Convergence agents & librarian badasses

On this, the eve of the introduction of mandatory data retention laws in Australia, it seems fitting that this Tweet was the first thing I looked at today:

Last week I attended two events where data retention was a hot topic: the inaugural Swinburne Internet Policy Workshop (5 October 2015 | SIPW) organised by the Swinburne Institute of Social Research’s Digital Society Group, and the Australian Internet Governance Forum (6-7 October 2015 | auIGF).

The SIPW and the auIGF covered diverse issues: gender and the internet, Indigenous communities and internet access, public policy and innovation, metadata retention, ethics and regulation, and social protests. While the auIGF aimed to be more of a public forum for community groups, government, and the media, the SIPW was a little more of a research-focused academic event.

I was really alarmed at the SIPW after listening to Associate Professor Jennifer Holt speak (a talk based on this paper), especially as she predicted that soon it may not be possible to use government services without being forced to log in with a ‘digital passport’ provided by Google or Facebook. Is this what the internet is becoming? This is not freedom.

Also at the SIPW there was talk of how journalists have been unfairly targeted if they are seen to be speaking out about metadata retention.

I worry about the loss of intrepid, fearless journalism under these new laws, especially after attending the 2015 A.N. Smith Lecture in Journalism given by Sarah Ferguson.

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance paints a grim picture of the incoming laws, saying that they “make every citizen a suspect, seek to intimidate and silence whistleblowers, and crush public interest journalism“.

On Twitter, fierce defenders of privacy have been sharing resources and instructions about how ordinary citizens can go about defending their online rights.

Events like the SIPW and auIgf are extremely helpful for professional development – and for me, arguably better than any formal education has proven to be for this kind of knowledge-gathering. These events also give a voice to what I’ve decided to call “convergence agents” – interdisciplinary researchers, educators, activists, and information professionals who have a vision and a mission to both disrupt and add to research endeavours in many different fields – technology, law, policy, education, and information. Convergence agents are agents for change, as they have a broad grasp of the basic elements of different fields that they can pull together to make real change happen.

I think we need more information professionals who aspire to be convergence agents, especially in government and industry. We need to walk in the corridors of power with the potentially powerful skill sets we have, to work towards implementing systems, procedures, and policies that enable online privacy and access for all, so that we can truly become the information-wrangling ‘badasses’ we need to be.

NOTE: The live tweeting was excellent at SIPW and is well worth scrolling through for a flavour of what went on during the day.