Open Access or Effective Research Communication?

Is there a risk that the ‘open science’ agenda obscures the need for effective research communication?

In the context of ‘open access week’ and the necessary and justified focus on openness in science, whether of data or of publications, it is worth reflecting on the interplay between ‘open science’ agendas and research communication goals.

Photo: Viktor Forgacs

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Fresh Grounded Peace Research: Åshild Kolås Interviewed by Wenche Iren Hauge

Åshild Kolås. Photo: PRIO/Ingar Haug Steinholt

Åshild Kolås, interviewed by Wenche Iren Hauge

What I think we should do more of, as researchers, is to reach out to ordinary people, especially those who live in the places where we have travelled and gathered material. We used to call them informants, but they are actually participants. And then, for our research to be useful to them, we have to communicate back to them. Unfortunately, this is not a part of what we are taught to do. Researcher education is about translating from the empirical to the theoretical. This is not just a literal translation, but a cultural one as well, which separates us from our participants. What needs to be translated in both directions, or brought into a dialogue, is actual understanding, between the society we study and the world of academics and people who work in international organizations, in ministries and in development aid. What we too often see, even in qualitative research, is a one-way representation of the society we study, targeting an academic audience.

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Chronicling Smittestopp: Game on. Game over. Blame games.

Photo: John Tuesday

April 16, 2020, the Norwegian COVID-19 tracking app Smittestopp was launched to great fanfare. The app was presented as crucial to the effort of saving lives and curbing infection rates. September 28 it was finally over, although the post-mortem dissection of the app has been unusually acrimonious for the Norwegian context. Smittestopp 1.0 will be replaced at the end of the year by what is provisionally known as “Smittestopp 2.0”. Because the struggles over problem-diagnoses (is the problem the app or something else); what’s at stake and who is responsible  have been so contentious, greater clarity of the what, when, how and why of Smittestopp 1.0 is needed to move the debate forward. By providing a narrative timeline, this post is also a contribution to strengthen accountability and transparency in future evaluations of digital responses to COVID-19.

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A Path to Peace and Stability Through Food Aid

This piece was originally posted on the PRIO blog in 2018. We’re reposting it now in 2020 on the occasion of the World Food Programme winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

David Beasley chatting with Fazle, a farmer and father of five who fled his home for 7 years because of conflict in Pakistan. Photo: WFP Asia-Pacific

Constant war drove Fazle, his wife and four children away from their home and farm in the Khyber region of Pakistan eight years ago. They loved their home, but with all the shooting and the armed extremist groups, he had to leave or endure the death, destruction and instability that comes with war.

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Collection of PRIO Research on Racism, Inequality and Discrimination

“Black Lives Matter protest” James Eades via Unsplash.

Introduction

For over six decades, our mission here at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) has been to produce research for a more peaceful world. We analyze the conditions, causes, and dynamics of the political and social processes that create conflict or peace, and communicate this knowledge to policymakers, stakeholders, and the general public so that all those who are engaged in promoting peace can do so on the basis of solid evidence and understanding.

Discussions on racism and discrimination have gained momentum following the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. Protests against racism and police brutality in the US and across the globe have mobilized civic activism and raised demands for greater attention to these issues. Questions of repression, discrimination, marginalization, inequity, injustice, state violence, exclusion, and racism, and the ways in which these serve to undermine the development of peaceful societies, are at the core of PRIO’s research agenda.Read More

A Nobel for the WFP: A non-political Peace Prize for humanitarian multilateralism?

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to the World Food Program for its “efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict”. The announcement emphasizes the importance of supporting – and funding – international solidarity and multilateralism in a world in crisis. The WFP is praised for its work in extremely difficult conditions and for gaining access to populations in war zones like Syria and closed dictatorships like North Korea.

A World Food Programme ship with workers unloading pallets of high energy biscuits during the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. By 26th MEU(SOC) PAO (U.S. Marines) via Wikimedia Commons

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TikTok and the War on Data: Great Power Rivalry and Digital Body Counts

“Personal data” by Natana Elginting via Freepik

In 1971, the US declared a War on Drugs. In 2001, it began a still ongoing War on Terror. In 2020, the country has initiated a global War on Data to ‘combat’ the malicious collection of US citizens’ personal data. It is the first time that America is going to war for its population’s digital bodies. While this represents a further shift of the battlefield to the domains of cyberspace and trade, there is a likelihood that this war too will entail significant human suffering.

