Equitable data governance that empowers the public

27 Nov 2019 09:30h - 11:00h

Event report

[Read more session reports and updates from the 14th Internet Governance Forum]

Current models of data governance tend to concentrate access to data in the hands of a few large tech companies, while excluding citizens from benefiting from them.

The session moderator Mr Philip Dawson (Element AI) spoke of recent data governance scandals. For instance, the Californian Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is believed to have made US$ 50 million per year from selling personal information of drivers. Google was said to have acquired personal medical records of 50 million patients as revealed by a whistle-blower. In a complaint submitted to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Facebook was accused of exposing medical data of members of a Facebook support group. Furthermore, Facebook’s refusal to honour subpoenas forced California to make its privacy probe public.

Terms and conditions for online services contribute to the current framework of data governance. Dawson pointed out that they were non-negotiable contracts of adhesion that lacked competition and concentrated data in the hands of a few large companies which gave users little control over their personal information. As a result, privacy and other human rights are left vulnerable to abuse. Lack of user presentation, exclusion from data value, lack of accountability, complexity, and opacity of information flows, make it virtually impossible for individuals to discern and self-manage the risks and rights they engage when consenting to the use of their personal data.

A data trust creates a legal way of managing data rights in a way that is valuable to the beneficiary. Dawson explained that this innovative approach and tool for data governance was capable of providing individuals with a greater control over their personal data. He added that a data trust would help address asymmetries of power that existed between corporations, the government, and individuals. It would enhance the protection of individual privacy and other human rights, thus empowering them to use their data to contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Mr Phillipe-Andre Rodriguez (Policy Advisor, Canada Government) said that data governance is a major topic for the new Canadian government which is exploring the concept of data trust as an approach to empowering the most vulnerable communities in Canada. He added that Internet governance principles such as openness, human rights, and participatory decision-making, guides the structures of a civic data trust. Ms Rahia Stuard (Senior Policy Advisor, International Development Research Center) emphasised that a civic data trust would allow activities that were in the public interest. She spoke of refugees and the case when the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) gave refugees no control over their personal data, how it was stored, or used.

A bottom-up data trust participatory model would ensure data subjects are empowered to pool their data into a trust that would champion a social or economic benefit of their choosing. Dawson added that in this ecosystem of data trust, data trustees would act as an independent intermediary which negotiates the terms of data collection and use. Additionally, it would allow data subjects to choose a trust that reflects their aspirations, and enable them to switch trusts when needed. A bottom-up data trust participatory model would provide for public accountability and impact on trust and legitimacy.

Dawson spoke of online platforms such as ride-sharing and medical data, and added that they could take advantage of the data trust model for decreasing urban congestion and improving the quality of care, respectively.

By Bonface Witaba