What is data justice? The case for connecting digital rights and freedoms globally

Big Data and Society 4 (2) (2017)


The increasing availability of digital data reflecting economic and human development, and in particular the availability of data emitted as a by-product of people’s use of technological devices and services, has both political and practical implications for the way people are seen and treated by the state and by the private sector. Yet the data revolution is so far primarily a technical one: the power of data to sort, categorise and intervene has not yet been explicitly connected to a social justice agenda by the agencies and authorities involved. Meanwhile, although data-driven discrimination is advancing at a similar pace to data processing technologies, awareness and mechanisms for combating it are not. This paper posits that just as an idea of justice is needed in order to establish the rule of law, an idea of data justice – fairness in the way people are made visible, represented and treated as a result of their production of digital data – is necessary to determine ethical paths through a datafying world. Bringing together the emerging scholarly perspectives on this topic, I propose three pillars as the basis of a notion of international data justice: visibility, engagement with technology and antidiscrimination. These pillars integrate positive with negative rights and freedoms, and by doing so challenge both the basis of current data protection regulations and the growing assumption that being visible through the data we emit is part of the contemporary social contract.

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