Civil rights and Activism in the Digital Age
Jan 21st, 2015 by Isaiah Beard

The recent Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, in juxtaposition with multiple civil rights-related incidents of the past year, have set the stage for people to discuss the civil rights landscape in the US, and debate our progress (or perhaps, lack thereof).  We are once again living in a  time of unrest, where racial divides are back in the spotlight. Further tempering the debate is the increasingly thorny issue of civil rights in the digital age. The unanswered question: Where does a person’s right to keep their data private end, and the government’s right to pry in the name of safety begin?

In the past, I have written about ways to “keep you stuff safe.”  At the time, the context was simple, and most users and data experts (myself included) remained relatively naïve about what that truly meant.  The discussion of data safety often revolved around making sure you didn’t lose your data; that it was safely backed up.

Now, “keeping your stuff safe” also refers to security: keeping the data safely away from hackers who might want to profit from your loss. And perhaps more controversially: protecting individual privacy from unwarranted state intrusion.

These issues – civil rights, privacy, race, and personal data – have collided pretty spectacularly of late.  Protests relating to various ill-fated run-ins with law enforcement are being talked about in parallel with the civil rights marches of old.  But, there is one major component that differentiates now from then: the prevalence of smartphones, mobile internet, and digital recording.

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Library of Congress releases recommended format specifications
Jun 24th, 2014 by Isaiah Beard

592px-US-LibraryOfCongress-BookLogo.svg

 

For a very long time now, preservationists have been looking for someone to take a leadership role in defining a set of standards for the types of file formats we should be using to keep our collections safe.  In the absence of such an authority, many organizations have resorted to developing their own standards (Rutgers, for instances, has its own guidelines for digital preservation outlined on this very site), or deferring to specifications already developed by other institutions or partnerships.  As a result, while there is some general consensus about what we should be doing, there are occasionally differences and disagreements here and there.

The Library of Congress, too, has been working on this issue as well, and today they’ve taken some steps by releasing a set of recommended format specifications for a variety of object types.  These guidelines are useful in that they provide a baseline to go by, for those who are trying to preserve their content, both in the analog and digital realm.

blog post discussing the recommendations has also been posted, including an acknowledgement by Ted Westervelt, the head of acquisitions and cataloging for U.S. Serials – Arts, Humanities & Sciences, that the LoC need to ramp up its digital preservation initiatives.

There is no point pretending that the Library is collecting digital content on the scale and scope with which it is collecting analog content.  We would like to and the specifications are one step to help get us there, but we are not there yet and it will take some time and effort.  However, the specifications are meant to engage with the world outside the Library.  And, inside the Library and outside it, no one is under any illusion that digital content and analog content are two separate and unrelated spheres and never the twain shall meet.

A teachable moment in personal data preservation
Apr 26th, 2013 by Isaiah Beard

 

 

An all-too-coomon sight: $3,000 worth of stealable student laptops sitting unsecured.

An all-too-common sight: $3,000 worth of stealable student laptops sitting unsecured.

It’s the time of the semester in most universities where nerves are frazzled, sleep is lost, and sadly, lots and lots of laptop thefts happen.  Where I work at the Alexander Library, the end of every semester brings throngs of students cramming for exams and finishing final projects, and they invariably bring their laptops, smartphones, and tablets with them.  Unfortunately, many are tempted to leave those devices sitting unsecured on desks when they step out for a break, despite repeated warnings not do this. Predictably, we also get the most reports of pricey electronic being stolen around this time of year as a result.

Having your expensive laptop or mobile device stolen is a humbling, stressful experience that even I have fallen victim to. However, the monetary loss of the hardware can pale in comparison to the value of the data inside the device.  Personal data can be stolen, resulting in anything from embarrassing disclosures of personal details, to outright identity theft.

Even worse: if you were working on something highly valuable to you, and you don’t have a backup copy anywhere else, the results can be devastating.

Currently circulating around social media and even local news is a photo of this flyer, posted around the Rutgers campus about a week ago:

LostLaptop

My heart goes out to this person. Their entire academic career is now on the line because of a thoughtless criminal act.  And sadly, this isn’t the first time academic data has been lost to a theft: in Oklahoma, a similar “reward” was offered by a researcher wanting her critical data back as well.

Consider also that even if you’re vigilant, and lock down your hardware or never let it leave your sight, theft isn’t the only way you can lose your data.  Laptops and smartphones can be dropped and damaged.  Hardware failures and crashes happen.  Or a slip of the fingers could result in a file being accidentally deleted and lost forever.

But, unfortunate incidents like these can also be a teachable moment about how important it is to always have a backup plan.

If you own a mobile device, laptop, or even a desktop computer, and especially if you’re a student or academic that relies on them for your schoolwork or research, take the time right now to make sure your files are secure and backed up.  It may not be a convenient time, but data loss never makes an appointment!

Consider using an external drive, or an inexpensive cloud service, or both.  At the bare minimum, sign up for a free 2GB Dropbox account (or contact me for an invitation which will get you an extra 500MB), and store your work there as added protection.  Doing these simple steps will help ensure that you aren’t forced to try negotiating with a thief on the price to retrieve your data… further rewarding them for what they’ve done.

If the worst does happen, it may be possible to locate your stolen device if you have the right tools.  Apple devices have location tracking available through iCloud, but they have to be turned on beforehand to work.  Free tools such as GeoSense are available for Windows laptops as well.

One other thing to consider: your assignments, research data and coursework aren’t the only information kept on your devices.  Personal emails, banking data, photos, and info that can be used to steal your identity are also likely stored there.  These are things you don’t want a thief to have access to.  For this reason, you might also want to consider encrypting the storage on your mobile devices, and using strong passwords to prevent unauthorized access.

Easy to use, transparent full disk encryption options are built-in for Windows 7/8 and Mac OS X computers.  iOS devices (iPhones and iPads, starting with the iPhone 3GS and iPad 2) have encryption built in, too: just enable the passcode lock feature, and use a strong passcode to make it effective. Android devices like the Samsung Galaxy S III and IV have similar capabilities.

Using encryption helps prevent thieves from accessing your data, and that’s a good thing.  Even if there’s something irreplaceable on that laptop that tempts you to bargain with its abductor, the potential breach of your personal data probably isn’t worth it!

“Keeping Your Stuff Safe” – From Page2Pixel at Intervention 2011
Aug 25th, 2011 by Isaiah Beard

I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about how to keep “big data” safe: research datasets, archival documents, that sort of thing.  But, the lessons we learn here are also pretty useful for smaller setups, artists, businesses… and people at home.  Everyone can benefit from digital preservation.  Everyone needs to know how they can keep their digital stuff safe.

And so, I’m partnering with Intervention ’11 to get the message out about how to keep your digital items of value accessible for the long run.  I’ll be holding a panel titled “Keeping Your Stuff Safe: Strategies for Preserving Your Digital Life.”  In that panel, we’ll be talking about ways to easily, affordably, and safely back up your digital media, for now and the future.

 What is Intervention?

Our goal is to bring together fans and different independent creators to party, educate, and appreciate the opportunities the Internet gives to all of us. We are similar to the Sci-Fi/Anime/Other fandom cons that we love so much, but we are focused on people who use the internet as the primary way to distribute their work and talk to their friends.

It’s a great event for geeks and non-geeks alike who do just about anything related to internet culture to get together for a weekend.  Feel free to give ’em a visit!


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