Ruth Lewis a member of our Emerging Fellows program evaluates ownership as a human right in her ninth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Every minute of every day data about us is created, collected and stored somewhere. As more and more of the goods and services that we use every day become digitised, it is inevitable that the service providers and their downstream supply chains will want information about their customers (or potential customers), so that they can ‘service you better’, or create a supply-driven market-place. Our liberty to live the lives that we choose is scrutinised and forecast to drive demand, and thus supply. Who owns this data that is created and collected about you? Is it the service provider? Or should it be the ‘data subject’, the person about whom the data is collected?
There are rules and interpretive algorithms set up around the data, but have you stopped to consider what if these systems could be wrong, that the data is flawed? That the data does not really describe what you want or believe in, or what you want to do? And after you die, your digital representation may live on well after your death, like a digital Henrietta Lacks.
Our data selves live a shadow life that resides within the world’s data warehouses, often located far away from where we live. Economic decisions were made to locate our data there, and often our data selves are traded between various companies for a fee, so that they can get to know us too – or their representation of us. However, that is where human values and the freedom of the individual, and economic value sharply collide. Because ‘human values’ and ‘liberty’ are only considered where legislated imperatives such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation are in operation, which forces the user of the services to explicitly consent to their data collection and storage, and the service provider to have some accountability for collection of private information.
How can human value and human values be used to protect our shadow selves that exist in the internet’s servers and data warehouses of the world? Only by thinking about data as part of ourselves, and valuing it with the same care. We, as consumers of digitised services, should and must demand that our shadow selves be given the same digital rights as our human selves. We must be able to trust that the representation of ourselves is shown in truth, and is not abused or compromised.
This assurance should be the noble principle on which to base our aspirations for a better future.
In the future, could each of us fully embrace the online world, and create and own a digital avatar existing in cyberspace? A representation of our own personal human values, beliefs and thoughts that we are willing to share with others, and more importantly, owned and controlled by us? Could our digital agent be entitled to the human rights law under codified International Law? Could we use this personal image to ‘play’ with futuristic representations so that we can build a better world together? To try out different economic, governance, legal, technology and social structures through a range of scenario building, in much the same way as online gamers try out different virtual worlds? Perhaps this could create participative governance, citizen engagement and dialogue, as well as resultant political structures to promote the common good for society.
How would we then protect our own personal avatar from the creeping tendency for governments and corporations to undermine human rights to privacy under the guise of cyber security, ‘for the purpose of securing morality, public order and general welfare’?
© Ruth Lewis 2019