Blogg e-BERTONI

18/7/14

The Cows right to privacy

A resolution of the Federal Administration of Public Revenues (AFIP, in Spanish) was recently disseminated throughout media outlets. It requires that every cow have a chip inside its body, which, thanks to a monitoring system, will enable the movement of cattle throughout the country to be controlled. Last week when I wrote the article, “El Greco, copyright and access to culture,” I felt obligated to clarify that I am not an art critic. Today, as I write this note, I think I should also clarify that I am not an expert on taxes, or on agriculture and livestock. It’s just that, upon reading the policy that AFIP proposes implementing, I thought about the poor little cows in our country that will no longer be able to hide themselves from the State; it seems that the moment to defend their privacy has arrived! Dear readers, this piece begins in all seriousness starting now:

I do not want to discuss here the possibility that animals are subjects of fundamental rights (in this case, if cows do have privacy). Rather, I want to call attention to how easy it is, in the current technological context, to implement monitoring mechanisms that, in fact, can affect the human right to privacy of all of us. Today we put the chip in cows – or in dogs, for example, as in Spain – but nothing would impede the obligatory installation of such a chip in our own bodies. Science fiction? I don’t think so. But as I will say later on, this is not the only way of affecting our right to privacy.

The same week that the AFIP in Argentina released its resolution about the cows, the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations published the study, “The Right to Privacy in the Digital Age.” For me it was honestly much more interesting to read this document than the AFIP’s and I recommend it for those who are interested in studying the – positive or negative – impact of technology on the exercise of rights. The United Nations report reads, “Declining costs of technology and data storage have eradicated financial or practical disincentives to conducting surveillance. The State now has a greater capability to conduct simultaneous, invasive, targeted and broad-scale surveillance than ever before. In other words, the technological platforms upon which global political, economic and social life are increasingly reliant are not only vulnerable to mass surveillance, they may actually facilitate it.”

This report becomes even more interesting when it references the role of private companies as possible agents that contribute to affecting human rights. And I fully share the position that the High Commissioner adopts when it sustains that, “Where enterprises are faced with government demands for access to data that do not comply with international human rights standards, they are expected to seek to honour the principles of human rights to the greatest extent possible, and to be able to demonstrate their ongoing efforts to do so. This can mean interpreting government demands as narrowly as possible, seeking clarification from a Government with regard to the scope and legal foundation for the demand, requiring a court order before meeting government requests for data, and communicating transparently with users about risks and compliance with government demands.” In other words, I think that big multinational companies should assume responsibility for confronting authoritarian states that, under local or local regulations that claim to be legal, clearly infringe on international human rights.

This piece begins with the possibility of electronic surveillance through the use of a chip in the body. But I believe it’s important to conclude clarifying that current technology permits mass surveillance even without that intrusive application in the body. The revelations of Edward Snowden are simply one demonstration of this. The UN report addresses these problems as well. And, even when it should be important to discuss the content of the right to privacy in the digital era, what is certain is that it is imperative to study the best policies for protecting it. 

El derecho a la privacidad de las vacas

Recientemente se difundió en los medios de comunicación de Argentina, una resolución de la Agencia Federal de Ingresos Públicos (AFIP) para obligar a que cada vaca tenga dentro de su cuerpo un "chip" y así poder controlar, gracias a un sistema de seguimiento informático, el movimiento del ganado en el país. La semana pasada cuando escribí la nota "El Greco, derechos de autor y bienes culturales" me sentí con la obligación de aclarar que no era un crítico de arte. Hoy, al escribir esta nota, creo que también debo aclarar que ni soy un experto en impuestos, ni en cuestiones agropecuarias. Sólo que, al leer la política que la AFIP se propone implementar, pensé en las pobres vaquitas de nuestro país que ya no podrán esconderse del Estado, y por ello creo que llegó el momento de defender su privacidad! Queridos lectores, la nota comienza en serio a partir de ahora:

No quiero discutir aquí la posibilidad para que los animales sean sujetos de derechos fundamentales (en este caso si las vacas tienen privacidad). Antes bien, quiero llamar la atención a que en el contexto tecnológico actual, es muy fácil implementar mecanismos de seguimiento que, en verdad, pueden afectar el derecho humano a la privacidad en todos nosotros. Hoy el chip se lo ponemos a las vacas -o a los perros, como por ejemplo en España- pero nada impediría a que se nos obligue a tener instalado uno en nuestro propio cuerpo. ¿Ciencia ficción? No lo creo. Pero como diré más adelante, no es esta la única manera de afectar nuestro derecho a la privacidad.

La misma semana que la AFIP en Argentina daba a conocer su resolución sobre las vacas, la Alta Comisionada de Derechos Humanos de las Naciones Unidas publicó el estudio "El Derecho a la Privacidad en la Era Digital". Honestamente para mi fue mucho más interesante leer este documento que el de la AFIP y lo recomiendo para quienes estén interesados en el estudio del impacto de la tecnología -positivo o negativo- para el ejercicio de derechos. En el informe de las Naciones Unidas se lee que "Los costos declinantes de la tecnología y el almacenamiento de datos han erradicado desincentivos financieros o prácticos para la vigilancia. El Estado ahora tiene una mayor capacidad que nunca para llevar a cabo vigilancia simultánea, invasiva y específicamente orientada.  En otras palabras, las plataformas tecnológicas sobre las que la vida global política, económica y social depende cada vez más no sólo son vulnerables a la vigilancia, sino que la facilita."

