Next IRN Presentation – Dec 5, 2018

The next meeting of the IRN will take place on Wednesday Dec 5 at 5:00pm in rm 302 at the Munk School (1 Devonshire Pl). Gabriel Menard, a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Toronto, will be presenting his research.

Policy Escalation in the Net Neutrality Debate (or, This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things)

The US Federal Communications Commission recently repealed network neutrality regulations that had been in place to prevent Internet access providers from engaging in anti-competitive traffic management practices. How did this widely popular telecommunications policy come to be defeated? I argue this occurred in part because (1) structural opportunities endemic to the US telecommunications policy framework allowed opponents to transform the issue from one of substantive policymaking (i.e., ‘the merits of the policy’) into one of procedural policymaking (i.e., ‘the authority to implement the policy’); and (2) this transformation obstructed the development of enduring solutions to the issue. The paper serves as a reminder that tech policy – and by extension, the future of technological development – remains firmly embedded in wider social and political contexts that may not be friendly to those directly implicated in tech development and use.

Next IRN Presentation – Oct 17, 2018

The next meeting of the IRN will take place on Wednesday Oct 17 at 4:00pm in rm 302 at the Munk School (1 Devonshire Pl). Lennart Maschmeyer, a PhD candidate in Political Science at the University of Toronto, will be presenting his research.

Civil Society and Cybersecurity: Hung out to Dry by Privatization, Security Competition, and Market Failures

The Internet was supposed to diffuse sovereignty, challenge states and empower transnational civil society to transform world politics, transcending security competition. Today authoritarianism is resurging, cyberspace is increasingly contested and civil society is facing a barrage of digital threats. Why? This article argues that rather than ending security competition, ICTs have enabled it to go transnational. The transnationalization of security competition has provided new opportunities for states to project power and control missed by governance scholars focusing on the promise of a post-national world. ICTs have facilitated a decoupling of the means of power from territorial control, enabling the transnational projection of power and enabling a commodification of security as private actors step in to fill the void created by states’ inability to provide security in the traditional sense. Security is being commodified, producing market failures and externalities that exacerbate the precarious situation of vulnerable civil society organization (CSOs). Lacking resources and expertise, CSOs have insufficient information on threats, cannot afford advanced defenses yet face increasingly advanced and effective digital threats. To test these assumptions, the article formulates a set of hypotheses and tests them against the available evidence on targeted digital threats. It contributes an original dataset built from all available public reporting by security vendors and independent research centers. This analysis identifies the limits of commercial reporting as a data source and triangulates the threat landscape faced by CSOs based on aggregate data.

Next IRN Workshop on April 25, 2018

The next IRN workshop will take place on Wednesday April 25 at 11:00am in rm 302 at the Munk School (1 Devonshire Pl). Patricia Thaine, a PhD candidate in Computer Science at the University of Toronto, will be hosting a workshop on cryptography.

An Overview of Cryptography

I will introduce basic theoretic cryptographic concepts, different types of cryptographic schemes, and how some of these schemes are used for securing our devices. Specifically, we will discuss: the difference between symmetric (e.g., AES) and asymmetric (e.g.,RSA) encryption, different types of adversaries and what makes experts consider an encryption scheme secure, which schemes are used in practice for message transmissions and large data set encryption, and what is considered to be the “holy grail” of cryptography (i.e., homomorphic encryption, which allows one to perform operations on encrypted data without decrypting said data). These concepts will be accessible to a general audience.

Next IRN Presentation on April 4, 2018

The next meeting of the IRN will take place on Wednesday April 4 from 5:00-6:30pm in rm 302 at the Munk School (1 Devonshire Pl). Andrew Nevin, a PhD student in Sociology at the University of Toronto will be presenting his research.