This blog post thinks through the consequences for humanitarian aid, problematizing the notion of ‘digital body counts’.

In 1971, US President Richard Nixon declared a War on Drugs (WoD) to eradicate the sup­ply and demand for illegal narcotics. This global campaign consisted of drug prohibition, military aid and military interventions. The toll of this war – both human and financial – has been enormous, costing billions of dollars and taking thousands of lives annually.

In 2001, US President Bush began a War on Terror (WoT) in response to the 9/11 attacks. This global military campaign has led to between 480,000 and 507,000 deaths in major theatres of war (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq) alone. As the security and reliability of data links improved, the WoT evolved into an increasingly remote form of warfare, using armed drones. This also entailed an extension of the battlefield, illustrated by the rising number of US drone strikes in Somalia. Adding to the violence was the merger of the WoD and WoT, as illustrated by the Colombian example.

“At the president’s direction, we have taken significant action to combat China’s malicious collection of American citizens’ personal data”, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross stated in September 2020. The rationale he gave is familiar, namely that the US wants to promote “our national values, democratic rules-based norms, and aggressive enforcement of US laws and regulations.” While the other wars have depended on military tools from the outset, at present the WoDa ostensibly relies on a weaponization of trade policy, commerce and regulation – and the expansion of military logic to these domains.

While tensions around global technology hegemony has been budding for years, we suggest that the official ‘launch’ of this campaign was the US extradition request for and subsequent detention of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver December 2018 on the basis of fraud and conspiracy to circumvent US sanctions on Iran. In 2020, this campaign – also labelled a “Tech Cold War” or a new “World War over technology” has been ramped up, focusing on restricting technology flows to China, revamping global technology supply chains, barring certain industry actors from infrastructure projects (such as Huawei’s 5G network) and attempting to curtail US users access to Chinese digital goods and platforms like TikTok and WeChat.

This is also the first time that America is going to war for its population’s digital bodies. ‘Digital bodies’ are images, information, biometrics, and other digitalized data that represent the physical bodies of populations, but over which they have little control or say. Issues of control and say are particularly pertinent where such data is stored in databases to which access may be granted (e.g. via more or less public data sharing agreements), forced (e.g. hacking), or occur as a byproduct of accidental leaks.

While WoDa at this point in time has a clearly designated enemy – China – its impact is likely to significantly impact civilian populations – and their digital bodies – globally, though likely with particular significance for populations already affected by WoD and WoT. This is because of how digital data gathering has been particularly intense as a counterterror technology, collecting enormous amounts of digital footprints on terror suspects including where the grounds for suspicion may be weak at best (we get back to this).

This requires us to think through the notion of digital body counts – not as a measure of disappeared US platform users and dead accounts, but as a critical human security issue. Crucially, we are concerned that the new WoDa is also likely to lead to bad humanitarian outcomes and real body counts.

