Anne-Marie Slaughter and Yuliya Panfil at Project Syndicate: “While much of the developed world is properly worried about myriad privacy outrages at the hands of Big Tech and demanding – and securing – for individuals a “right to be forgotten,” many around the world are posing a very different question: What about the right to be seen?
Just ask the billion people who are locked out of services we take for granted – things like a bank account, a deed to a house, or even a mobile phone account – because they lack identity documents and thus can’t prove who they are. They are effectively invisible as a result of poor data.
The ability to exercise many of our most basic rights and privileges – such as the right to vote, drive, own property, and travel internationally – is determined by large administrative agencies that rely on standardized information to determine who is eligible for what. For example, to obtain a passport it is typically necessary to present a birth certificate. But what if you do not have a birth certificate? To open a bank account requires proof of address. But what if your house doesn’t have an address?
The inability to provide such basic information is a barrier to stability, prosperity, and opportunity. Invisible people are locked out of the formal economy, unable to vote, travel, or access medical and education benefits. It’s not that they are undeserving or unqualified, it’s that they are data poor.
In this context, the rich digital record provided by our smartphones and other sensors could become a powerful tool for good, so long as the risks are acknowledged. These gadgets, which have become central to our social and economic lives, leave a data trail that for many of us is the raw material that fuels what Harvard’s Shoshana Zuboff calls “surveillance capitalism.” Our Google location history shows exactly where we live and work. Our email activity reveals our social networks. Even the way we hold our smartphone can give away early signs of Parkinson’s.
But what if citizens could harness the power of these data for themselves, to become visible to administrative gatekeepers and access the rights and privileges to which they are entitled? Their virtual trail could then be converted into proof of physical facts.
That is beginning to happen. In India, slum dwellers are using smartphone location data to put themselves on city maps for the first time and register for addresses that they can then use to receive mail and register for government IDs. In Tanzania, citizens are using their mobile payment histories to build their credit scores and access more traditional financial services. And in Europe and the United States, Uber drivers are fighting for their rideshare data to advocate for employment benefits….(More)”.