Data Sovereignty Must Be Protected

People must be free to seek, learn, know, and share verifiable truth.

Recent investigative reports suggest Cambridge Analytica illegally accessed and weaponized the Facebook data of 50 million users, touching 57 billion “friend pairs”, as part of a coordinated plot to distort the informational environment around tens of millions of American voters, to block access to reliable information and skew public perceptions in favor of Donald Trump’s campaign.

The world is now rightly taking stock of core privacy protections and what more can be done to safeguard personal data sovereignty.

To define any meaningful protection of rights, it is necessary to understand how they are violated. When any institution — government, commercial, financial or academic — professes to be engaging with people in one way, while operating in an entirely different way behind the scenes, that duplicitous behavior is one or another kind of fraud. When that behavior allows the institution to harvest personal data, that is the usurpation of personal data sovereignty.

The beating heart of a free society is the system-wide guarantee that:

  1. Those who govern do so with the consent of the governed, under the rule of law,
  2. the actions of the powerful are constrained by checks and balances, and by a free press, and…
  3. all people are fully sovereign in their political decision-making.

Whatever the current stage of the development of the Internet, the right to personal data sovereignty is critical to ensuring that free societies are possible.

Data sovereignty means no entity can interfere with the data comprising our personal communications or informational environment, without our permission or in any way designed to falsify reliable reporting.

To uphold data sovereignty:

  1. no entity may harvest personal data without explicit permission;
  2. permission should mean, in all cases: free, prior and informed consent;
  3. limitations of interpretation for secondary data usage (i.e. limits on the resale of data without new explicit consent) are placed on the entity seeking data from others, not on the user whose existence or activity generates that data;
  4. a firm legal distinction must be made between legitimate advertising practices and efforts to manipulate the information environment in which users access news and information relating to political choices.

We are data sovereign when we are free to seek, find, sift through, and rule out or accept, information that empowers sovereign political and personal choices, and when we have the reasonable expectation that:

  1. reporting is done thoroughly and honestly,
  2. our personal data is secure, and
  3. no personal data can be redistributed or re-sold without free, prior and informed consent.

We are less data sovereign (which means NOT fully personally or politically sovereign) when the value, reliability, and diversity of information are limited in a deliberate way to interfere with our free and informed moral choice.

Knowledge can and should do heroic work. We must demand that everyone whose job is to manage the flow of data and information honors that insight. The stakes are high:

  • To achieve reliable integration of financial, economic, and scientific, with information about people’s personal and market-level preferences, acts across the full spectrum of human activity need to trust the management of data.
  • That complex, elusive goal must be an operational element of any strategy for achieving the human capital enhancement implied by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals — which are, effectively, humanity’s bid to be smart and just in service to all.
  • Where data arises from the incidental interaction of human intention with technological platforms, any deviation from the standard that holds as paramount the protection of network members’ personal sovereignty puts personal rights at risk.

Data sovereignty is integral to the protection of basic rights.

Democracy is the right to choose, freely. Ignorance interferes with our ability to freely make the better choice. The meaning of freedom in a free society is the right of all people to learn, to act as informed, engaged citizens, to be sovereign political actors whose collective decision-making honors and expands all people’s right to liberty, empowerment, and justice.

Solving the data sovereignty puzzle is a critical step, if we are to prosper sustainably, in a way that is smart and just, in service to all.

This article is in part an update to and draws insights from the article Free Will vs. Hyper-Convergence.

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