Datafication and social justice: What challenges for Internet Governance?

21 Dec 2017 09:00h - 10:30h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 12th Internet Governance Forum]

The moderators, Dr Stefania Milan, Associate Professor, University of Amsterdam, and Dr Arne Hintz, Senior Lecturer, Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies,  opened the session by putting forward key questions about datafication and social justice: What are the implications of the increasing categorising of data? What are the implications on democracy and social justice? What should be done at the levels of policy and society, and also in technical design?

Ms Eva Blum-Dumontet, Research Officer, Privacy International, noted that data is collected not only by digital devices, but also by all the institutions with which citizens engage. We live in a world where governments have unprecedented access to personal life, and information previously in the realm of the private home is now accessible to governments, and also private companies. Worse still, people are losing control of their data because they are mostly not aware that it is even being collected, let alone that consent is not taken in many cases.

Ms Malavika Jayaram, Executive Director, Asian Digital Hub, showcased the Chinese social credit system, which is used to monitor citizens to assess their eligibility for loans. She said that the system demonstrates the notion of the gamification of obedience to the normalisation of surveillance. The Chinese social credit system looks at five dimensions including credit history, behavioural habits, the ability to pay-off debts, the ability to fulfil contracts, and social networks. The data generated is shared freely within the government, which therefore intimidates citizens from criticising the system. It also forges a public environment that weakens security governmentally, commercially, and socially. Also, individuals whose credit scores are low get lower Internet speeds.

In the same vein, Mr Sunil Abraham, Executive Director, Center for Internet and Society, noted that the private sector claims that in the era of big data, data is compatible by design and we need to accept this. However, said Abraham, we need to reinvent all these principles for the big data age.

Ms Joana Varon, Founder and Director, Coding Rights, explained that Brazilian citizens have several identity cards, each with a different number and set of data. The government decided to change the situation with a unified ID which aggregates data from all the different cards. However this poses questions about security and identification: the security issues around the process that will be used to issue the document, and how the data will be shared. Moreover, said Varon, innovation is creating smart cities but also security issues. For example, banks, transportation, and airline systems are asking for biometric data for better security, but the standards and security measures are still vague. There is a need to reinvent principles and to reach innovative solutions for data protection.

Mr Sebastián Becker, Datos Protegidos, Chile, provided an example from Chile where a massive breach of personal data from the voting register took place. ‘Who is to protect our privacy rights?’ he asked. ‘First, we need a public policy that protects citizens’ privacy. Second, the government should understand that information collected on citizens is not public information and hence there should be checks and balances on privacy rights.

Third, clear boundaries should be set between professionalism and transparency. Fourth, human rights should be protected by law.’

Ms Lisa Vermeer, Senior Policy Officer, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Netherlands, stressed that government officials are aware of the challenges put forward by the emergence of big data and the tremendous responsibilities of collecting and using data for policy making. Challenges lie in good intentions, but also in the fast development of technology versus the slow speed of the policy and law making process. In this regard, the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy has published Big Data and Security Policies: Serving Security, Protecting Freedom which provides a framework to allow benefits from the use of big data analytics in the field of security, while respecting fundamental human rights.

Ms Madeline Carr, Senior Lecturer, University College London, linked the discussion back to the issues of Internet governance. She said, ‘When we look back at the trajectory of Internet governance, we find that it began in the 1980s and early 1990s, focusing on governance and network. Now, as more devices are connected, we’re looking at securing not only the network and devices, but also individuals. In the same vein, at the outset civil societies and privacy advocates were not engaged, but now it’s essential that people who are engaged in these issues are also engaged in the technical issues.’

By Noha Fathy