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Important Dates
  • early bird rates for registration until April 10.
  • Special hotel rate of $185 Canadian, taxes not included, expires on April 1
  • US citizens arriving by air require a passport, and passport application processing times are now up to three weeks due to high volume.
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    Autonomy:  Fencing in Freedoms on the Electronic Frontier

    When the Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference first started in 1991 in San Francisco, its raison d'etre was to provide a forum where regulators and government officials, not themselves denizens of the new electronic frontier, could start to understand the Internet and engage in dialogue with the growing Internet-savvy sub-culture.  Tensions were running high, as hackers, cyber-libertarians and technology developers revelled in the new power of the networks and expanding computing capacity.  Suddenly there was a growing availability of cryptographic tools, formerly in the exclusive control of government.   Governments and business itself were increasingly uneasy, fearing the explosion of cybercrime, while media were hyping internet pornography and online gambling.   Times were exciting, and the dialogue was intense and at times raucous.

    The Net has continued to explode, faster than many of us could have imagined.   The technology works, and lots of people have made a lot of money.  A whole new generation has grown up, expecting to communicate instantly to a huge circle of friends and connections around the world.  Life without computers and cell-phones is unthinkable to today's North American teenagers.  At the World Summit on the Information Society held under the auspices of the International Telecommunications Union in Geneva in December 2003 and in Tunis November 2005, some NGOs called for the right to communicate to be added to the UN Declaration of Human Rights.  Clearly, computing and communicating have empowered the individual and enabled her to participate in the global community.

    This explosion of computing power is entering a new phase, as we move to a world of ubiquitous computing and nanotechnology.  Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology is rolling out, promising a world where virtually every item of goods we possess, from a can of soda to a car licence plate, will be communicating with transmitter-receivers embedded everywhere, from doorways to roadways to point-of-sale terminals.  The next version of the Internet architecture, Internet Protocol Version 6 or IPV6, will permit a unique IP address for every 40 thousand molecules on the face of the earth, up to a kilometer up.  Hands up, anyone who understands what this will do to humanity and our understanding of how our world is going to function.   Is this going to bring further empowerment, or has the tide turned?

    The need for discussion is more urgent now than ever.

    Everyone working in the field of public education, from librarians to teachers to consumer activists and civil libertarians, understands that we are hitting a wall with respect to helping the average person deal with the complexity of modern life.  From finance to cellular phone packages, reading food labels to making decisions about your children's education, life is infinitely more complex than it was a generation ago.  Dealing with pollution, global warming, holes in the ozone, contaminants in water,  investments, pensions, health care choices...consumers are worn out and reaching the breaking point.  Small wonder it has been difficult to get the public worked up about incursions into free speech, civil liberties, and privacy.  They are busy reading labels looking for transfats.

    It is time for another major discussion to take place.  We are moving to a world of ubiquitous surveillance, faster than anyone could have imagined.  More ominously, the computers that take charge of the world, aptly foretold in Arthur C. Clarke's 2001:  A Space Odyssey, are here.   Meet Hal, your new cell phone, that will decide when it will turn itself on and on off, and when it will report your geographical location to the authorities.  Meet Hal, your new refrigerator that reorders the food as it expires...or not, depending on what your health care provider stipulates.  Meet Hal, the robot that is looking after your mother in her assisted living apartment, nagging her to take her pills, monitoring her blood sugar, her caloric intake, and her mood swings.  Meet Hal, the resource manager that operates on behalf of your utility company to ensure you do not over-consume.  Meet Hal, the friendly update manager who takes over your computer to make sure you have the latest anti-virus protection, the latest digital rights management software to ensure you only do what you are allowed to do with the music you buy.

    Who is in control of this new world?  Are the hackers and the uber-geeks the only ones who can still tell their own laptop computers what to do, or disable the devices that will soon be managing our lives?   Can the average individual control the objects in their lives, objects which we in this consumer society are increasingly dependent on, or will they be run remotely by distant owners, regulators, government officials, or private sector operators cooperating with any of the above?

    Since the events of September 11 2001, citizens in developed countries, especially North Americans, have been asked to give up a little privacy, a little liberty, in the interests of safety.  The global war on terror has been the excuse to increase state control of financial information, geo-positioning information, access to telecommunications information, mandatory data retention, expansion of video-surveillance, increased authentication and identification, and passenger screening.  Public information is being removed from the Internet and from public circulation under 40 year old FOIA legislation (25 years old in Canada).  Because this is a GLOBAL war on terror, the agreements made among consenting countries to share data and cooperate with one another with respect to enforcement further preclude sharing the information with the citizens of those countries.  Never before has there been so much public policy made at the international level by career public officials, rather than  by elected officials, members of Congress and Parliamentarians around the world.   How can democracies survive these kinds of transnational agreements that provide for surveillance of their own citizens?  Can a democratic state exercise autonomy in this environment?

    Thanks to ACM