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ASU prof studies similarities in land stewardship around the globe.
What's the same in Nepal and Arizona? Land stewards caring for livestock.
February 17, 2016

ASU's Abby York studies commonalities of land stewardship and livestock management around the world

Abby York grew up in Wisconsin, on land where her family has operated a dairy farm since the 1800s.

As a kid, community was synonymous with family, and this had a critical impact on her worldview. York didn’t know it at the time, but being surrounded by people who valued place, community, land and livelihood was the ideal training ground for her future career as an environmental social scientist.

“In retrospect, my entire academic career has been shaped by a preoccupation with the land and how local communities collectively manage it,” said the School of Human Evolution and Social ChangeThe School of Human Evolution and Social Change is the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. associate professor. Whether in places like Nepal or here in Arizona, YorkAbby York is also director of the environmental social science graduate program. explores how communities and institutions have provided goods like water, agriculture and natural resources throughout history and in modern times, working with both natural and social scientists from a variety of disciplines in order to gain a broader, more informed perspective on these issues.

Abby York

“Typically, when I get a chance to talk with someone who works the land, I feel at home finding common ground whether in Arizona or halfway around the world,” said York, pictured at left.

One of York’s current projects involves community forestry governance, or how local people manage the surrounding forest and its resources, in Chitwan, Nepal. Specifically, the project examines communities’ ability to deal with Mikania micrantha, an invasive plant species.

“Our work focuses on communities that are near the Chitwan National Park, which is a critical habitat for several species, including endangered animals like the one-horned rhino and the Bengal tiger,” York said. “I’m leading the effort to investigate local community forestry governance capacity to tackle this complex situation.”

Closer to home, York studies the vulnerability of Arizona’s agriculture and farmers to climate change, as well as the effects of urbanization in Arizona, which she examines alongside the Central Arizona Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research program.

York has found both similarities and differences in Nepal and Arizona communities’ natural resource governance.

In Nepal, households are shifting from subsistence to industrial agriculture, or they are seeking opportunities away from the farm and migrating to other parts of Asia. In her study area of Chitwan, most households are still involved in farming, at least for household use.

In Arizona, the number of independent farmers who work their own land is growing smaller. Most agriculture is intensive and done through large, family-owned corporations.

The two groups share some similar concerns when it comes to wildlife governance. Jaguars are found in southern Arizona, wolves to the east, and mountain lions throughout the state, which create worry over livestock loss and human-wildlife conflict. Likewise, the tiger and rhino populations of Chitwan cause significant losses of livestock and even human life.

“In both places, there are sometimes tense conversations about what costs should be borne by individuals and households to preserve these important species and how society compensates communities that live with these risks,” York said.

There is a marked distinction, however, between the two communities’ attitude toward the land,  she said.

“The cosmology of the West is quite different than that of the East, where ideas from Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as indigenous animistic religious beliefs, lead to different views of nature, animals and human responsibilities towards other living things. In the West, most families engaged in agriculture have a decidedly utilitarian view.”

Another difference between the two regions is how they are affected by climate change. In Nepal, changing weather patterns are leading to an increased risk of flooding. Many communities are near major rivers that flow from the Himalayas, and with heavier rains suffer loss of human life and major damage to infrastructure. This alters the timing of irrigation and agricultural practices in this farming region, as well as the abundance of forest resources.

Arizona is experiencing the opposite problem — an extended drought and shifting rainfall patterns. The impact on agricultural communities has been minimized by Arizona’s extensive irrigation systems and water policies, but there are predictions that within the next 20 years, this buffer will be gone due to reduced access to water from the Colorado River. Ranching communities are already seeing some negative effects of climate change in the quality of the grasslands.

“Although there is great uncertainty associated with exactly how the climate will change, agricultural communities throughout the world are typically working at the margins, whether in terms of revenues or weather,” York said. “Even small changes have big impacts.”

The most crucial ingredient to these communities’ success is one that they have in common: in both places, there are strong efforts to collectively organize the provision of public goods to rural communities.

In southern Arizona, ranchers have collaborated with environmentalists to conserve wildlife, open spaces and opportunities for ranching. In Nepal, communities have come together to gain legal access to the forest, manage its resources and petition the government for compensation due to wildlife conflict or natural disaster.

According to York, “People can self-organize under the right conditions, and in both regions there is evidence of the efficacy of these efforts to conserve the environment and natural resources.”

