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- Assisting the Human Rights Commission on responding to COVID-19 | Brainbox Institute
< Back Assisting the Human Rights Commission on responding to COVID-19 Past Project December 2021 COVID-19 policy is moving rapidly, cutting across a range of policy areas and fundamental human rights. Brainbox worked with partners at Antistatic to prepare a series of briefings on key COVID-19 policy issues, as well as compiling frequent current events round-ups. Brainbox's work supported Commission staff and Commissioners in formulating public positions and fulfilling statutory obligations. Get in Touch Back to Projects Previous Next
- In the Media | Brainbox Institute
16 Aug 2023 RNZ Growing government reliance on offshore cloud services has security experts worried A China-linked hack of US government cloud email accounts is raising questions about the New Zealand government's growing reliance on American data firms. Phil Pennington Read Article 1 Aug 2023 Stuff Too hot July, WeChat and Musk, promo madness, Loch Ness monster Could X or Twitter turn into WeChat and is that a good thing? Newsable Read Article 4 Jul 2023 RNZ Concerns at Westfield digital ads that film and target shoppers It is a familiar story – you walk into the mall to buy one thing and you walk out with an armful of bags. It can be hard enough to ignore the bright lights and sale signs... Now, it seems AI is giving us a wink and a nudge. Westfield is under fire from advocacy group Consumer for using digital billboards that film largely oblivious shoppers, and serve up advertisements based on age, gender, and even mood. Lisa Owen Read Article 6 Jun 2023 Stuff Tackling harmful content never going to be a simple discussion Internal Affairs’ ambitious plan to regulate large social media and online platforms and to change the way the media, film, advertising, steaming television, video game and broadcasting industries are policed has quickly run into some pretty heavy traffic. Tom Pullar-Strecker Read Article 3 Jun 2023 Stuff Why tech is both fantastic and scary There’s a lot going on in the world of tech, stuff is moving fast… and the thing is, there’s a lot of snake oil out there too. So, we asked Allyn Robins from tech policy think tank Brainbox to identify three burgeoning areas of technology that he’s excited about, and three that he’s a bit scared of… but, naturally, he didn’t follow instructions... Emile Donovan Read Article 3 Jun 2023 RNZ Tom Barraclough: are your social media threads under threat? This week the government released a Safer Online Services and Media Platforms 'discussion document' proposing to regulate online content the same way other media is regulated. Its set off alarm bells for everyone from Stuff head Sinead Boucher to the Free Speech Union, yet has been welcomed by others as a big step towards making the internet a safer place. The proposal doesn't look to expand the categories of illegal content, says Tom Barraclough, and takes its lead from the European Union's recently implemented Digital Services Act. Colin Peacock Read Article 16 May 2023 RNZ Development of AI fakes speeding up Artificial Intelligence is developing at such speed it can now fake just about anyone from the digital breadcrumbs we leave behind us. New Zealand tech players have been discussing how much choice you get in the matter. Phil Pennington reports. Phil Pennington Read Article 3 May 2023 Newshub Why 'Godfather' of artificial intelligence had to 'blow the whistle' on technology Geoffrey Hinton, also known as the "Godfather of AI," decided he had to "blow the whistle" on the technology he helped develop after worrying about how smart it was becoming, he told CNN on Tuesday. Nick Truebridge Read Article 3 May 2023 Stuff Bluesky: Pretender to Twitter's throne, or the future of social media? If there’s one thing we can all probably agree on, it’s that the world doesn’t really need another big social media platform to emerge right now. So, naturally, that’s exactly what we’re getting. Emile Donovan Read Article 29 Mar 2023 Newsroom AI chatbots are merely a cool toy – for now Large Language Models such as GPT-4 can do grunt work, but they lack judgment and originality. Creativity, discernment, research skills, and high-level thinking are only going to get more important, and more valuable. Allyn Robins Read Article 29 Mar 2023 Newshub Govt says it's monitoring artificial intelligence's implications as hundreds of tech leaders call to pause its development Some of the biggest names in technology have pushed the alarm button over the rise of artificial intelligence. They say it could pose a "profound risk to society and humanity". Lauren Hendricksen Read Article 27 Mar 2023 Newshub Should you delete TikTok? One-and-a-half million kiwis have the video-sharing app on their phone. If you don't, there's a very good chance your child does. But with world governments racing to ban Tiktok - should you do the same in your home? The Project Read Article 22 Mar 2023 Newshub New AI chatbot GPT4 takes world by storm, even more powerful than predecessor Brainbox Senior Consultant, Allyn Robins, told Newshub that it's "hard to overstate the impact this