Interview With Efrat Daskal

By: Efrat Daskal

In a few words, can you tell us about yourself and how you found your way to the academic world?

I research traditional and digital media policy but discovering that this is the topic, in which I want to specialize, was not that easy. After completing my MA thesis, I knew I wanted to write a PhD dissertation but since there were so many things that interested me, I was not sure which topic to choose. Therefore, I began working as a research assistant for Prof. Tamar Liebes and Prof. Zohar Kampf at the communication department at the Hebrew University. Their project, which was funded by ISF (Israel Science Foundation), dealt with media accountability. At the same time, I began working at the office of the Ombudsman at the Second Authority for Television and Radio in Israel; there I gained the understating of what is the practical meaning of media accountability. This combination of the academic and the practical tracks inspired me to write my dissertation about the way in which public complaints construct media accountability and this is how I began specializing in media and internet policy.

What is the main core of your research? Can you give an example or two?

One my current research deals with the work of nCSIRTs (national Cyber Security Incident Response Teams). These are governmental teams of civilian technological experts, who are responsible for preventing, detecting and solving cybersecurity problems in the national and international levels. In my research, I analyze how the work of these teams construct and define state responsibility about cybersecurity issues especially concerning citizens. The terms I coined to describe it, is (for now) is informational cyber-responsibility.

For example, some of these teams provide their citizens full information, including specific recommendations about security updates and apps that they should install in order to keep themselves safe. Other teams choose not to do so. Some teams highlight their responsibility towards their colleagues from other states while other prefer to focus only on the national level. These decisions not only demonstrate how these teams deal with cyber security issues but also reflect how different governments in different states frame the topic of cybersecurity. Is it a national or an international issue? Is it a civic issue or a military issue? These different frames and different policies have a huge impact on our lives in this age and I aim to show that there are different ways in which policy makers can approach cybersecurity issues.

Why choose this area over all others? Did your personal or professional background lead you to it?

In my studies, I usually focus on three main issues: power, responsibly and dialogue. So, I keep retuning to the same basic questions: (1) How social actors who are in charge of constructing media and internet policy can be held accountable for their conduct; (2) How citizens can influence media and interne policy and finally (3) What is the outcome of the dialogue between both sides?

So far, in my studies, I explored these issues from different perspectives. For example, I analyzed how citizens’ complaints can lead to a change in broadcast TV, how newspapers use correction boxes to assume responsibility for their mistakes they commit and how digital rights advocates get the public involved in their activities and change digital policy created by governments and internet corporations. So, when I began dealing with cyber security issues I was intrigued by the same questions hence the idea of cyber-responsibility as a way of exploring the interaction between governments and citizens.

Do you think that in this cyber age these issues are even more complex compared to other times in history? If so – in what ways?

Given my background in media policy, I constantly ask myself this question. What is unique about internet policy and specifically about cybersecurity issues in comparison to media policy? Should we address questions of internet policy separately from issues of cybersecurity?For now, I can provide only a partial answer for that. First, there are multiple social actors, in the national and international levels, that are involved in issues of internet policy and cybersecurity. Thus, it seems like an impossible task even to map the power relations between the different social actors that are in charge of creating and constructing internet policy. Second, technology and accordingly digital policy are constantly changing, so it is harder to take a step back as a researcher and figure out the bigger picture, the broader question we need to explore. Finally, the lack of theory, which relates to the previous argument. Exploring and analyzing traditional media policy is much easier because there is theoretical background that you can rely on, as a researcher, in analyzing and conceptualizing policies. This is not the case with digital policy or with cyber security issues. Therefore, whenever I explore issues related to digital policy, I often find myself asking - what is the theoretical

While I am still in the middle of my research, it is clear that there is much unfulfilled potential of nCSIRTs in relation to informational cyber-responsibility. nCSIRTs are not just a mechanism for dealing with cybersecurity problems but they can also help in preventing cyber problems as well. nCSIRTs have the potential to become the main source of reliable knowledge to the public in matters of cyber security and in my upcoming paper in the topic I elaborate about the different venues in which the team could work with the public and the different types of information which can be useful to the public. As for implantation, the model can be implemented but to do so, governments will have to address issues of cybersecurity in a different way, while emphasizing the civic and global aspects of the topic. 

What is the next phase in your professional life?

I am currently finishing my two years post doc at Northwestern University. In this coming year, I am joining as a post-doc to the Federman Center to work on another project that explores the effectiveness of Safer Internet Day, especially in relation with juvenile delinquency online. The Safer Internet Day (SID) is as an annual European initiative that began in 2004 and takes place once a year during February in approximately 140 countries, including Israel. Its aim is to promote safer and more responsible use of digital technology by children and young people in schools all over Europe. The SID is not an official intervention plan dealing with online delinquent behavior. Its existence, however, enables the creation of a conversation in schools between children and various social actors about norms, values and suitable behaviors online. As a result, it has the potential to function as an intervention plan. So far, the effectiveness of the initiative was only explored in the UK and so it should be interesting to see what will the outcome in Israel. In addition, I hope to finish writing the draft for my first book proposal. I received an initial offer from MIT Press to write a book about digital rights advocates from a comparative perspective. This is going to be my first attempt in writing a book and I am excited about this opportunity

What is your message to the public?

I will quote one of my favorite scholars John Dewy who argued, “Society exists not only by transmission, by communication, but it may fairly be to exist in transmission, in communication” and I leave it for the readers to decide how to interpret this enigmatic and fascinating idea.