  1. The first concerns sovereignty and data colonization of war-affected civilians. Protecting sovereignty is increasingly about protecting the sovereignty of digital bodies – though through this is a type of protection principle the US systematically ‘violates’ the to ‘digital bodies’ of other states’ populations. Arguably, a precursor to the emergent WoDa is the extent to which the US is collecting enormous amounts of biometric data on civilian populations in war zones, because the digital registration-net is cast as widely as possible, and how this data is kept by the US even after its ‘wars’ in foreign places officially ends (the case of Iraq). According to Spencer Ackerman, the US military compiled biometric data from “3 Million Iraqis,”, which the US holds onto even though troops have come home and the War in Iraq officially ended. Similarly, UNHCR is an example of an important humanitarian actor that increasingly collects biometric data on subjects that it assists. In view of that, and related to the point about military biometrics moving beyond and maintained beyond the battlefield, it is for example noteworthy how UNHCR has an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security to provide biometric data on all candidates for resettlement – data which is kept even when no resettlement is taking place.
  2. The second concerns Great power rivalry spilling over into humanitarian technology. Proxy wars are a staple of US global military campaigns. Humanitarians often deal with their consequences. In the WoDa, the risk is that humanitarian space itself becomes the site of a proxy war. The issue of control over data and digital bodies and the US’ aim of preventing China from collecting digital data on its citizens could have implications for humanitarian operations that increasingly rely on the collection of digital data. From a humanitarian perspective, biometric registration of beneficiaries helps agencies overcome ‘double registration’ challenges, as well as challenges related to providing donors with reliable numbers. Now, on the one hand, we have seen institutions like ICRC publish a Biometric Policy that limits data storing. Yet, on the other hand, other humanitarian actors keep adding to the list of challenges that biometrics can help overcome. Contactless biometrics as a response to “the risk of COVID-19” being but one example. The latter development calls for attention to questions about whose technology (US? Chinese? Other?) should be used for these data-gathering and storage purposes in an increasingly technology-reliant and data-enthusiastic humanitarian domain? What will be the consequences (credibility, funding, acceptance, neutrality) of the increasing tension with respect to the trustworthiness of the sectors digital infrastructure?
  3. The third concerns a broadening of the lawfare paradigm and its negative effects. The humanitarian sector is increasingly being embedded in a lawfare paradigm, where US counter-terrorism measures and ‘material support to terror’ provisions are being globalized through strategic litigation against humanitarian actors in domestic courts coupled with blacklisting of the same humanitarian actors in global banking systems. What we now see on the horizon is the possible extension of a type of lawfare to incorporate civil society digital procurement of Chinese-produced commercial off-the-shelf solutions of hardware, platforms and networks as a US national security issue. This would greatly up the stakes for humanitarian actors, and significantly impact their ability to provide aid.

Our initial takeaway is as follows: For people in war zones, the onset of a WoDa has potentially serious security implications for communities and aid actors. This is not about abstract notions of digital bodies and virtual body counts, nor is it a question of risks to privacy and data protection only. This is about life and death. As a tech-reliant humanitarian sector inevitably finds itself implicated in WoDa, it risks becoming more than involuntarily entangled: for example the digital bodies that humanitarian practice produce may increasingly become targets in this war; because the concept and moral imperative of humanitarian aid is put into play, and finally because access to humanitarian assistance might be compromised as the sector gets further enmeshed in these great power rivalries.

  • Kristin Bergtora Sandvik (SJD Harvard Law School) is a Professor of Sociology of Law at the University of Oslo and a Research Professor in humanitarian studies at the Peace Research Institute Oslo.
  • Katja Lindskov Jacobsen holds a PhD in International Relations from Lancaster University. She is a Senior Researcher at Copenhagen University, Department of Political Science, Centre for Military Studies. 
  • This piece was originally published in Global Policy. You can find it here.

Coronavirus Tracking Apps: Normalizing Surveillance During States of Emergency

The global coronavirus pandemic has prompted states to rush to embrace digital surveillance tools such as contact tracing apps as quick fixes and policy responses to the crisis.

Photo: Wayhomestudio via Freepik

Understandably, a lot of sophisticated yet questionable new technological solutions have been hurriedly deployed due to the severity of the pandemic. However, such technologies raise serious concerns related to mass digital surveillance practices, the outsourcing of expertise or sensitive personal data to private companies, and the potential infringement of citizens’ fundamental rights.Read More

Is there a hope for peace in the new/old war in the Caucasus?

A full-blown war erupted in the South Caucasus last Sunday, September 27, and the two belligerents – Armenia and Azerbaijan – are proceeding with mobilizations under martial law, but no international authority tries in earnest to stop the hostilities.

“We Are Our Mountains” sculpture by artist Sargis Baghdasaryan in Nagorno-Karabakh. Photo: Michael Wong CC BY

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From Moria to the UN Security Council: Norwegian Domestic Politics and Foreign Policy Ambitions

Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide and Jordan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ayman Safadi at an event in Jordan. Photo: Indigo Trigg-Hauger / PRIO

The fire at the Moria camp underlines the depth of the crisis in the international system intended to protect people fleeing their home countries. Under the Refugee Convention, people in need of asylum must be given the opportunity to apply for it. The fundamental flaws in this system weighs heavily on the international community and will dominate the political agenda for the foreseeable future. At the same time, we are now seeing a deeply irreconcilable conflict between the domestic policy considerations shaping Norway’s immigration policy and the foreign policy ambitions that the country is pursuing. While Norway prepares itself for a term on the most prestigious and respected international forum, the UN Security Council, where its opportunities to exert influence will be significant, “on the home front” its approach to one of the great challenges of our time is to wait for other countries to take the initiative.

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