Cyber-Psychopathy and Online Misconduct

Currently, there is a lack of research investigating how the unique structural conditions of cyberspace, such as anonymity, asynchronicity, and normlessness, may influence incidences of cyber-deviance. To fill this gap, I hypothesize a concept I call “cyber-psychopathy”, which is an expression of ‘dark’ e-personality that may serve as a potential mediator between such Internet characteristics and online misconduct behaviours. In this study, I quantitatively test the validity of cyber-psychopathy, namely the notion that psychopathic traits, on average, may be expressed at higher levels when in online environments. Analyses of data from 2015 have shown support for this idea–when controlling for social context, individuals report higher psychopathy scores online than offline, which is especially pronounced in male subsamples. Further multivariate models demonstrated the role of cyber-psychopathy in subsequently predicting both increased acceptability and greater tendencies toward behaviours such as cyber-stalking, trolling, flaming, and digital piracy. Implications from these findings suggest a need to foster empathy and close the psychological distance between netizens, as well as to understand the internet as a real social space facilitating interactions between real people. Overall, this research has served as a pilot study for my dissertation, which aims to replicate and extend these findings in a nationally representative sample of Canadian internet users.

Next IRN Presentation on March 21, 2018

The next meeting of the IRN will take place on Wednesday March 21st from 5:00-6:30pm in rm 302 at the Munk School (1 Devonshire Pl). Pascal Lupien, Adjunct Professor at the University of Guelph and Research Fellow at Balsillie School of International Affairs will be presenting his current work.

Indigenous Civil Society, Security and ICTs in Latin America: Challenges and Prospects

The wave of democratization that swept Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s provided new political opportunities and groups representing Indigenous communities have engaged in diverse forms of collective action with varying degrees of success. Yet surprisingly little attention has been paid to the impact of technology on the capacity of Indigenous civil society to advance collective goals and to how states are using ICTs to disrupt or control these efforts. Indigenous peoples are characterized by above average rates of poverty and geographical isolation, meaning that they often lack infrastructure, Internet access and IT-related skills. More so than any other group in their respective societies, Indigenous social movements have challenged key state interests with respect to extractive activities. This has caused conflict between Indigenous communities and states that rely heavily on natural resources for revenue. In response, state actors and extractive industries in Latin America have borrowed from the national security discourse of their counterparts in the Global North, often labelling these groups as security threats. They have utilized a complex and growing set of information control mechanisms to enforce their agenda.

This talk will present an analysis of the evolving cyberpolitics landscape in Latin American countries such as Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Venezuela and Mexico from the perspective of the region’s Indigenous civil society organizations. While lack of infrastructure, resources and IT skills pose significant challenges, information security issues also pose a threat to the ability of Indigenous organizations to pursue their interests. Weak and outdated surveillance legislation, combined with an increased government interest in intrusive technologies, create more barriers. Organizations representing marginalized communities are in a weak position to detect and combat surveillance and cyberattacks, and to demand enforcement of whatever privacy legislation does exist. Given Latin American states’ reliance on natural resources, lack of infrastructure and training in rural areas, and the current political climate that favours a security discourse in the face or real or imagined threats, it appears that ICTs are shifting the balance of power away from the Hemisphere’s most marginalized actors.

Next IRN Presentation on March 14th

The next meeting of the IRN will take place on Wednesday March 14th from 5:00-6:30pm (in rm 302 at the Munk School). Steven Loleski, PhD Candidate in Political Science, will present his current research on the evolution of the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations:

From Cold to Cyber Warriors: The Origins and Expansion of NSA’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO)

The Snowden disclosures had wide ranging effects but arguably foremost among them was to publicize the dangers of mass surveillance in the Internet age. The initial Snowden revelations deliberately targeted NSA’s bulk telephony program and collection from various large U.S. Internet companies under the Prism program. The NSA’s response to the digital age, it seemed, was to collect it all. While certainly the digital age posed some unique challenges and opportunities on the NSA in terms of collection and processing, it overlooks the innovation of targeted, state-sponsored hacking. The fastest growing part of NSA following 9/11, according to then-acting Director Michael Hayden, was NSA’s Office of Tailored Access Operations (TAO). Instead of passively and indiscriminately intercepting data, TAO was designed to actively target networks. How did the practice of state-sponsored hacking emerge and develop? This paper discusses the origins and development of the practice of active SIGINT from the mid-1980s to the present. Importantly, active SIGINT as a practice emerged from its creative insights among some in the NSA workforce and not from an immediate failure to adapt to change.