will have. It's going to touch every area of the economy." Finn Hogan Read Article 9 Mar 2023 Stuff Newsable today: Can AI replace us? TikTok's wooden spoons trend, and Fun Fact Friday Could AI host a podcast? Spoiler alert – no. Emile Donovan Read Article 1 Mar 2023 Newshub Why the White House wants TikTok deleted from federal devices within next 30 days The White House on Monday gave government agencies 30 days to ensure they do not have Chinese-owned app TikTok on federal devices and systems. Ashleigh Yates Read Article 17 Feb 2023 Newsroom Radio silence on Govt plan to regulate Big Tech Government plans to subject tech companies like Facebook and Google to the same content regulations as news media and advertisers may have been put on hold, Marc Daalder reports Marc Daalder Read Article 25 Nov 2022 Newsroom Govt weighs up police access to encrypted data A cross-agency group will examine the relative risks and benefits of end-to-end encryption and advise ministers on whether to regulate the technology. Marc Daalder Read Article 22 Nov 2022 Careers with STEM Meet the ethical entrepreneurs mixing law and tech Meet two Uni of Ontago law grads who launched a new business to help government and industry navigate legal, ethical and political questions around new tech Gemma Chilton Read Article 29 Oct 2022 Newshub Experts concerned over the rise of deepfake technology Experts are calling for more protection for New Zealanders from the harms of deepfakes and other synthetic media. Deepfakes, artificially generated mimicries of real people, have been prominent online since 2018. Finn Hogan Read Article 1 Sept 2022 Lawfare Platforms Are Testing Self-Regulation in New Zealand. It Needs a Lot of Work. On July 25, New Zealand adopted a new industry-led mechanism designed to provide guidance for social media platforms to enhance safety and mitigate online harm: the Aotearoa New Zealand Code of Practice for Online Safety and Harms. Curtis Barnes, Tom Barraclough, Allyn Robins Read Article 19 Aug 2022 Critic AI Can See You Naked Christchurch has produced many good things over the years. It has also produced Michael James Pratt, a fugitive sex trafficker on the FBI’s most wanted list with a $70,000 bounty on his head. Fox Meyer Read Article 18 Aug 2022 Newsroom Govt harbours concerns over Netsafe’s online code The Government privately shares concerns that a new code of practice for online safety is actually an effort by tech companies to deflect regulation, Marc Daalder reports Marc Daalder Read Article 29 Jul 2022 Stuff Law loopholes around 'deepfakes' a threat to justice, police and law experts warn Ambiguous gaps remain in legislation against the use of harmful deepfake technology, as police, legal and tech experts predict widespread implications for the justice system. Sophie Cornish Read Article 24 Jul 2022 Stuff Social media giants agree to 'first of its kind' code of conduct in Aotearoa Social media giants including TikTok and Meta will soon become more accountable for the content on their platforms in New Zealand, voluntarily signing up to a code of conduct led by Netsafe, which targets issues such as hate speech and misinformation. Sophie Cornish Read Article 14 Mar 2022 Newsroom Media law review raises thorny freedom of expression issues New Zealand has been trying to update its media laws for the modern digital environment for over a decade. Experts warn there are no simple solutions, so has the Government now bitten off more than it can chew? Ximena Smith Read Article 30 Jan 2022 Newshub Artists, music listeners ditching Spotify over vaccine disinformation Canadian folk singer Joni Mitchell has joined her compatriot Neil Young in pulling her catalogue from streaming service Spotify. Giles Dexter Read Article 26 Jan 2022 RNZ ACC goes back to drawing board over failed $1.4m navigation service A new $1.4 million service designed to help people understand ACC's systems and disputes process has failed to achieve many of its objectives, forcing the agency back to the drawing board. Anusha Bradley Read Article 20 Jan 2022 Capital Monitor Engaging with Facebook and Twitter is “like talking to kids” When investors try to flag concerns to Facebook and Twitter about social media-related issues, the two tech giants often respond with stonewalling and obstruction. Google appears little better. Here we set out why. Paul Hodgson Read Article 16 Dec 2021 NZ Herald Do we need to panic over the 'Jacinda Ardern' deepfake clip? A viral video that manipulated footage of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to make it look like she was smoking crack has reanimated debate over "deepfake" technology. Chris Keall Read Article 17 Nov 2021 Futurefive The deepfake dilemma: How it affects privacy, security & law in Aotearoa On a YouTube channel called Genuine Fake, a video shows Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as the character of Maleficent. Her husband Clarke Gayford then appears shortly afterwards. Even National Party leader Judith Collins looks a bit like a forest fairy princess. Sara Barker Read Article 19 Oct 2021 Stuff NZ Super Fund ends campaign to reform Facebook, Alphabet and Twitter in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack The NZ Super Fund is wrapping up its campaign to get Facebook, Alphabet (Google) and Twitter to prevent violent and objectionable content being broadcast on their social media platforms. Rob Stock Read Article 30 Sept 2021 Stuff Calls for 'transformative' disability law change to make Aotearoa accessible A WorkSafe-type body should be set up so disabled people can identify and remove access barriers, a new report says. Josephine Franks Read Article 29 Sept 2021 Scoop Access Alliance Calls For Life Changing Accessibility Legislation To Remove And Prevent Barriers Access Alliance, New Zealand’s largest alliance of Disabled Persons Organisations, disability advocacy groups, and service providers, calls on the government to implement the legal framework outlined in the report released today, Access Alliance Read Article 9 Sept 2021 RNZ Covid-19 pandemic driving a 'downgrading of social discourse', researcher says The Delta outbreak has unleashed a greater willingness to use derogatory and offensive slurs as part of public discourse, according to a University of Auckland research fellow. Read Article 29 Jun 2021 Scoop Half Of NZ Has At Least One Misinformed Belief – Expert Reaction A survey from the Classification Office offers a glimpse at how pervasive misinformation is in New Zealand, and how it’s affecting our beliefs. Science Media Centre Read Article 7 May 2021 Stuff Letter from the editor: Trying to instil trust in the news There’s an old trope about journalists jostling with used car salesmen and real estate agents for last place in most-trusted rankings. In some cases – when tabloid hacks rifle through rubbish bins or voicemail baskets, or paparazzi hound people in the streets – this has been deserved. Anna Fifield Read Article 14 Dec 2020 RNZ Bringing the justice system into the 21st century A legal researcher at the intersection of law, policy and technology has developed a tool to access legal information digitally. Nine To Noon Read Article 23 Sept 2020 Newsroom NZ ‘underprepared’ for election interference With the US election fast-approaching there’s a lot of chatter about foreign operations aimed at influencing the elections. Laura Walters asks experts why we’re not having the same discussion in New Zealand Laura Walters Read Article 18 Aug 2020 Stuff Those who shared Covid-19 rumour could be liable to the Harmful Digital Communications Act, Netsafe says The man believed to be behind the recent Covid-19 outbreak rumour said he’s willing to accept the consequences of his actions, describing them as “the worst things I’ve ever done”. Katie Kenny Read Article 17 Aug 2020 Newsroom ‘Infodemic’ evolves as Covid-19 returns to NZ Analysis: The return of Covid-19 to New Zealand has been accompanied by conspiracy theories about the virus and the Government's response. How big a problem is this and what can - or should - we do about it? Marc Daalder reports Marc Daalder Read Article 17 Aug 2020 NZ Herald Coronavirus Covid-19: Why 'that' Facebook post spread like wildfire "Seen this?" Those were probably two words that countless Kiwis read over the weekend, when a friend or family member forwarded them a bogus, hyper-viral and now notorious Facebook post. Jamie Morton Read Article 27 Jul 2020 Newsroom Deep fakes and synthetic media Deep fakes, synthetic media - the latest and most advanced techniques to spread disinformation and deception. Emile Donovan Read Article 26 Jul 2020 RNZ The deep fake threat If you watch television, you may have come across an advertisement for Spark which shows Lord Ernest Rutherford sitting in an armchair, pontificating over the remarkable rate of human technological progress. The Detail Read Article 23 Jul 2020 Stuff The Government wants to filter the internet. Is that a good idea? The Government plans to filter out the worst excesses of the internet. Experts think it will have almost no impact, other than introducing a series of grave risks. National Correspondent Katie Kenny reports. Katie Kenny Read Article 22 Jun 2020 Newsroom Government still pursuing CovidCard After a trial in Nelson Hospital in May, the CovidCard proposal is still in the running as a government-sponsored contact tracing tool, Marc Daalder reports Marc Daalder Read Article 22 Jun 2020 Newsroom Ardern: ‘Enthusiasm’ about exploring CovidCard Jacinda Ardern said on Monday that there was 'enthusiasm' for the Government to continue looking into the CovidCard proposal, Marc Daalder reports Marc Daalder Read Article 29 Apr 2020 The Spinoff Covid-19: The tough questions on a digital contact-tracing app It’s a crucial factor in keeping the spread of the virus under control, but there’s a whole lot more the government needs to consider than what is technically possible, writes Andrew Chen. Andrew Chen Read Article 17 Apr 2020 Newsroom NZ considering $100m contact tracing ‘CovidCard’ The Government is considering handing out a Bluetooth-enabled CovidCard to every New Zealander to aid with contact tracing efforts, Marc Daalder reports Marc Daalder Read Article 5 Apr 2020 RNZ Covid-19: Major IT groups not consulted over race to speed up contact tracing The country's three major IT groups have been left out of the loop by the