We Need Big Ideas on Big Data

Oral intervention to be given by the Next Century Foundation at the 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Item 3 Clustered ID on 5th March 2018, the special report on privacy: 

Mr President. The Next Century Foundation recognises the value of technological progress. Across the world, the rapid advancement of technology has brought humanity closer together. From the role of social media during the Arab Spring protests, to the economic advancements bringing opportunity to many in the Silicon Savannah of Nairobi, the positive effects of technology are vast, far-reaching and apparent. It has strengthened the processes of democratic participation and exposed the corners of the world in which these processes don’t exist.

Yet, despite the progress made, we now face a new challenge. Privacy is a precious civil liberty. Our entire lives are uploaded to the internet. The same technology that allows us to access our bank accounts, message our loved ones and order goods from around the world leaves a digital imprint that has been used by corporations to target and profile customers; big data has now become part and parcel of modern life.

If knowledge is power, then our digital footprint which tracks our every movement, our every detail, our every desire is a crucial source of power. The companies which have created the innovative technology we use must adhere to principles of social responsibility. Collecting copious amounts of information on individuals without their knowledge is a grievous violation of individual rights.

It is therefore imperative that governments around the world act to protect the privacy of their citizens, but this must be coupled with firm action to tackle the criminal nexus which utilises technology for their own sinister ends. Reasonable measures to maintain security are essential when it comes to securing privacy.

Governments must work with technological giants to implement meaningful regulations which help protect privacy. Governments must understand that while technology has the capacity to promote the human spirit and create a truly inclusive world, it must not be used to enable the sacrifice of civil liberties that so many have fought for around the world.

There are global conversations regarding the future of technology in motion as we speak, but assertive action must be taken by both government and corporations to help promote the rights of citizens. We call on the UN to exert its influence to deal effectively with guaranteeing citizens the right to enjoy these new services and technologies, without sacrificing their identity in an ocean of digital data.

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