SIGINT Workshop on March 7, 2018

Chris Parsons, research associate at Citizen Lab, will be holding a workshop on his research on SIGINT and surveillance. The workshop will take place on Wednesday March 7 at 10:00am in the Munk School Building (room 302N).

Chris will be speaking about, first, the areas of research in which he is involved and how technologies are evolving at a rate which exceeds the drafting and passage of legislation or establishment of government accountability regimes. After providing a broad overview of this area of work he will discuss, specifically, how the transition to digital technologies have led to a quantum leap in Canadian government agencies’ access to data and corresponding lawful authorities to access said data, but without corresponding accountability regimes. He will argue that such leaps risk separating the lawfulness of government activities from the legitimization of such activities, and outline potential challenges to democratic politics that raise as a result.

This will be a great opportunity to learn more about the regulatory challenges posed by technological development, and the ways law enforcement and intelligence agencies are exploiting loopholes this creates.

Next meeting: Feb 6 on Net Neutrality

Gabriel Menard, PhD Candidate in Sociology, will be presenting his research on the following topic:

The Politics of Network Neutrality Regulation in the United States
Governments around the world are adopting Network Neutrality rules to protect Internet users against potentially anti-competitive practices of telecommunications service providers. But as these protections expand elsewhere, the United States has recently moved to repeal Net Neutrality rules. Why has the U.S. developed such a peculiar policy framework on this issue?
In this presentation, Gabriel Menard discusses preliminary findings from his research into the politics of Network Neutrality regulation in the United States. Building on analysis of Congressional records, regulatory publications, and interviews with policy-makers, he digs into the popular narrative of a regulator ‘captured’ by industry interests, and draws attention to structural features specific to the U.S. polity.

Next meeting: October 10, 5pm – James Shires on Ethics and Technology Transfers

Our next meeting will be on Oct 10 at 5pm in room 302N at 1 Devonshire Pl, or remotely via

James Shires will be presenting his paper, titled

Responses by intrusion and surveillance companies to the 2013 Wassenaar amendment

This paper examines the discourse of companies selling intrusion and surveillance technologies around the 2013 amendment to the Wassenaar Arrangement, taken from both public statements and leaked documents. It identifies two main responses: distance, in which the company uses a variety of tactics to deflect the force of ethical judgements, and engagement, in which the company adapts ethical considerations to appear congruent with its prior practices. It argues that distance is constrained by the requirement for close oversight of the technologies, while engagement permits the strategic deployment of an ethically motivated identity for advantage.
Paper plan (readers familiar with or not interested in Parts 1-3 feel free to skip straight to Part 4):
Part 1 situates the paper in current International Relations theory.
Part 2 provides an overview of the Wassenaar Arrangement as an ethical constraint, using the UK export regime as an example.
Part 3 provides an overview of the association of intrusion and surveillance technologies with human rights violations, partly based on reports by the Citizen Lab.
Part 4 examines the discourse of companies such as HackingTeam and NSO Group selling such technologies.

Bio:James Shires is a DPhil candidate in International Relations and Research Affiliate at the Cyber Studies Programme, at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford. His research examines the emergence of cybersecurity in the Middle East, focusing on relationships between governments, businesses, and international organisations and the ethical implications of such relationships. He has an MSc in Global Governance and Public Policy from Birkbeck College, University of London, a BA in Philosophy from the University of Cambridge, and has worked on cybersecurity policy and analysis in the UK Ministry of Defence and Home Office.

We look forward to seeing you there!