Drawing upon findings from two mixed-method studies conducted in 2011 and 2013 by the Youth and Media project at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, this article argues that a phenomenological approach to diversity that takes into account a broad range of developments in the digitally networked environment, including behavioral trends related to seeking, sharing, and creating information, might be a helpful starting point for discussing both the problems and solutions related to different facets of the diversity concept. Following the case study on youth interaction with online news, this article analyzes a spectrum of transformations: changing definitions of news, changes in news reading (such as new forms of participation, changing access modalities, and new types of gatekeepers), developments in social media practices, and emerging genres (such as memes). Throughout, this article discusses some of the conceptual challenges that emerge when applying current diversity frameworks to a real-world scenario and highlights complex behavioral patterns that should be taken into account before considering any interventions aimed at increasing diversity.
Urs Gasser, Jonathan Zittrain, Robert Faris & Rebekah Heacock Jones, Internet Monitor 2014: Reflections on the Digital World: Platforms, Policy, Privacy, and Public Discourse (Berkman Ctr. Research Publ'n No. 2014-17, Dec. 17, 2014).
Categories:
Technology & Law
Sub-Categories:
Cyberlaw
,
Information Privacy & Security
,
Networked Society
Type: Other
Abstract
This publication is the second annual report of the Internet Monitor project at the Berkman Centerfor Internet & Society at Harvard University. As with the inaugural report, this year’s edition is a collaborative effort of the extended Berkman community. Internet Monitor 2014: Reflections on the Digital World includes nearly three dozen contributions from friends and colleagues around the world that highlight and discuss some of the most compelling events and trends in the digitally networked environment over the past year. The result, intended for a general interest audience, brings together reflection and analysis on a broad range of issues and regions — from an examination of Europe’s “right to be forgotten” to a review of the current state of mobile security to an exploration of a new wave of movements attempting to counter hate speech online — and offers it up for debate and discussion. Our goal remains not to provide a definitive assessment of the “state of the Internet” but rather to provide a rich compendium of commentary on the year’s developments with respect to the online space. Last year’s report examined the dynamics of Internet controls and online activity through the actions of government, corporations, and civil society. We focus this year on the interplay between technological platforms and policy; growing tensions between protecting personal privacy and using big data for social good; the implications of digital communications tools for public discourse and collective action; and current debates around the future of Internet governance. The report reflects the diversity of ideas and input the Internet Monitor project seeks to invite. Some of the contributions are descriptive; others prescriptive. Some contain purely factual observations; others offer personal opinion. In addition to those in traditional essay format, contributions this year include a speculative fiction story exploring what our increasingly data-driven world might bring, a selection of “visual thinking” illustrations that accompany a number of essays, a “Year in Review” timeline that highlights many of the year’s most fascinating Internet-related news stories (and an interactive version of which is available at the netmonitor.org), and a slightly tongue-in-cheek “By the Numbers” section that offers a look at the year’s important digital statistics. We believe that each contribution offers insights, and hope they provoke further reflection, conversation, and debate in both offline and online settings around the globe.
Urs Gasser, Herbert Burkert, John G. Palfrey & Jonathan L. Zittrain, Accountability and Transparency at ICANN: An Independent Review (Final Report)(Berkman Ctr. Res. Publ’n No. 2010-13, Oct. 20, 2010).
Categories:
Technology & Law
Sub-Categories:
Communications Law
,
Cyberlaw
,
Networked Society
Type: Other
Abstract
In August 2010, selected faculty and researchers at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, an independent, exploratory study analyzing ICANN’s decision-making processes and communications with its stakeholders. The study focused on developing a framework and recommendations for understanding and improving ICANN’s accountability and transparency. The study was undertaken as part of ICANN’s first Accountability and Transparency Review. On November 4, 2010, the Berkman team’s independent report was publicly posted alongside ICANN’s Accountability and Transparency Review Team's Draft Proposed Recommendations for Public Comment. The Executive Summary below outlines key Findings and Recommendations for Improvement. In addition to this Final Report, associated research materials, resources, and other supplementary inputs that were gathered in the course of the Berkman team’s work. 1. Problem Statement: In recent years, ICANN has taken important actions — ranging from significant policy changes to formal reviews — to improve its accountability, transparency, and the quality of its decision making. Despite considerable efforts and acknowledged improvements, ICANN continues to struggle with making decisions that the global Internet community can support. 2. Independent Review of Transparency and Accountability at ICANN: As part of a larger independent review process, faculty and researchers from the Berkman Center for Internet & Society have taken on the challenge of researching ICANN’s current efforts to improve accountability via mechanisms of transparency, public participation and corporate governance, and of analyzing key problems and issues across these areas. 