The Submissive Citizen in the Shadow of Data Power: Between Rights Claims and Active Citizenship
As the organizers of this conference note, we live under a regime of data power (Lauriault et al 2017). In common with any regime, the subjects that exist within it make rights claims to authority in order to enact citizenship. This converts the data subject into data citizen, and according to Isin & Ruppert (2015) makes her both a subversive and submissive figure: simultaneously performing rights claims and submitting to authority. The process of making rights claims to the holders of data power has been codified in more than thirty charters of digital rights drafted by activists and policymakers since 1999 (Gill, Redeker & Gasser 2015). The content of these charters are remarkably consistent, centring on access, privacy, freedom of expression and network neutrality—such that elsewhere I contend they are underpinned by the mantra of ‘draft once; deploy everywhere’ (FC Hoskins 2017). What I argue in this presentation is that as well as the content, these charters are uniform in their emphasis on submission over subversion: the way that digital rights are conceptualized ultimately reinforce rather than challenge the brokers of data power. By examining some of the most prominent bills of digital rights, such as the IGF’s Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet, I propose that their formulation of rights claims has the effect of securing data to meets the systemic needs of informational capitalism, as well as foreclosing the potential to substantively address its considerable inequities: monopolization, surveillance and commodification. By contrast, I explore the potential for models of active data citizenship (Powell 2016), such as ‘platform cooperativism’ (Scholz 2014), to more effectively subvert the regime of data power.