government in the race to speed up critical contact tracing of virus carriers. Phil Pennington Read Article 3 Apr 2020 Newsroom Can tech solve the next big Covid-19 challenge? Contact tracing is a crucial part of the Covid-19 puzzle and technology might prove essential to scaling up New Zealand's tracing capacity, Marc Daalder reports Marc Daalder Read Article 1 Apr 2020 NZ Herald Coronavirus Covid-19: Can smartphones help NZ stop spread? One of the best weapons we have to throw against Covid-19 may be found in our pockets. Jamie Morton Read Article 9 Dec 2019 Newshub Snapchat unleashes deepfakes feature called 'Cameo' Deepfakes - putting a person's face on another person's body in a video - are about to go mainstream. So far best-known for internet pranksters putting celebrity heads on pornstars' bodies, the controversial technology is currently being tested by messaging app Snapchat. Dan Satherley Read Article 29 Nov 2019 The Guardian Saving the Whanganui: can personhood rescue a river? Adam Daniel wades waist deep through the glassy water. Pumice stones spiral in the shallow eddy, while the shrill whistles of a male whio (blue duck) echo upstream through the green canyon walls. Jeremy Lurgio Read Article 4 Sept 2019 Stuff Can Kiwis tell fact from fake news in the leadup to the 2020 elections? Young people are criticised for not engaging in politics but experts say adults today are less likely to be able to tell fact from fake news. Katie Kenny and Tommy Livingston report on the risks of a post-truth political landscape. Katie Kenny, Tommy Livingston Read Article 2 Jul 2019 NZ Herald NZ expert sounds warning after DeepNude app goes viral The latest in "deep fake" technology is DeepNude - an app that uses AI to transform an image of a clothed woman into a realistic rendering of what she might look like naked. Chris Keall Read Article 11 Jun 2019 Stuff Has an elf or alien been caught on film or is this just another hoax? Proof of alien life, a prank or a digitally altered hoax? Brittney Deguara takes a look at a viral clip and the dangers of deep fakes. An alien? An elf?! What is that thing in the driveway? Brittney Deguara Read Article 8 Jun 2019 Otago Daily Times Talking tech, cheese rolls and scones Computers and government have been a major issue this past fortnight with the fallout from National accessing Budget data still proving dangerously radioactive to a range of politicians and civil servants. Mike Houlahan Read Article 21 May 2019 Newsroom Don’t believe everything you see, or hear Synthetic media and "deepfakes" pose a new threat to democratic processes, if used in the wrong way, write Brainbox Institute co-directors Curtis Barnes and Tom Barraclough. Curtis Barnes, Tom Barraclough Read Article 21 May 2019 Stuff Deepfakes and synthetic media: The new age of disinformation is growing Amidst the threats identified in a new report of the digital threats to democracy are two challenges with sinister sounding names - deepfakes and synthetic media. But what are these emerging risks and why should we care about them? Michael Daly Read Article 20 May 2019 Newshub 'Deepfake' videos could be next social media minefield - researchers There's growing concern about the damage sophisticated fake videos can have on the public. A new Law Foundation report says deepfake media could prove troublesome to tech companies and the Government, following the Christchurch Call. Katie Fitzgerald Read Article 20 May 2019 NZ Herald NZ study highlights the risk of 'deep fakes' on social media - and why our lawmakers should leave it alone A new study funded by the Law Foundation highlights the risk of "deep fakes" on social media - which co-author Tom Barraclough says "make it look or sound like something happened when it didn't". Chris Keall Read Article 20 May 2019 RNZ Deepfakes, synthetic media a threat to democracy Thanks to Donald Trump the phrase "fake news" is, for better or worse, forever embedded in our collective consciousness. But fake news - false information which is spread deliberately to deceive people - is just the tip of the iceberg threatening our democracy. Morning Report Read Article 9 Nov 2018 Stuff Could the Acosta video be the start of a worrying trend? OPINION: At the first White House press conference following the midterm election, there was a verbal altercation between the President Donald Trump and CNN reporter Jim Acosta. Curtis Barnes, Tom Barraclough Read Article 16 Nov 2015 Otago Daily Times Researchers of access to ACC given $150,000 A $150,000 grant from the New Zealand Law Foundation will help Dunedin researchers find practical ways for injured New Zealanders to have their human rights upheld in seeking justice over ACC cases. John Gibb Read Article 28 Aug 2015 Otago Daily Times Successful but hearing 'stressful' Dunedin ACC claimant Dr Denise Powell found the experience of representing herself at an ACC review hearing ''stressful'' but was successful in her claim. John Gibb Read Article 23 Jul 2015 Community.Scoop Research finds overwhelming barriers to access to justice Research carried out by a team of researchers in partnership with Acclaim Otago (Inc) has found serious barriers to access to justice for people challenging ACC decisions through the court system. Acclaim Otago Read Article 27 Feb 2015 Otago Daily Times Research grant thrills campaigner ACC campaigner Denise Powell is ''over the moon'' about a New Zealand Law Foundation research grant of up to $38,000 to ACC claimant support organisation Acclaim Otago. John Gibb Read Article 19 Sept 2014 Scoop UN Experience Beneficial Acclaim Otago representatives have just completed their participation at the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability examination of the New Zealand government in Geneva, Switzerland. Acclaim Otago Read Article In the Media
