OpenCon saga update: GDPR response

On 28 November 2019, I initiated a GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) data access request to OpenCon (SPARC). On 27 March 2020 they responded. I provided a recent 5-month summary of this saga here.

The document

On 27 March, 2020, I received a letter from OpenCon’s lawyers, notifying that I was about to receive a full response to my data access request. This letter explicitly stated that any data that was of a legal matter, or which would breach the confidentiality of others by revealing their identity, would be with-held. The full response was a single 3,763-page and 336 Mb PDF.

Within this document were past correspondences between OpenCon and myself, and all correspondences where I had ever been mentioned. A lot of information was redacted, and there are cases where complete pages were redacted. The majority of the document contained screenshots of my tweets about OpenCon, and news articles, news threads, and mailing list correspondences where I had been mentioned or was part of; an exhaustive history from 2014 up until recently (2020). OpenCon appear to have substantial monitoring systems in place, which tracked me even after removal from their community. It includes much information that is about me but not mine, so I cannot make it public. I would be curious to see what happens if other OpenCon members initiated similar data access requests.

Virtually all of the information has absolutely no relevance regarding the present matter. I find it difficult to believe that OpenCon sent this with good intentions at heart, especially after the last 5 months of obfuscation, and it must have required a huge effort and cost.

New unknown information

Two days before making the statement about me (i.e., three years after I last attended OpenCon, and one year after the private ban), it seems that OpenCon notified their intention to the SPARC Steering Committee. SPARC are the main organising body behind OpenCon, and probably the most well-funded and most powerful advocacy organisation in this space. Half of the OpenCon Code of Conduct Committee members work for SPARC; the other two non-SPARC members have been excluded from all correspondences with me regarding this incident.

The SPARC Committee asked OpenCon to share some information about the process involved, including what the statement was based on, and how they investigated and adjudicated while respecting confidentiality. They also raised the issue of due process. OpenCon asked the Committee to prepare for a potential public reaction. Thus, it can be ruled out that they were unaware of what they were doing (i.e., this was all intentional).

Irrespective of what happened next, the statement was made two days later anyway. Apart from that, all I can see from the non-redacted parts of this correspondence was that some sort of additional information was provided to OpenCon after the private ban (i.e., more than 2 years after I had last attended OpenCon in 2016).

I do not know what this additional information regards, from whom or when it came, whether there are witnesses, or any other detail. I was never notified of its existence, or given the chance to see the evidence or defend myself against it.

Thus, those involved here have explicitly violated of my Human Rights (see Articles 10-12).

It seems highly likely that this unknown information is related to that shared on Twitter by members of the OpenCon community surrounding the statement. I raised major concerns about these accusations during a private call to OpenCon, just after they made their statement (November 2019). I indicated to OpenCon that these accusations were false and unsubstantiated, and asked if they had anything to do with the circumstances surrounding their statement, as well as whether or not they planned to do anything about this harassment from members of their community. OpenCon still refuse to comment on these matters.

Due to OpenCon’s inaction, I have been forced to send several of the members of the OpenCon community that were heavily involved in the present incident “Cease and Desist” letters. In no uncertain terms, these letters document the absolute falsehood of their accusations, with sufficient supporting evidence to show this (i.e., documented message histories, screenshots, and photographs).

Since sending these letters, many of the key individuals behind this incident have either privatised their Twitter accounts or deleted the offending tweets. Perhaps they thought that I was unable to see what they were saying, given that they had blocked me on Twitter, and are now regretting making such demonstrably false accusations in public, given the legal implications. I have not yet made these letters public.

What this means

Given the timing, it seems most likely to conclude that the unknown information relates to something outside of OpenCon. If true, it does not fall under their jurisdiction or responsibility, and OpenCon had absolutely no business in interfering; unless their Code of Conduct now extends to cover the private lives of the whole community.

OpenCon have provided no evidence to indicate that they were not motivated by punitive or malicious intentions, despite me giving them 5 months to justify their actions. Nothing else makes sense, unless this is seen as a direct attempt at character assassination, using highly questionable information from resentful members of their community and their Code of Conduct as a veil. The statement and reaction from their community were well-executed, and I use this term intentionally.

The damage of OpenCon’s actions to me are real and quantifiable, but the real damage that they have done to the wider community is immeasurable. I had voluntarily stopped attending OpenCon after the event in 2016 for a number of reasons (i.e., two years prior to the ban), which is why I did not attend again after besides a 'satellite event' I organised in London in 2017. Instead, I founded a parallel community – the volunteer-driven and quite successful Open Science MOOC; which was not related to OpenCon, and is no longer functional due to this incident.

To conclude, this whole incident has been based on unknown, unverified and unreliable information – there is absolutely no reasonable evidence to support any of the accusations, either those made in public or in private to OpenCon. Due process has been non-existent, and the evidence shows that OpenCon have violated my privacy and my Human Rights. As I indicated in each of the letters, and also to OpenCon, if there is any evidence to support any of these claims, I will co-operate fully with due process. No formal investigations have ever been initiated.

In spite of all this, I am still seeking a civil resolution. I have invited all of those implied here, including OpenCon, to discuss the matter further in a safe, mediated forum. These offers have not been accepted by any party.