A few months ago, I tweeted asking for syllabi or a reading list on digital rights — essentially, anything as it pertained to the rights of humans in a new, elusive arena. The tweet came from a need and an interest on my part to dive deeper into advocacy work for immigrants and people of colour as it pertains to their interactions with technology, surveillance, and data privacy. However, as I began looking for courses in my own graduate program, I found a dearth of resources. But, people on Twitter came through!

Below, I’ve made an absolutely not exhaustive list of resources that I’ve found or people have sent me on the issue. I’ll try to keep updating the list as I access more. If you see something I’ve missed, please comment (!!) …

In a pre-pandemic world, I loved reading the New York Times’ travel section. While in graduate school and during a time when travel seemed theoretically within reach but financially out of my grasp, flipping through photo-essays was one way I could escape. Profiles of places in India always humbled me, or infuriated me. I remember talking to a loved one about a profile of a coastal city in Italy, what it would be like one day to travel, eat, and wander through the city; together, we dreamed.

One of my favourite parts of the coverage is the 52 Places column. It is not without its faults — when cities are pitched as “up and coming” they become sites of mass gentrification at the expense of the communities that have lived there for generations. When Puerto Rico was selected as the number one place to visit in 2019’s 52 Places listing, the discussion was criticized for taking advantage of a recovering island, a site for potential disaster capitalism. A playground for the wealthy and mobile at a time of loss and grief for communities who had lost homes, livelihoods, and loved ones. …

The very features that were lauded as part of Web 2.0 are now cause for concern on today’s Internet

One part of Web 2.0 was harnessing collective intelligence, a principle that encapsulated different aspects like informed search, hyperlinking, and other features which can be summed up to say that users were going to (and now have seen) an Internet that they increasingly played a role to create. Search results were made relevant by aggregating insights about what users were clicking on. GPS data became more personalized after walk-routes were collected. …

Instead of focusing on big data, let’s regulate why campaigns want it and how they use it

Written for “Technology, National Security & The Citizen” coursework at Columbia University for Alexis Wichowski, 2018

“I love data” platitudes have become mainstays at almost any campaigner’s office. Having worked on a dozen campaigns — my title may as well have been data evangelizer — I was complicit in the propagation of these slogans. KPIs, ROIs, CTRs; data ruled everything around me.

Campaigns leveraging data to target voters by race, age, and gender is nothing new. Blurry boundaries around data is as entrenched in politics as cheesy slogans and kissing babies. What is new are the players, and whether we know how and even want to stop campaigns from exploiting the data available to them. The arbiters of this data now, the big four technology companies, arguably the frightful five, need to be apprehended yes, but I’d argue that the focus is misplaced not because the potential of exploitation is not pernicious, but instead because it takes away from the fact that campaigns demand, and will continue to, this data. …

The 2018 midterm election saw a record increase in youth turnout. But will they come out again in 2020 to produce the Presidential blue wave?

(This story was written for a class entitled Narrative Journalism at Columbia University)

New York, NY — On November 6, 2018, on Election Day, I found myself in a polling station on Staten Island, a borough of New York City, famously known as the only Republican stronghold in an otherwise Democratic city.

That night, Max Rose, a 31-year-old U.S. military veteran, the Democratic candidate for Congress would defeat the incumbent Republican Congressman, Dan Donovan, and make history flipping a district that just two years earlier had overwhelmingly voted for Trump. …

This was going to be a list of the books that I have read over the course of my life that have, for one reason or another, stayed with me. Midway through, I decided to expand it to include forms of writing that weren’t solely books. For one, I haven’t read as much for pleasure as I’d liked to in the last year — grad school is overwhelming, who would’ve thunk?

More importantly, when I confronted the written words that have shaped who I am today, I realised that so many essays had played a role. They drew me in and shed light on the people I‘ll never meet and lives I’ll never lead, yet I wanted to learn about and empathise with. …

I’ve never considered myself a particularly optimistic person. Having grown up reading Camus, Golding, and Plath, I matured, naturally, believing in the absolute worst that humanity had to offer. But there must have been an inkling of optimism, driven primarily by naïveté or perhaps a self-aggrandized sense of self, that has made me an aspiring policy maker in 2017.

In 2017, every day came with its own doomsday trifecta of a natural disaster wreaking havoc on people’s livelihoods, a disavowal of an institution, and a blow to democracy at large.

With every breaking news alert, the world order shifted. The challenges we seek to address, or we said we were going to address in our applications anyway, those challenges become thornier and more wicked with every iPhone ping. Students hoping to join the State Department after graduation are left wondering whether it will cease to exist before they get assigned to their first posting. Those interested in joining the EPA are seeing the institution dismantled from within, with grave repercussions to America’s global standing but also an immense impact on smaller countries all over the world. …

As I was scrolling Twitter a few weeks ago, I chanced upon @kylebaptista’s tweet. Having just read a piece on Curbed, on 50 Small Ways to Make NYC a Better Place, he tweeted that he loved it. I did too, for what it’s worth,—and then thought about what this list would look like if it was written for Toronto.

You didn’t ask for it, but look no further. In no particular order and in no absolute definition of the word “small”, here’s my take:

  1. Make a call to your representatives.
  2. Support and attend BetterTO’s events and events like them. Living in basement apartments that you’re paying a premium for? Have a landlord that doesn’t give notice before they walk in? It doesn’t have to be like this (…I tell my younger self).

One thing I learned from studying history is that the idea of a coherent or static “national identity” does not really exist. Although invoked regularly by politicians, our favourite athletes, and our patriotic parents, the concept of national identity as something that characterizes a country and informs the actions of elected leaders is largely a misconception. In my lifetime alone, I have seen new nations come into existence (South Sudan, Czech Republic), nations overlooked or unrecognized (Palestine), and nations that form new identities (India and maybe even the United States.)

I was really heartened by reading about this when I was younger. As someone who has lived in six cities across four different countries before the age of thirteen, I’ve always been curious about the notion of identity. At my angstiest, I thought it was stupid. Why should I, or anyone for that matter, align my identity to a nation-state whose existence is fickle? …

I have a complicated relationship with Bombay. My first memory of the city is of a barber shop in Versova, teary-eyed, while my grandmother instructs the barber to cut off all my hair. My next few memories of Bombay are hazy. Drinking juice and eating chaat at Elco market while watching my mother bargain with the guy selling necklaces. Buying coconut water off the streets just so that I could watch the vendor hack the fruit up with his machete. Post-curfew dosa at Manju’s to soften the blow that would be my parents. …


Aliya Bhatia

Torontonian from Bombay in Brooklyn. Digital rights, immigration, and the Census. Read me on aunties: https://medium.com/@digitaljusticelab/not-like-the-aunties

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