chapter  4
26 Pages

Data subjects or data citizens? Addressing the global regulatory challenge of big data


There is an inevitable ethnocentrism currently at play in debates about the power of data and the power over data. ‘Global’ data problems and solutions are conceived as beginning and ending in regions with meaningful and enforceable data protection regulation, namely the United States, the European Union and a small group of other countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) tightly bound to these regions by trade, such as Canada. Thus the ‘we’ of the Article 29 Working Party’s statement quoted above is clear and justifiable in those regional contexts, but becomes hugely problematic when it is applied to the majority of people in the world. For these ‘other’ six billion, who live and use technology outside high-income countries (HICs) with clear data protection provisions, even an effort towards purpose limitation such as that quoted above raises some serious questions. Julie Cohen’s exploration of the ways in which code mediates between truth and power (this volume at Chapter 3) is not only pertinent in the United States and the European Union where regulation battles are primarily being fought, but becomes even more applicable in places where information flows have even higher stakes. As a Zimbabwean participant in the 2005 World Summit on the Information Society put it when discussing internet freedom, ‘if we have no freedom of speech, we can’t talk about who is stealing our food’ (MacKinnon 2012: 205).