By Tatiana Karme
Jennifer Holt, a Film and Media Studies professor at UC Santa Barbara, researches media policy and the digital infrastructure that underlies modern communication. Passionate about the ever-evolving media landscape, Holt advocates for digital freedom and for citizens to have their basic rights protected in the digital setting.
Holt is currently working on a book titled “Cloud Policy: Regulating Digital Freedom,” and recently shared her analyses of the development of the digital society. She expects to finish the book within the next year. In the meantime, Holt encourages her UCSB students to be aware of their rights and digital surroundings.
In this interview, she provides crucial insight on how to be a properly informed citizen when it comes to digital usage and to not lose sight of our basic rights online.
Q. Tell me about your current book project “Cloud Policy: Regulation Digital Freedom.” What will the book cover and what do you hope to achieve in your writing?
A. I’m looking at how the history of digital media policy has evolved from the Telecommunications Act of 1996 through the Obama administration, and there's an epilogue on what has happened since the Trump administration has been in power. I'm looking at platforms, I'm looking at infrastructure, I'm looking at data, and data storage, and I'm looking at the ways in which we think of the “cloud.” In a lot of ways, I bring a Humanities perspective to it all. I'm thinking how policy is framed rhetorically, and how we understand technologies, and how we think about the end-user, and how these things are policed. It’s a very different take than the traditional economic or legal perspective on what policy is and how it has evolved.
Q. In the title of your book you use the phrase “digital freedom.” What is your personal definition of digital freedom?
A. I think a lot about the freedoms that were afforded to us in our constitution. They could never have imagined the internet, but freedoms that we have in a democracy are guaranteed to us. Congress will not abridge the freedom of speech or the press. Now, internet service providers are very much involved in that freedom of our speech and that freedom of the press, so we have to think about new players that are affecting our First Amendment rights. The Fourth Amendment is another one. Thinking about the Fourth Amendment [freedom from unwarranted search and seizure] in the digital space is really complicated. Because does electronic information exist on this machine? Or on somebody else's machine in the cloud? These are freedoms that are related to digital technologies, that we are not that informed about… And that's kind of what I'm trying to emphasize in the book, that we risk losing these freedoms if we stop paying attention.
Q. In our current age, with inconsistencies in media policies, media surveilling, and policing, what advice would you give to the average internet user? What should they know when using the digital space?
A. I would start by saying go back to writing letters, but I know that’s not likely to happen for many of us. I would say inform yourself about the privacy policies of the sites that you use, and use them understanding that everything you're saying is being surveilled, it's still being surveilled by the NSA. Know that your internet service providers are using your digital footprints, and your preferences, and your purchases, and your habits, and selling those to companies that are in the business of data brokerage. You might not care that you're getting targeted ads. Would you care if your communications were being surveilled by a company that you were applying to for a job? Overall, I think we need to take our digital security more seriously.
Q. With the vast amount of information that is available to us online, do you find that as a society we are becoming more or less informed?
A. In some ways there's more information, but in other ways we’re all going down these silos and these tunnels. People tend to watch what they agree with and don’t want to watch things that make them violently angry. So, while there is more information out there, I think we're availing ourselves of less of it as we are able to narrow the range of what we engage with. And I don't think that's so healthy. That's why in my classes I try to show everything so that we know what's being said out there. If you make a choice to watch news and engage with information from the opposite end of the political spectrum that you fall on, you would probably feel like you're living in an alternate universe. But it’s one that exists, so we all need to be aware of it, and we also need to engage in some way. As individuals, we’re probably engaging with less information even though there's so much more out there.
Tatiana Karme is a third year UC Santa Barbara student majoring in Communication and minoring in Professional Writing.