We are citizens, not mere physical masses of data for harvesting

The deal we have struck with the information society over the extent to which our lives are shaped and our privacy invaded requires urgent renegotiation, argues law professor Julie E Cohen at the annual Law and Media and Communications lecture at the London School of Economics and Political Science this week.

A video of her talk can be seen here, while Julia Powles of The Guardian profiled the main arguments of her talk in a concise summary.

While regulators chisel inconsequentially at the beguiling monoliths of private power that configure today’s information flows and dams, we the citizens have been reduced to raw material – sourced, bartered and mined in a curiously fabricated “privatised commons” of data and surveillance. This oxymoronic terrain is what Cohen calls “the biopolitical economy of informational capitalism”. […]

Cohen describes how today’s information merchants have exploited a narrative valorising “openness” and “participation”, through the particular form of voluntary, public and perpetual sharing of personal information with platforms. This has been the driving factor, she argues, in normalising “a distinctly Western, democratic type of surveillance society, in which surveillance is conceptualised first and foremost as a matter of efficiency and convenience”.

Julie E Cohen is professor of law at Georgetown University in Washington and an expert on privacy, data protection and intellectual property

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