Written by Mikala Kass,

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Explaining Apple's decision to not unlock a terrorist's iPhone.
The risk of allowing the government to create a "back door" into your phone.
February 17, 2016

ASU security expert explains Apple's thinking on fighting a court order to unlock a terrorist's iPhone

This week, a federal judge in California ordered Apple to allow investigators from the FBI access to the iPhone of an alleged terrorist.

Apple refused to comply.

The technology company said Wednesday that it would fight the order to create a workaround to the encryption software it builds into its popular smartphone. The judge ordered Apple to assist the federal government in gaining access to the cell phone of Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the shooters in last year’s San Bernadino terrorist attack. Farook was killed in a shootout with police.

According to reports, the FBI has been unable to gain access to Farook’s locked iPhone, and says that only Apple can get around its own encryption software.

Apple CEO Tim Cook argued that the ramifications of bypassing its security will affect all users of the iPhone.

“We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand,” Cook wrote in a statement.

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Jamie Winterton, pictured at left and the Director of Strategic Research Initiatives at ASU’s Global Security Initiative, spoke with ASU Now about the implications of Apple’s refusal to help the FBI, and why what the bureau is asking for is more complicated than the modern day equivalent of just opening up a file cabinet.

Question: In this latest scuffle between the government and tech companies, the government is asking for a "back door" to be able to override the 10-swings-you’re-out software built into the iPhone, which deletes all data after ten tries to unlock the phone. Given how much private information we already give up on our phones to all sorts of commercial enterprises, is this really that much different?

Answer: It’s true; our phones are really an extension of ourselves. I’ll be the first to criticize commercial apps that bury privacy settings in hard-to-find menus, collect inappropriate amounts of data or change the default security settings without notice. But even though these settings can be difficult to find and use, the important thing is that they exist. Broken (“back doored”) encryption doesn’t allow the user a choice of what personal data can and can’t be accessed. That’s a big difference.

Q: Will building this software for use by the government really make tech more vulnerable for everyone to non-government actors?

A: Absolutely. Once encryption is compromised, any guarantees of security are lost. The “back door” analogy is a very appropriate one. If a door is improperly secured, it can be used by your grandmother, or it can be used by Kim Jong Un. There’s no way to determine the intent of the person coming through that door. The government seems to believe in the “golden key” argument — saying that if an encryption “back door” were created, a key could be created such that only authorized government users would be able to unlock it — but just as with physical doors, keys can be misplaced or locks can be picked, given enough time. 

I question the ability of the government to responsibly hold encryption keys. We’ve seen the significant data breaches that have resulted from bad security practices within the government. 22 million security clearance profiles lost in the Office of Personal Management incident, 30,000 employee profiles exposed in the recent FBI and DHS breaches. The President recently allocated over $3 billion to shore up federal cybersecurity, much of which is going to replace egregiously outdated systems that simply can’t be secured, they’re so deprecated. To be more literal, CAD files of TSA master keys were created and uploaded to GitHub (an open source code repository), so anyone with the desire and equipment could duplicate these keys and unlock any TSA-approved locks. Long story short, the government has a lot of trust to regain before we should trust them with the keys to all our personal information.

Q: Apple has, in the past, complied with other court orders. What makes this different?

A: The order in this case is not simply for Apple to hand over data. They are actually being asked to create entirely new software to break their encryption standard, which would violate Apple’s longstanding commitment to personal data security. If Apple were to comply, it would have drastic implications outside this particular case. The government argues that the request is reasonable because Apple “writes software as part of its regular business,” but the software in question could be used on any iOS device, by any government agency or possibly by malicious actors looking to exploit and collect personal data. Other software companies could be similarly pushed to create weakened products. Once the genie is out of the bottle, it’s very hard to put it back in.

Case in point: “export-grade” encryption from the 1990s. The US banned the sale of cryptographic software overseas unless it was purposefully weakened. But the Internet is a land without borders — many products both inside and outside the U.S. built this weakened protocol into their products. In early 2015, security researchers discovered an exploit that relied upon this weakened encryption scheme. About a third of websites were found to be vulnerable, including those of the FBI, the White House, and NASA. The choices made here will have far reaching repercussions.

Q: Is there a compromise that could be reached in this case?

A: No. Encryption is either broken, or its not. There’s no middle ground here.


Top photo: Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons