February 13, 2014

Spotlight on Tech Policy Lab Scholar Bryce Newell

The Tech Policy Lab is lucky enough to host half a dozen wonderful student scholars from four departments across campus.  Today we wanted to highlight the work of Bryce Clayton Newell , a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Washington’s Information School.  Bryce’s research focuses on the use of emerging technology by law enforcement and the tension between privacy, free speech, and open access to information.  His ongoing and future work looks at these issues in the contexts of policing, public disclosure laws, and undocumented immigration.  Bryce has several pieces of scholarship being published in the next few months, and is producing and directing a documentary film on immigration.

We asked him what first started him down this line of research:

“My current research agenda began to take shape while taking a class in Criminal Procedure in law school about 5 years ago. That experience spurred a strong interest within me to understand Fourth Amendment law and the role that constitutional criminal procedure plays in structuring the relationship between a state and its citizens.  As my research has developed over the years, I have become more and more interested in how empirical research and political and legal theory can be combined to create more coherent information policy.”

Below are a few of the many pieces Bryce has coming out this year.

In The Massive Metadata Machine: Liberty, Power, and Secret Mass Surveillance in the U.S. and Europe (forthcoming in I/S: A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society), Bryce explores the relationship between liberty and security implicated by secret government mass surveillance programs, drawing on legal cases where parties have challenged secret government surveillance programs on constitutional or human rights grounds in the US and Europe. Citizens recording police has become increasingly common in recent years. Citizen media can have a substantial impact on policing and police image management – and thus effect public perceptions of police legitimacy. On the other hand, police departments are increasingly utilizing sophisticated visual surveillance technologies, such as officer-mounted wearable cameras, to document police-citizen encounters.

In Crossing Lenses: Policing’s New Visibility and the Role of ‘Smartphone Journalism’ as a Form of Freedom-Preserving Reciprocal Surveillance (forthcoming in the University of Illinois Journal of Law, Technology & Policy) Bryce examines the role that citizen media should play as a liberty-preserving form of reciprocal surveillance, what forms of respect ought to be owed by camera-wielding citizens, and what moral and legal obligations citizen journalists may or may not have to wiretapping laws.

In Local Law Enforcement Jumps on the Big Data Bandwagon: Automated License Plate Recognition Systems, Information Privacy, and Access to Government Information (forthcoming in the Maine Law Review), Bryce presents his findings from an empirical analysis of more than 1.7 million license plate scans by the Seattle Police Department between December 2012 and March 2013. In this context, the more recognizable tensions between protecting privacy and ensuring efficacious policing are compounded by a direct tension between privacy interests and freedom of information and citizen oversight – as an important form of freedom-preserving reciprocal surveillance.

After Edward Snowden leaked classified intelligence records to the press in June 2013, government metadata surveillance programs – and the risk that large-scale metadata collection poses to personal information privacy – has taken center stage in domestic and international debates about privacy and the appropriate role of government. In this paper, Me, My Metadata, and the NSA: Privacy and Government Metadata Surveillance Programs (forthcoming in the 2014 iConference Proceedings) Bryce and his co-author Joe Tennis approach these questions by drawing upon theory and literature in both law and archival studies. They conclude that, because metadata surveillance can be highly intrusive to personal privacy and that certain types of metadata are inextricably linked with the records of our digitally mediated lives, legal distinctions that draw a line between communications “content” and metadata are inappropriate and insufficient to adequately protect personal privacy.

Libraries have long maintained strong protections for patron privacy and intellectual freedom. However, the increasing prevalence of sophisticated surveillance systems in public libraries potentially threatens these core library commitments. In The Panoptic Librarian: The Role of Video Surveillance in the Modern Public Library (also forthcoming in the 2014 iConference Proceedings), David Randall and Bryce present the findings of a qualitative case study examining why four libraries in the US and the UK installed video surveillance and how they manage these systems to balance safety and privacy. They examine the experience of these libraries, including one that later reversed course and completely removed all of its previously installed systems. They find that the libraries who install surveillance initially do so as either a response to specific incidents of crime or as part of the design of new buildings.