Inauguration event for academic year 2020-2021
On 12 November 2020, the Graduate School of Archive and Records Management held its inauguration event for academic year 2020-2021, in online format on this occasion.
Presiding over the event were Margarita Arboix, at that time acting rector of Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, and Joan Pérez, director of the Graduate School of Archive and Records Management.
The expert in public policy, technologies and data Gemma Galdón gave the inaugural lecture, entitled No forgetting: privacy, identity and rights in the digital age. The speaker began her lecture by highlighting the role of archivists in dealing with the complex issue of memory in the digital age. According to her, this is a topic of key importance, as it has "a very deep impact on society".
The founder of Eticas Research and Consulting drew on her own work with professional archivists in the United States, in the wake of the Patriot Act and a series of controlling laws that called into question the population's privacy and freedoms. In her view, the archival sector has an important role to play in defining personal rights and liberties in the digital sphere, especially in the situation produced by Covid-19.
The web that never forgets
All data generated in daily life are recorded and could eventually prove harmful to individuals. Gemma Galdón claimed that this could affect not only a person's identity and right to privacy, but also vulnerable groups like refugees. In a new context, she said, "we don't know whether information can come back to haunt us or ruin our future prospects".
Another problem is that “the internet not only archives data but combines and reuses it all to make predictions”. In the age of artificial intelligence, anything that is recorded can be used to train algorithms: sets of instructions for problem-solving and decision-making that are becoming ever more present in people's lives.
As an example of their use, the speaker pointed out that in Catalonia the risk of re-offending is decided by an algorithm and, in Spain, another algorithm calculates the degree of protection needed by a victim of gender violence. This mathematical calculation, however, is not used to make decisions on a personal basis, but rather to codify past behaviours and make a probabilistic judgement. This has now been carried over to health care, with algorithms already deciding on the order of medical treatment in certain hospitals.
The dangers of algorithms
The expert laid emphasis on how algorithms function: by simplifying information to eliminate margins of error. “They promise to solve complex problems through simplification”, but they are not programmed to understand the complexity of the environment. “It's a calculation, not a human process”, she points out. As a result, decisions taken by algorithms come with the risk of violating rights or of unfair treatment in providing digital services.
Therefore, for this expert it is essential to define concepts like the right to algorithm transparency, which would help to understand how decisions are taken; the right to redress, so that those affected by these AI tools can be assisted and indemnified; and the right to algorithm justice, to protect vulnerable groups from these processes.
In conclusion, Gemma Galdón appealed to the archiving community to reflect on how to foster humaneness and guarantee fundamental rights in an out of-control digital environment, and how to analyse data with the complexity and sensitivity that they deserve within "this web that never forgets".
Finally, Professor Joan Soler, president of the Association of Archivists and Records Managers of Catalonia, announced the winner of the Best Master's Degree Dissertation Award, 2019-2020, Yolanda Corredera Anera, for her paper Archival and Records-Management Requirements in the Procurement of Public-Administration ICT Services.