- All Projects | Brainbox Institute
Project lead, the Action Coalition on Meaningful Transparency (ACT) Current Project Brainbox is the project lead for the Action Coalition on Meaningful Transparency (ACT), a global multi-stakeholder coalition pushing for effective tech transparency that promotes human rights. The coalition includes tech companies, regulators, civil society organisations, and academics. Learn more Tribal digital identity project with Āhau Current Project In partnership with Verb and the Digital Legal Systems Lab, Brainbox is carrying out legal research and design with Āhau, a platform developing a decentralised digital identity services for iwi and hapū to register their tribal affiliations. Learn more Content regulation and disinformation in New Zealand Current Project New Zealand is among the countries around the world looking to regulate disinformation and other user-generated content. Brainbox is conducting legal research with funding from the Borrin Foundation and InternetNZ to investigate how disinformation can be approached as a policy problem without undermining human rights principles. Learn more Digitising the Drinking Water Quality Assurance Rules Current Project In partnership with Verb via the Digital Legal Systems Lab, Brainbox is working with Taumata Arowai to implement water quality rules for drinking water into digital reporting systems. Coming soon Machine readable legal materials Current Project Legal materials like legislation, regulations, and other rules are still published in a way that prioritises paper-based display. Brainbox is working through the Digital Legal Systems Lab to prepare publicly available machine-structured legislation, to enhance usability and collaboration among stakeholders. Coming soon The Digital Legal Systems Lab Current Project Increasingly, law and legal activities are implemented and performed through digital systems. This presents both risk and opportunity. Brainbox is working with long-time partner, Verb, to conduct public-facing experiments showing how technology itself can be used for regulatory purposes. We are doing this through the Digital Legal Systems Lab. Learn about the Lab Appropriate frameworks for social media analysis: Report for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (NZ) Past Project Governments increasingly perceive analysis of social media activity as an operational necessity, and not always in a law enforcement context. But if such analysis is to be performed, it must be done transparently, accountably, and with adequate safeguards to protect human rights, justify public trust, and preserve the public good. This report prepared for New Zealand's Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet lays out the challenges to doing so and makes the case that any systematic social media analysis should be performed by an independent entity that sits outside of government. Learn more Assessing Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet for institutional investors Past Project Institutional investors representing $13 trillion issued an ultimatum after the Christchurch attacks: platform companies must do better. Two years on, how have they performed? What is the trend of global regulation? Access the Report Transparency-based approaches to social media regulation Past Project Brainbox worked with the University of Otago and the Global Partnership on AI's responsible AI working group. GPAI was proposing collaborative study of how social media recommendation systems deal with terrorist content. Learn more Presentation to the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (legal frameworks working group) Past Project Following our work on social media regulation for the investor coalition and for GPAI, we were asked to present our findings by New Zealand's Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, responsible for online safety and the Christchurch Call. Accessing the slides Submission on proposed national internet filter Past Project Brainbox submitted to the Government Administration Committee on a proposed national internet filter, drawing on our research and consulting in related areas. See more Is the New Zealand legal system ready for deepfakes? Past Project In 2018, Brainbox received support from the New Zealand Law Foundation to publish a report called 'Perception Inception', which looked at the legal implications of emerging synthetic media technologies, including "deepfakes". See more Designing legislation from outside government Past Project A global and national movement has led progress toward