Sensors and Journalism

Legality, Ethics and Journalistic Sensing: An Introduction

Up to this point, we have described the current landscape, laid out a history, and examined some notable sensor-based journalism. But, we hope, the previous sections of this report will quickly show their age, as enterprising and imaginative journalists use sensors to report new stories in different ways. These following essays aim directly at that. Reporters and newsroom managers should quickly see how the underlying ethical principles of journalism apply whenever sensors are being used. Also, they’ll see which laws come into play. Many of the authors that follow identify looming legal and ethical questions that journalists and their advisers will no doubt have to navigate, if they aren’t doing so already. While journalists working in the space of sensor journalism will not have to build new ethical foundations, these reporting methods do have distinct characteristics, some of which may be unfamiliar. Therefore, reporters may have less experience identifying the potential problems and their solutions. In commissioning the following articles, we have examined the distinctive features of sensor-based journalism and picked out some common places where those features intersect with legal and ethical issues. As a result, we offer four main groupings. The first set of essays here examine privacy and surveillance issues. The second set concern the laws governing building and acquiring this technology. Next, we take a look at the trouble that might arise when journalists place sensors and drones out into

the field (and how they might avoid it). Our final set of contributions looks at truth and the data from sensors—issues of accuracy, interpretation, and representativeness. In the realm of privacy and surveillance, media attorney Nabiha Syed explores the bodies of law that will govern what journalists are allowed to record with sensors, which issues will surface when they overstep the mark, and how the courts might navigate through this terrain making new laws as they go. Kathleen Culver, a journalism ethicist, looks at how communities have traditionally expected privacy and why journalists may want to adopt practices from other professions as they renegotiate power relationships between newsrooms and audiences. Josh Stearns, a journalist, strategist, and organizer, connects the emergent practice of journalists using sensors to the raging debate around state and corporate surveillance. He notes that by involving communities in journalists’ sensing projects, we may have obligations to ensure their physical and social safety. While few journalists have had to think deeply about patents, technology licensing, and whether their equipment will interfere with the communication systems used by ambulances and other civil services, Matthew Schroyer and Mike Hord have already expertly done so. Schroyer, a journalist and technology educator, steps through the arguments about why journalists might want to give away the intellectual property they create when designing new reporting tools (or when there might be a viable business case for holding it tight). Hord, an engineer at DIY electronics retailer Sparkfun, takes a look at how the regulator of the electronics industry, the Federal Communications Commission, is straining to keep pace with the booming “makers” movement, and how journalists can help them out. The physicality of sensors and drones brings operational risks. Diana Cooper, an attorney specializing in robotics law, raises a fascinating scenario whereby journalists who allow others to build on their hardware and soft ware designs may inadvertently open themselves to liabilities they haven’t considered. Thankfully, she identifies a middle path between open and closed licenses that might promote innovation and collaboration while still protecting contributors to a vibrant technology development community. Journalism professor and drone pilot Matt Waite teams up with the National Press Photographers Association general counsel, Mickey Osterreicher, to survey which bodies of state, federal, and constitutional law will affect reporters who want to use drones in the coming years. Deirdre Sullivan is an in-house senior counsel who has long experience helping the journalists, managers, and technologists of The New York Times know when they’re taking too many legal risks.1operating procedures have been settled for journalists using drones and sensors, at which point human error remains and personal injury and negligence claims are sure to follow. She examines how they work, and how the courts calculate breaches and penalties, and how companies might mitigate their financial exposure. Three authors have analyzed how journalists using sensors can uphold their ethical obligation to tell an accurate story. Lucas Graves, an assistant professor in journalism who specializes in fact-checking, opens up the process of truth-making in data journalism and shows where uncertainty and error emerge. Beth Stauffer, an environmental sensor specialist placed at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Innovation Team, describes how experts design their data collection so their information can be used to draw accurate conclusions. Finally, Lela Prashad, a data scientist who works with remote satellite sensing, reminds journalists to make their work richer by adding nuance and humanity in the space between and beyond their data points.

In an early exchange of essay drafts, Josh Stearns wrote the following words, which seem like the perfect description of the current evolutionary state of laws and ethics in journalistic sensing, and a prescription for how to proceed. “It is worth remembering that just as newsrooms are learning about the power and potential of sensors, so too are our communities. We are in the early stages of sensor technology, what Julie Steele of O’Reilly Media calls the precursor, the ancestor, to what will change our lives.'” At a panel on the ethics of sensor journalism organized by the Tow Center at Columbia University in the summer of 2013, Professor Joanne Gabrynowicz warned that poor sensor journalism at this early stage of the game could irreparably damage trust and create more fear of sensors amongst the public. It could also lead to bad policy that restricts the long-term use of sensors in reporting. Matt Waite likes to remind journalists, “Don’t do anything stupid. Bad actors make bad policy.’ Indeed, culture change often precedes policy change, so now is the moment to get it right when it comes to the ethics of sensor journalism.” “These questions are complicated by ongoing legal uncertainty at the intersection of media and technology, from the Federal Communications Commission’s debates about network neutrality to the Federal Aviation Administration’s review of its policies for small drones. At the Tow Center event Kord Davis, the author of The Ethics Of Big Data, reminded participants, ’It is always possible to act in accordance to your values but it’s never possible to act in accordance with the law that doesn’t exist yet.’ The law focuses on what you can and can’t do, but at a moment of legal flux it is more important than ever that we focus on what we should and shouldn’t do. That is the realm of ethics and as a practice that is rooted in the public interest and the common good; the litmus test for these ethical questions should be our communities.”