Weaponizing the Digital Humanities

6 Responses to Weaponizing the Digital Humanities

  • On my very first Humanities Computing workshop back in 1996 in Oxford [TESS: Text Encoding Summer School], a FBI affiliate attended because the agency was interested in the possibilities of SGML for big data [which was not called like this at that time]. Although he was a very nice chap, we were all very conscient of the fact that we had probably all been checked out by the FBI, which added a strange atmosphere to the workshop. Suddenly, not only the knowledge, techniques and methodologies to be acquired there, became the subject of the event, but also our own scholarly work, institutional affliliations and further interests in the future of Humanities Computing. Let’s not allow this to happen with the DH Conferences. They should remain a freehaven for both scholarly creativity and social contacts and networking.

  • Thank you for this post. I had a workshop with this man and felt entirely uncomfortable with his presence throughout the conference, not only because of his invasive questions about my own research, but the fact that I generally found him within earshot of every conversation I had. In a previous life as a mathematician, endless approaches were made by the NSA and the DoD to gain my colleagues’ skills for death and destruction. It is sad that such important work should be used for such purposes in mathematics, and now in digital humanities. I agree that we should take a stand and make our DH conferences a safe place to express ideas without fear of retribution and/or the use of those ideas for nefarious and unethical purposes.

  • chris says:

    Grahame, that’s a seemingly pragmatist point often raised in these debates. Let me try and rephrase it in more general terms: what if DH research which has been unlawfully obtained were indeed put to use for state run surveillance purposes and can, in a particular instance, later be shown to have prevented a specific act of terrorism? Wouldn’t this then justify an agency’s attempt at exploiting our research? – Note that I’m elevating your implicit hypothetical argument to a state of fact. In other words, I’m assuming for argument’s sake that there is incontrovertible proof for a direct causal link between the controversial exploitation of research findings, and the saving of lives. Wouldn’t this settle the issue?

    No, I do not think so, and for two reasons. One, any government agency interested in our research is free to approach us openly, say who they are and what they want. It is then for the individual researcher to decide whether they want to enter into an exchange and support their activities or not. Indeed, as most of our research findings are in the open domain anyhow the results as such can legally be picked up from there without asking for consent. Using the research as such is not what is at stake here – the issue is the attempt at interacting with individual researchers and under a false identity.

    Two, I’m sure there is a specific term in legal theory for this, but the gist of the argument goes like this: in a democractic context the state cannot legitimize ex post the breaking of laws by pointing to desirable outcome having been obtained in a particular case. Acting with a false identity constitutes such a breach. There are very strict regulations for when a government agent may assume a false identity in order to obtain, say, criminal evidence. Each and every particular instance of doing so requires prior authorization by a court or a state attorney – if you fail to do so the evidence will be invalid, no matter how relevant to the case it might later be shown to be.

    It might be a bit odd to take the argument to this extreme, so let’s reconsider the specific context: A DH conference is not a meeting of drug dealers where undercover agents can expect to obtain information that is otherwise inaccessible. And so there is absolutely no need and no justification for this type of activity.

  • chris says:

    Check out Geoffrey Rockwell’s subtle ‘rhetorical interpretation’ @ http://theoreti.ca/?p=5057 of

    “(…) the slides for a talk on “CSEC – Advanced Network Tradecraft” that was titled, “And They Said To The Titans: «Watch Out Olympians In The House!»”. In a different, more critical spirit of “watching out”, here is an initial reading of the slides. What can we learn about how organizations like CSEC are spying on us? What can we learn about how they think about their “tradecraft”? What can we learn about the tools they have developed? What follows is a rhetorical interpretation.”