enforceable rights for disabled people. Brainbox collaborated to design legislation that would enforce Accessibility for all New Zealanders. See more Can and should we transform legislation into computer code Past Project A global movement called "rules as code" claims law should be translated into computer languages. Legislation could be drafted and implemented as code. What are the merits of this concept and what should policy makers know? Learn more Assisting the Human Rights Commission on responding to COVID-19 Past Project COVID-19 policy is moving rapidly, cutting across a range of policy areas and fundamental human rights. We worked with Antistatic to prepare a series of briefings to support the Commission to fulfil its statutory role. Learn more New Zealand law and synthetic pornography Past Project New Zealand law doesn't make it clear whether synthesising sexual imagery of someone without their consent is criminal. We made a submission to the Justice Committee outlining how the law should be fixed. See more Can we build a system for analysing judicial decisions at scale Past Project Brainbox collaborated with Openlaw NZ to build an open source research tool for analysing case law at scale. In the process, we outlined a superior system of judicial publishing that would increase access to decisions. Learn more Dispute resolution systems and access to justice Past Project Brainbox has published work on dispute resolution systems and access to justice: in medico-legal disputes; and in an online safety context. See our submission on the proposed New Zealand voluntary code on online harms and safety. See more Presentation and discussion to government agencies about deepfakes Past Project Following the publication of our report about the legal implications of deepfake technology and synthetic media, we organised and hosted a forum of around 13 government agencies and regulators to share our findings. See more A disinformation response strategy for Aotearoa: NetHui presentation Past Project With Serena Chen, Tom Barraclough hosted a session at InternetNZ's annual conference, NetHui, in 2019. See more Projects Filter by Status Select Status
- Online platform accountability: EU and NZ perspectives explored in new policy paper
In August, the Brainbox Institute collaborated with the European Union in Aotearoa New Zealand and Victoria University of Wellington to host a panel addressing the approaches of both the EU and New Zealand toward online platform accountability. The event brought together a number of prominent expert voices, including Gerard de Graaf, the EU’s Senior Envoy for Digital to the US, Paul Ash from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Anjum Rahman from Inclusive Aotearoa Collective Tāhono, Victoria University’s Professor Ali Knott, and Brainbox Director Tom Barraclough. The discussion revealed that while the approaches taken by the EU and New Zealand differed, both were underpinned by a shared goal: ensuring online accountability while protecting fundamental human rights and enabling innovation. It is reassuring to see that both approaches are complementary, and that the EU and New Zealand have considerable avenues to learn from and teach each other in this area – highlighting the importance and benefit of continued partnership. Further, we welcome the panel’s acknowledgement that both civil society and community groups hold an important role in online platform regulation. Following the panel, the Brainbox Institute has produced a policy paper as part of the Policy Futures initiative of the EU Delegation to Aotearoa New Zealand. The paper is intended to fairly capture the discussion and is structured around important areas which arose during the discussion including key issues in online accountability, the differing approaches being taken by the EU and New Zealand, as well as the commonalities and the path forward. The European Union in Aotearoa New Zealand also created a video summary of the event, which you can watch below:
- Our submission to the Independent Electoral Review
Last month, the Independent Electoral Review released an interim report outlining what the future of Aotearoa New Zealand’s electoral system could look like. While a lot of ground is covered in the report – from parliamentary terms to improving voter participation – our submission focuses on the report’s recommendations about managing disinformation, given our longstanding interest and expertise in this area. Overall, we welcome the panel’s recognition that defining disinformation is difficult and imprecise, and that efforts to address disinformation can potentially have negative consequences for democracy. It is reassuring to see that the panel has taken a broadly cautious approach to this developing policy area, especially as empirical research on the impact of misinformation and disinformation and the efficacy of interventions is still emerging. Additionally, we are pleased to see the panel’s emphasis on education as a critical way to reduce the risk of disinformation in the electoral system. If you’d like to read our comments on the panel’s specific recommendations on managing disinformation, you can read our full submission below.