3. Findings and Assessment: In-depth research into the three focus areas of this report reveals a highly complex picture with many interacting variables that make fact-finding challenging and also render simple solutions impossible. With this complexity in mind, and referring to the main text of the report for a more granular analysis, the findings and assessments of this report can be condensed as follows. ICANN’s performance regarding transparency is currently not meeting its potential across all areas reviewed and shows deficits along a number of dimensions. It calls for clearly defined improvements at the level of policy, information design, and decision making. ICANN has made significant progress in improving its public participation mechanisms and gets high marks regarding its overall trajectory in this regard. Remaining concerns about the practical impact of public participation on Board decisions are best addressed by increasing visibility and traceability of individual inputs, in order to clarify how these inputs ultimately factor into ICANN decision-making processes. ICANN’s greatest challenge ahead, despite significant recent efforts, remains corporate and Board governance. Proposed measures identified in this report aim to increase efficiency, transparency and accountability within the current context and in the absence of standard accountability mechanisms. 4. Recommendations: There is no straightforward way to address the various challenges ICANN faces. The approach underlying this report’s recommendations takes an evolutionary rather than revolutionary perspective. This approach is aimed at continually improving ICANN’s accountability step by step, based on lessons learned, through a series of measured interventions, reinforced by monitoring and subsequent re-evaluation. For each of the three focal areas covered in this report and for each of the key issues addressed, this report suggests ways in which the status quo can be improved. Some of these recommendations can be implemented quickly, others require policy changes, and still others call for more in-depth research, consultation and deliberation among the involved stakeholders. This report’s recommendations vary in kind and orientation. They encourage the adoption of best practices where available and experimentation with approaches and tools where feasible. Several of the recommendations are aimed at improving information processing, creation, distribution, and responsiveness at different levels of the organization.
Urs Gasser, James M. Thurman, Richard Stäuber & Jan Gerlach, E-Democracy in Switzerland: Practice and Perspectives (Dike Publishers 2010).
Categories:
International, Foreign & Comparative Law
,
Technology & Law
,
Government & Politics
Sub-Categories:
Elections & Voting
,
Foreign Law
,
Networked Society
Type: Book
Abstract
Electronic democracy is a relatively new subject of study. However, with the globalization of Internet use, the deployment of information and communication technology to improve democracy has rapidly gained worldwide attention. The authors of this book explore the practice of e-democracy in Switzerland, using three examples that roughly map three stages of the democratic process: 1) the pre-voting stage of Smartvote, a candidate-voter matching system; 2) the voting stage itself on the implementation of electronic voting (e-voting); and 3) the post-voting phase on the use of blogs by Moritz Leuenberger and Christoph Blocher, a current and a former member of the Swiss government, respectively. The authors describe and assess the implications of these uses of the Internet on democratic processes in Switzerland. They conclude that developing the tools discussed would hold opportunities for Swiss democracy, as they contribute to central principles of the democratic process, namely voter participation and citizen awareness. This report is a contribution by the Research Center for Information Law at the University of St. Gallen (Switzerland) to a series of related studies from various countries around the world, produced by the Internet & Democracy Project at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, which investigates the impact of the Internet on civic engagement and democratic processes.
Urs Gasser & John G. Palfrey, Mastering Multitasking, 66 Educ. Leadership 14 (2009).
Categories:
Technology & Law
Sub-Categories:
Networked Society
Type: Article
Abstract
It's part of every digital native's life. Can we help students do it right? In 2007 alone, 161 billion gigabytes of digital content were created, stored, and shared around the world. This is equivalent to 12 stacks of books reaching from the Earth to the sun, or six tons of books for every living person (Gantz, 2008). It's not only the exponential growth of digital information that is staggering. The number of communication channels is also growing rapidly. A business research firm recently calculated that a typical worker in the knowledge economy deals with 200 e-mails, dozens of instant messages, multiple phone calls, and several text messages a day (Spira & Goldes, 2007).
John G. Palfrey & Urs Gasser, Born Digital Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives (Basic Books 2008).
Categories:
Technology & Law
Sub-Categories:
Networked Society
,
Information Privacy & Security
Type: Book
Abstract
The most enduring change wrought by the digital revolution is neither the new business models nor the new search algorithms, but rather the massive generation gap between those who were born digital and those who were not. The first generation of "digital natives"--children who were born into and raised in the digital world--is now coming of age, and soon our world will be reshaped in their image. Our economy, our cultural life, even the shape of our family life will be forever transformed. But who are these digital natives? How are they different from older generations, and what is the world they're creating going to look like? Based on original research and advancing new theories, the authors explore a broad range of issues, from the highly philosophical to the purely practical. --From publisher description.
Information Quality Regulation: Foundations, Perspectives, and Applications (Urs Gasser ed., Nomos 2004).
Categories:
Technology & Law
Sub-Categories:
Information Privacy & Security
,
Information Commons
,
Communications Law
,
Cyberlaw
Type: Book

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