Este informe resulta más interesante cuando se refiere al rol de las empresas privadas como posibles agentes que contribuyan a afectar derechos humanos. Y comparto plenamente la posición que adopta la Alta Comisionada cuando sostiene que "Donde las empresas enfrentan las demandas del gobierno de acceder datos que no cumplen con las normas internacionales de derechos humanos, se espera que busquen respetar los principios de derechos humanos en la mayor medida posible, y que puedan mostrar sus esfuerzos de hacerlo. Ello puede significar hacer una interpretación lo más restringida posible de los requerimientos de los gobiernos, buscar la clarificación por parte del gobierno en relación con el alcance y los fundamentos legales de la petición, requerir una orden judicial antes de acceder al pedido de datos que haga el gobierno, y comunicar de manera transparente con los usuarios sobre los riesgos y cumplimientos de las demandas de los gobiernos. " En otras palabras, creo que las grandes empresas multinacionales deben asumir la responsabilidad de enfrentar estados autoritarios que bajo órdenes o regulaciones locales que pretenden tener un manto de legalidad claramente infringen el derecho internacional de los derechos humanos.

Esta nota comienza con la posibilidad de vigilancia electrónica mediante la utilización de un "chip" en el cuerpo. Pero creo importante terminar aclarando que la tecnología actual permite la vigilancia masiva aún sin esa aplicación intrusiva en el cuerpo. Las revelaciones de Edward Snowden son sólo una muestra de esta afirmación. El informe de las Naciones Unidas aborda adecuadamente estos problemas. Y, aún cuando debamos discutir en la era digital el contenido del derecho a la privacidad, lo cierto es que es imperioso estudiar las mejores políticas para protegerlo.



11/7/14

El Greco, copyright, and access to culture*

I am not an art critic. Far from it. Just an amateur who likes to visit museums or galleries that feature the works of artists I enjoy or do not know. As such, while in Madrid, I stopped by the Museo del Prado, where “El Greco & Modern Painting” was being exhibited. It’s very possible that my academic obsessions informed the way I studied the paintings and processed the explanations. And, in this case, I found a direct line of argument between what was being shown and the necessary reformulation of laws that regulate copyright. If with this introduction I have provoked in you, reader, some intuitive sense of where I’m going, I recommend that you continue reading this brief note.

Having mentioned that I’m not an art critic, and in order to avoid any bad description of a rudimentary observer, I’ll take advantage of the description that newspaper El País of Madrid published on the exposition. It reads, “El Greco did not die in Toledo in 1614, despite what books on the History of Art say. Like the ghost of Elvis in the gas stations in Tennessee, the spirit of the Cretan painter could be seen guiding Manet in the rooms of the Prado and in that initial trip to Madrid in 1865; it sat in the beer halls in Munich to spur on the members of the Blue Rider group half a century later; or it appeared in the Long Island studio of Pollock just in time for the foundational moment of action painting.”

In the same article, something else is explained that anyone who sees the exhibit can confirm: “On occasion […] the influence is so palpable that what is lacking one of those ingenious systems that permits passing from one piece to the other drawing back an invisible lace curtain: the astonishing couples formed by The Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest and a portrait of Modigliani by Paul Alexandre (1913); the Gypsy (1915) by Delaunay and the San Sebastián painted by El Greco three hundred years before; or that undisguised version of The Adoration of the Name of Jesus that Max Beckmann titled in 1907 Study for the Resurrection I.”

What the exposition shows and demonstrates – I invite you to watch the video that can be found on the museum’s website – is that a significant number of artists owed their inspiration to the work of the Cretan master, with strikingly similar lines between the work itself and that which was a source of inspiration. It is evident that all of those who were influenced by El Greco created different cultural objects and that therefore, no “copyright” would have corresponded to El Greco in making claims to the artists who share the Museo del Prado exhibit.

The technology at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century was substantially different than current technology. It is difficult to know what Picasso, Pollock, Chagall or so many others would have done with digital technology. It seems to me that what these masters did with El Greco is what our generations are doing with techniques that we know as “remixes” or “mash ups.” But, while clearly the objects that are produced with these techniques are cultural property distinct from those that form the basis of their creation, current regulations that protect the “property” of the copyright without exceptions – such as the case of the ancient law 11.723 of Argentina – make it so that those who use them can be brought to trial to demand compensation for the “copying” or “reproduction” of the work without authorization.


But there is not only reaction against those who use protected works to create their own, but in addition requests to block sites on the Internet are increasing based on the application of laws that protect copyrights. It is for that reason that upon leaving the Museo del Prado, I was left wondering how many Picassos, Pollocks or Chagalls could be falling by the wayside today. In other words, it would not be good for those who admire them today if these masters had not been able to access the works of El Greco and feel his inspiration. And it is not good that, for present and future generations, we could today be getting close to the creation of cultural goods thanks to the application of laws that merit a fresh look and urgent modification.

 *This article was originally written in Spanish. I thank Sophie Sadinsky, a PILA fellow at CELE, who helped in the translation into English.