- Our perspective on New Zealand’s proposed platform regulation
Last month, the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) released a proposal for revising media regulation in New Zealand, called Safer Online Services and Media Platforms (SOSMP). The proposal seeks to regulate large online technology companies (like Meta and Google) under the same umbrella as traditional media outlets (TVNZ and Stuff), and it recommends introducing industry-specific codes of practice for platforms whose primary purpose is to distribute content. The system would be overseen by a refreshed independent regulator. Platform regulation is a complex topic that we have worked on for some time, so we wanted to share some of our thoughts on the proposal as it stands. Our views are shaped by a strong commitment to human rights as a foundation for public policy, including freedom of expression. We’re also strong advocates for government transparency as a fundamental and necessary method of justifying public trust (especially among concerned or sceptical groups). A core theme of Brainbox’s work has been to call out the potential risks created in situations where governments gain increased control over digital infrastructures, including platform systems. If you’re interested in finding out more about how our past work relates to these values and informs our perspective on SOSMP, we’ve collated a summary of various projects at the bottom of this post. Importantly, the SOSMP document itself says – and DIA officials have emphasised to us – that the details of the proposal are very much open to discussion. In the proposal document itself, a large number of crucial details have been left open-ended. You can read more about the DIA’s proposed changes – and how you can provide feedback – here. Ahead of the 31 July submission date, we wanted to share some of our initial thoughts. You might find these useful if you want to make a submission. We’d also welcome the opportunity to test our thinking with others, including tech and media companies, journalists, and other experts. We've also expanded on our thoughts in a more detailed discussion paper below. While the work isn’t directly related, we also think it’s only fair to disclose: Brainbox is currently engaged as the project lead for a global multi-stakeholder network on tech company transparency, which includes working alongside the world’s largest tech companies, leading academics, and civil society organisations. Brainbox's previous and current contracts include providing independent advice to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet on work programmes related to building resilience to disinformation. Brainbox is not authorised to make public statements about this work, and nothing we say should be attributed to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. This work on the SOSMP and our work on the Aotearoa New Zealand Code of Practice on Online Safety and Harms (ANZCPOSH) has been funded by the Borrin Foundation and InternetNZ and we are grateful for that support. What stands out to us about the SOSMP proposal? Drawing on our previous work and research, here are some things that stand out to us from the discussion document. We’re sharing these publicly to help you reach your own conclusions. We encourage you to draw on these points if you make a submission – whether you agree or disagree. (1) The SOSMP is an opportunity to influence how governments and platforms draw the line on freedom of speech. When it comes to free speech, the question is where and how we ‘draw the line’, not whether ‘a line’ should exist at all. While the right to freedom of expression is extremely important, it’s not absolute, and it can be restricted in certain circumstances. However, these limitations must be for legitimate human rights objectives, reasonable, necessary, proportionate, and imposed using clear legal rules that can be challenged or appealed. It’s worth pointing out that all widely-used platforms can and do impose some restrictions already on what content can be distributed, and the SOSMP is an opportunity for enhanced transparency over how platforms do this. It’s also an opportunity to shed light on the role of government agencies in influencing platform content moderation (if any). These are important points for submitters to consider, because a completely “hands-off” approach to freedom of expression is unrealistic. To truly promote freedom of expression requires some positive vision of what New Zealand’s information environment looks like. We recommend being cautious of anyone who only has criticisms or suspicion, but no reasonable solutions. (2) The proposal should create public power and oversight over how limitations are set and enforced – by companies and by governments. The purpose of platform regulation isn’t just about where limits should be set. It’s also about creating legal structures that give the public and the courts some power and oversight over how those limits are being set and enforced. As such, the SOSMP should include more detail about the checks and balances against risk of abuse. What information should be provided about how regulators, government agencies, and platforms are operating? If the government and platforms are communicating about content (including through “trusted flagger” programmes), what should they be required to disclose? What would create confidence that the public could use the courts to protect freedom of expression if necessary, including against the regulator? (3) We think an independent regulator is a good choice. We support an independent regulator and think it’s important to limit the risk that Parliament and MPs influence the way codes of practice are developed and enforced in improper ways. An independent regulator can be more flexible, less preoccupied with politics, and can be checked by the courts in ways that Parliament can’t be. For example, unlike legislation, a code of practice could be “struck down” by New Zealand courts if it goes too far. The SOSMP also refers to a power to create “policy statements” to influence codes of practice – we’d like more detail about who sets those policy statements and any limits on them. (4) User empowerment is a good goal, but we are cautious about the ‘child protection’ and ‘harm and safety’ framing. We admire the SOSMP’s focus on user empowerment, but we recommend a balanced and cautious approach to approaches based on child safety. Child safety is important, but children have rights too, and there are clear moves globally to drastically curtail civil and digital rights in the name of child safety. Also, while some content can be clearly harmful, it’s important to acknowledge that the relationship between online content and real world harm is sometimes complex and indirect. The research on this is still emerging. A specialist regulator could engage with these issues in a nuanced and expert way, including by commissioning research and education initiatives. (5) Lumping tech companies and news organisations together creates problems. There are important differences between news media and social media, and the proposal currently fails to account for these differences. There are some powers proposed for the regulator that make sense for regulating tech companies, but would be unacceptable if applied to news companies. In addition, the primary difference between traditional and social media companies is the way they deal in user-generated content. Harmful user-generated content is already regulated under the Harmful Digital Communications Act, and it’s not clear why the HDCA has been excluded from this proposal. Separating the SOSMP and the HDCA without good reason is going to produce confusing systems and processes. We also think the definition of a platform needs to be clear in advance, and shouldn’t rely on a lot of interpretation or discretion. (6) We need more clarity on illegal content. While new kinds of content are in theory not being made illegal by the SOSMP, in practice the law would empower the regulator to take a greater role in requiring platforms to intervene against particular types of content. The SOSMP does create legal obligations to deal with expanded categories of content. This is not inherently negative, but any steps to expand the boundaries of content which is subject to regulatory oversight should be dealt with directly and transparently, with careful design to ensure that any implementation is subject to legal oversight mechanisms. (7) We need to be pragmatic about New Zealand’s place in the world. The SOSMP makes ambitious statements about the impact that it will have on the conduct of global tech platforms and their products and services, and we think some pragmatism is important when it comes to setting expectations for the SOSMP – not least because it’s hard to assess the risks of the proposal without a realistic sense of potential benefits. Fundamentally, New Zealand’s relatively small user base means our leverage over platforms is very limited. By contrast, our ability to lead through positive incentives, advocacy, and adherence to human rights principles is very high. The SOSMP is good in the way that it anticipates engaging with emerging international standards-setting processes and creates space for codes of practice to align with global efforts. However, it is participation in these networks that is likely to have the most impact on platform conduct, not the SOSMP itself. Conclusion People’s ability to express themselves and to hold powerful entities to account is one of the most important features of a democracy. We can understand why many people will find this proposal unsettling. But this is the start of an ongoing discussion and we believe well-informed, diverse participation is important. DIA should be congratulated for the work it has done to foster these discussions, as well as being tested rigorously. We’ll be doing what we can to contribute toward effective public policy based on human rights that gives people trust and confidence that these significant and important powers are being designed and used properly. Selection of previous work